Month: February 2012

Music Score Review: Elena Cobb’s “Higgledy Piggledy Jazz”

February 22, 2012

I am always excited to learn more about new music and teaching materials out there to add to my music library and share with my students. So it was great when I received a couple copies of this beautiful music book mailed all the way from England last month.

Mail from England: Beautiful Books and Warm Message from Elena Cobb

This fun piano songbook, “Higgledy Piggledy Jazz”, is a wonderful compilation of short jazzy songs composed by Miss Elena V. Cobb, a piano pedagogue based in England. This book is designed for students of grades 1-3, with five songs for grades 1-2, and another five for grades 2-3.

First of all, the book is beautifully illustrated, by Elena’s artistic sister Nathalie. There is almost one fun and colorful drawing paired with each song. The drawings have certainly raised my students’ attention to this book. One of them even asked me to make a copy of one of the drawings for her to bring home with! (Sorry for making photocopies but we only have a couple copies here!)

Beautiful Book Cover

Colorful Illustrations Inside

So far, my students have tried two songs in this book: “Super Duck” and “I Ate All the Choc’late”. They LOVE them! They think the songs are easy to play and fun sounding. Some of them also like the lyrics (their comment is “silly!” but that just means they love it). Since my students have been introduced to playing swing rhythm before (they love playing Pamela Wedgwood and Martha Mier’s solos and duets), they find it easy to catch up with it in Elena’s music as well.

Another great thing about this book is that it comes with a CD of jazz band tracks for students to play along with. For the first week or two, I introduced to my students the piano solo parts only (which was fun enough for them to play with). After that, I played the jazz band tracks to them: the slow one and then fast one with the piano solos. They listened to them with much interest and excitement. Then, I asked them if they wanted to try playing with the tracks.

Content Page

At first, my students were a bit intimidated (especially the younger ones) since they had never played with a background track like this before (they have played a lot of duets with me but not with music tracks or band sounds like this). What I did was first to let them play with the tracks with piano solos so that they could play along with less intimidation. Then, they would try the tracks with jazz bands only. Some were quick to try it out. It was not easy for them to play along with the tracks. They were used to keeping time on their own, and when it came to very strict pulse (since one had to follow the pulse of the track), it proved to be a little difficult for them (that was good for them to know that they were not keeping strict tempo/rhythm enough all along). But the older kids (ages 9-10) were getting better after a couple rounds; they wanted to play with the jazz band track (which was fascinating for them just to listen to) again and again just to get it right. It was a bit difficult for the younger ones (ages 6-8) to follow the tracks and play with them, both slower or faster ones. However, they enjoyed playing the songs all the same.

As a teacher, I find that the idea of different colorings of various chords great for students to recognize the similarities and differences in the harmony/chord positions. But at this stage I am not sure if they are using this coloring system to identify with the chords or simply find the chords without noticing the differences in colors. The idea of having both slow and fast tracks for each piece is good, but the tempo difference between them is quite big so students find it either too slow to follow to the slow track (metronome marking: 90 in “Super Duck” & 80 in “Choc’late” ) or too fast to the fast track (metronome marking: 140 in both “Super Duck” & “Choc’late”). It would be great if there is yet another track of medium tempo for each song.

Here is Joy Chan playing “Super Duck”:

[qt: 640 360]

Here is Joy again playing “I Ate All the Choc’late”:

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All in all, my students enjoyed the music and the playing experience. A big thank you to Elena for the wonderful book!

(Extra Note: One point worth mentioning is that part of the book sale will go to the Theo Trust Lifeline Charity, a trust that helps the orphans in Russia.

For more information on this book, please go to

Teresa Wong

Aural Training/Music Appreciation Session for Students

February 12, 2012

Learning how to appreciate music is crucial for improving piano playing and music learning experience. I am planning to organize free group sessions for selected students to have some regular aural training/music appreciation training and practice (it’s much more fun to gather together, listen to music and participate in active discussion that way). Today we have started with the first session of the kind. Students had a lot of fun (seeing me act out operatic scenes and dramatic musical moments) and started to understand and feel that aural training was not as scary as they originally thought it to be. It could be fun and involve active listening and participation!

Teresa Wong

Fun Music Stuff for Kids (& Reference for Teachers!)

February 11, 2012

Other than practicing and drilling constantly on the piano, students should be exposed to more music appreciation in terms of writing, reading about and listening to music as part of their musical training. Here are some useful online resources for kids (and even adult beginners!) to play and listen to at home:

Music theory: Worksheets for kids (teachers/parents can print them out for kids to work on)-

Listen to the sounds of different instruments here:

Time Machine Game: match the composers with their respective musical periods (suitable for older kids of intermediate/graded levels)-

Word game on music expression: hangman (suitable for older kids and adult beginners)-

Music quizzes-

Music appreciation (composers): listening for kids and adult beginners-

More online resources for kids- The Dallas Symphony’s new site for teachers and students A children’s website from the American Symphony Orchestra League The New York Philharmonic’s website for teachers and students An education website sponsored by the National Arts Centre in Canada The San Francisco Symphony’s educational website for children

Teresa Wong


「金玉其外」: “All that glitters is not gold”

February 4, 2012

Do you know what goes after?

「敗絮其中」 .

What does that mean? The whole idiom (「金玉其外, 敗絮其中」*) literally means “gold and jade on the outside, rot and decay on the inside”; it therefore describes that something/someone which/who looks pretty on the surface is in fact messy underneath the skin. (外面象金象玉,裏面卻是破棉絮。比喻外表很華美,而裏面一團糟。)

This idiom is not easy to be forgotten, even learnt way back from middle school.

Many students (even at the advanced levels) only focus on the playing itself. The outside. That means they think as long as they play more, practice the song mechanically many more times a day every week, and it’s done.

But they never think about finding out what is inside the music. What is the harmonic scheme (tonality) of the piece? Structure and form? Phrasing? Style? Character? Historical background, of the piece? and of the composer? And just how to improve the technique and make it stay? They think just by playing it a thousand times without thinking it through and they might just get lucky getting it done. Well, good luck on winning that lottery.

What exactly are you playing if you don’t understand the content? It’s like reciting a speech in a foreign language without knowing what it is about. For sure you can imitate the pronunciation and add ebbs and flow to the nuance. It just doesn’t sound like anything meaningful at all.

But you see, most people only focus on the outside, the “look”, the “sound”. they forget about the inside, the knowledge, the content. And you know why? Because the content cannot be seen, the knowledge cannot be viewed. But that’s wrong. The audience (the real audience) can HEAR the difference.

It reflects the value in the modern society nowadays. Only the look (or body) matters. People put on nice outfit, girls put on nice makeup and dresses, boys nice cars and watches. And yes, they have all those grand gestures and moving their bodies violently on stage like they are under electric shock. They seem glamorous and well off, but is there anything inside? Certainly, not everyone is like that (I do like nice things myself). I hope to see and dare think that some are also intelligent and knowledgeable in some areas. And that’s what I want my students to be, to play technically well AND be musically knowledgable: I can really hear the presence- or absence of the inside content.

How do we stock up for the inside content? Read. Read more. Listen. Listen more. Think. Think more. If there’s nothing inside our head, there’s nothing coming out from our heart, and our hands. What are we feeling but plain emotion without ideas and meaning? That all comes down to having an “interpretation”. And this interpretation doesn’t come from others, it’s all from the person inside. And in order to create something inside you, you have to first absorb something from the outside world. Otherwise all I can hear is empty sound produced by the hands merely moving across the keyboard.

Yes, you can just copy someone else (or me), but it’s not yours. After all, “All that glitters is not gold.”

Teresa Wong

P.S. Simply put, go eat some healthy food and your skin shall glow. Even without makeup on.

* 「金玉其外, 敗絮其中」【出處】:明朝劉基的〈賣柑者言〉:「觀其坐高堂,騎大馬,醉醇醴而飫肥鮮者,孰不巍巍乎可畏,赫赫乎可像也?又何往而不金玉其外,敗絮其中也哉?」