Author: Teresa Wong

Piano Teaching with a Plan

I don’t know how many times I went into a piano lesson when I was young, that my piano teachers just told me to play this and that, correct me when I was wrong, asked me to go practice more, and that was a lesson.

So when I first started teaching piano, I didn’t know what to do. I was 16 or 17. I started teaching how my teachers taught me, going through song after song, study after study (because, who doesn’t like Hanon or Czerny piano exercises, right?). I corrected students when they played wrong, and asked them to go home and practice it. That was it. I did try to encourage my students, as I had one great Teacher who opened my eyes to different kinds of piano playing and teaching.

When I was in college majoring in piano performance, I took a course called “piano pedagogy”. But it was more on the academic side, that most we did was to study about history of piano teaching and playing, so that was not much of an application to real-life piano teaching.

It was not until when I was in graduate school, that I discovered the beauty of real piano teaching. Since I already took a course in piano pedagogy in college, it was not compulsory for me to take it again. But I decided to do it instead (as I felt I really didn’t know how to teach effectively). I am so glad I did it. I learnt so much from the lecturer that the information still applies today.

One of the things I tell my piano teaching students is that they must have a plan. Do not go into a lesson thinking they’re just going to “wing it” (after many years of teaching one can do it naturally but there is still a plan involved in general). When a teacher takes in a student, there must be a conversation about the goals and expectation, with the student, and the parents if the students are young. Review the plan from time to time during the year to make sure they are on track. Schedule on the yearly calendar performance opportunities such as concerts and music gatherings/performance classes, and when suitable, exam and competition opportunities as well. 

Communicate with the students and parents regularly to see if there’s any concern regarding practice and progress. Understand if they have any problems with their playing and practice.

Teaching with a plan is going to give the teacher, students and parents a lot of confidence, assurance and accomplishment in this music journey together.

Piano Teacher Training Course (Level 1) (Cantonese) 鋼琴導師訓練課程 (第一級):

https://teresa-wong-music.teachable.com/p/piano-teacher-training-course-level-1/

Focus on The Good

Recently I did a concert at a private residence my friend so graciously hosted. I had never done a concert like this before. I actually really loved it: an intimate setting for a closer connection between the performers and the audience.

I played some classic pieces such as Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Piano Sonata and Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor, as well as a couple compositions of mine. I also played a couple chamber pieces with my friends, including Brahms’ and Dvorak’s piano quintets. I had a few of my piano students perform too. It was a lot of fun.

After I finished the concert, I had a reception in which I got to interact with my audience and friends. I felt pretty good about how I played in general. There is always room for improvement. But this time I tried not to focus on that.

I recorded the whole concert (video and audio). Usually I don’t really want to watch or hear how I played after the concert. I would just leave the recordings there until I gather up the courage to look/listen to them. But this time I might watch it soon to see what I did good and what didn’t work.

I find, as most of us musicians and piano students do, that we focus on how bad we did, or how we could have done better. “I could have played that phrase more clearly”, “I could have controlled the left hand line better”, “I could have made less mistakes” etc. Often we forgot to think about what we did right: “I played it with good control”, “I did great dynamic contrast there”, “I have improved so much!”.

I am not saying we should not improve ourselves, not at all. But we need to shift our focus to what we have done right more. It’s the good part that keeps us move forward, knowing that we did something good, so that we can continue on our journey to play more and do better next time.

If we keep beating ourselves up, we would feel frustrated. “I’m not good enough”, “I would never do better than this”, “this is a waste of time”, “I don’t have talent/what it takes to succeed”, or simply, “I’m not good at the piano!”.

Focus on what you’ve been doing good so far. See what you’ve done to do those right things, and how you can apply that to the not so right things. Focus on the accomplishment. Then comes the improvement. There is always room to be better next time, whether it be in a piano lesson, piano exam or piano performance.

Do the best you can, and move on to the next (lesson/exam/performance).

Of course, you can always consult someone on where you are at and how you can improve.

Now would you excuse me, but I am going to do some brainstorming on the next project.

Teresa Wong

Music and Self

Today I had a rehearsal for my upcoming concert. After the first run for one of the concert pieces, a member in our group jokingly said to me, “are we good enough to play in the concert?” I was a little startled by her comment.

After I got home from the rehearsal, I thought about what she said. I remember long time ago when I was still studying, I realized one thing, and I believe it was one of the most important ideas I needed to play better. And the idea is,

“Music before me.”

If I am to explain it, I would say, “I have to put away my ego to better the music I make at the piano.”

The “me” is not important when I am playing music. Not in the way we usually think.

Of course there is self expression when we play music. But, when we focus on ourselves, we worry how well or how bad we play, and then how great or how embarrassed we feel accordingly.

Instead we need to focus on how to make the music better. So we do all these things (learn the music, practice, go deeper, and repeat the cycle) and hope we are worthy of the music.

We, when we play the music, are the servant. We are the tool. We, are not important in the music. The music itself it.

So when we play bad, it’s not us that are bad. The music is bad now. We should feel bad about playing the music badly, but not feel bad about ourselves.

When we play well, the music is great. It’s not us that are great. We should feel great about the music, that we have done the music justice.

Taking away ourselves, our ego, is a huge step towards making great music.

I almost forgot about it. I was experiencing it again lately but I was grateful that my friend reminded me today.

This would make me a better musician, to make better music.

Teresa Wong

Mozart: Piano Sonata K.311

The Piano Sonata in D major K.311 is in three movements. The Allegro opens with a theme that is orchestral in conception. After a modulation to the dominant, there is a secondary theme that sounds much more like a keyboard solo with its Alberti bass figures and scale-like melody. Mozart slowly increases the rhythmic intensity of the development section until a sudden stop near the middle, where piano and forte dynamics alternate. The order of events in the recapitulation is unusual.