Author: Teresa Wong

Piano Technique Transformation Course

This course is designed to drastically transform your piano technique forever for the better. With the aid of videos and exercise book, you will be able to not only learn at your pace but also practice efficiently to improve your piano playing in a short period of time

Course includes:

My technique exercise book (pdf copy): “Technique Transformation Piano Exercise Book” (USD$25 value)

Section 1: Demonstration videos on various techniques with reference to Gyorgy Sandor’s “On Piano Playing” (USD$150 value);

Section 2: Demonstration videos on ALL exercises from technique book (30 exercises) (USD$250 value).

What is Solfège?

“Solfège”, “solfeggio”, or “so-fa names” – they all refer to the same thing – the system of singing notes of a scale in “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti”. Remember the song in “The Sound of Music”? Like “do, a deer, a female deer; (Re!) ray, a drop of golden sun”? …

Yes, whenever I introduce the so-fa system to students and teachers, most of them would say, yes, they have heard about do-re-mi. But it’s usually unknown to them where the source of information comes from.

Many students first feel embarrassed to sing in lessons, and often I can feel that they have the question as to why they have to sing in a piano lesson. I usually explain in brief why that would help them with their playing and eventually they start to accept it and get to singing along with me. 

For me, singing has been quite natural. Not that I was trained earlier on with singing lessons (I did have some classical vocal lessons later in life), just that I was used to singing in music lessons and choirs. Then I went on playing piano for a lot of singers and also conducting choirs, so for me singing is fun, expressive and liberating- using my own body as the instrument can be a very emotional experience.

Aural training/Sight singing is a very important aspect in music learning in my opinion. In fact, it is such an important part of music training in European conservatories that aural training/sight singing class (using solfège system) is often mandatory. 

Not only do I introduce aural training/sight singing early on in our Music on Wings Piano Beginner Course, I also encourage students who are late to the training pick up the habit of singing in solfège. It is super helpful for part singing and recognising chords and cadences in graded music/piano exams (e.g. from grade 6 onwards candidates have to sing a melodic line over a piano accompaniment, to grades 7 and 8 do part singing, identify cadences and chords, modulations etc). 

Using solfège system helps students to sing individual notes with more accuracy in pitch as it shows more clearly the relationship between two notes. And there are two ways in general to sing solfège, one, the “Fixed Do” system, and two, the “Movable Do” system.

I myself prefer and teach students the “Movable Do” as it makes much more sense to me musically. In brief,  with “Fixed Do”, “Do” is always “C”, no matter what key you are in.  With “Movable Do”, “do” is the tonic note.  For example, in the key of C Major, “C” is “Do”, but in the key of D Major” “D” is “Do”.  There are variations in terms of syllables used throughout the world, but I stick with “Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do”.

One can also use numbers in place of syllables to sing the notes, and it would be “ one, two, three, four, five, six, sev, one” with “seven” shortened for singing purpose. It works too especially for those who haven’t really started with the solfège system, as numbers tell you exactly what degree of the note it is in the scale, and give you a much clearer idea of the relevant interval between two notes (super helpful with identifying chords and cadences). For me it doesn’t work as well since I am too used to using the solfège system already, and besides, I have perfect pitch, so I don’t have to rely on the numbers to know what notes they are (sorry not sorry! but one can still definitely have a fantastic absolute pitch with systematic training).

When it comes to singing music in minor keys, I use “La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Si, La”, with “La” being the tonic note. For example, in the key of A Minor, “A” is “La, and in the key of E minor, “E” is “La”.  I know, it’s getting a bit complicated, but when you’re used to the system, it’s really much easier than it sounds (!).

In our Grade 8 Aural Training Comprehensive Training Course, I teach solfège and discuss further about how that helps students sing the bass line, identify cadences and chords, as well as sing the part-singing more efficiently and even more importantly, accurately. Without knowing how to identify individual notes one way or another, it becomes a very confusing task for a lot of candidates who are preparing for ABRSM Grade 8 music exams of any instruments. 

Sight singing can be a lot of fun when you know how to approach it. Whether you are a piano student preparing for your grade 8 piano exam, or a piano teacher helping students to learn more effectively in their piano lessons, or a parent wanting to help their kids become more engaged in their music learning journey, singing is wonderful itself and has so much more to offer for instrumental playing. I encourage everyone who hasn’t done much in singing tries their hands in it, and it’s very simple to begin: just start singing the music you’ve been learning in your piano/violin/guitar/clarinet/bass lessons! Start with a line or two and go from there. You can even use pop music, the song sung by your favorite singer/band. Try using so-fa names or numbers and see how you feel about it. There are so much waiting for you to explore in this music learning journey! 

Practice Makes Better

We’ve all heard of the phrase, “practice makes perfect”. I sure have, and held onto it for a really long time.

Being a professional musician means that you have to practice hard and long to perfect a piece. But more often than not, “perfection” can become a negative word.

What do I mean by that? Isn’t it what we should strive for, perfection?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t practice hard to know our music so well that we can recite it in our sleep (or maybe dream about it! – I know I have). I actually tried memorizing a piece backward – from the end back to the beginning – to test myself if I knew it well enough for my performance. But maybe that’s a bit too much? I wonder.

Anyway, my point is, sometimes we should focus on the process rather than the result, especially when you as a student – a beginner – or someone who’s just picked up the instrument again after years of hiatus. Who’s a beginner you might ask? Anyone who has less than 5 continuous years’ experience at the instrument would I consider a beginner. And if one didn’t really spend that much time practicing and playing in their years of learning, one could still be a beginner after even 10 years of lessons. A lot of times, we need to plan and achieve small goals, and in terms of the big picture, the many achievement of small goals eventually lead to one big success.

I believe in “practice makes better”. I do want my students to become better at the piano, there’s no doubt about it. But after the many years of teaching and observation, I find that those who focus too much of how well they can play at that moment often lose sight of how well they can become in the future, provided that they keep putting effort and time into their lessons and practice. Unfortunately, those who feel they are not getting better in their playing are those who lose confidence and interest, and eventually, give up on the whole music journey.

I always remember this one adult student, who was (and still is) very passionate about piano playing. He had only a few years of training with me but he showed a lot of promise right from the start. All other adult students were in awe of what he could play in a very short time. Most of all, he had fun and showed a lot of confidence in his playing. At times his performance was not on par, but he didn’t feel bad about it. One subpar performance didn’t deter him from keep going; instead, he moved on and kept doing better in the next performance. Even when he was working overseas, he told me how he would look for a piano to practice. Eventually, he decided to give up on his job and devoted himself into music. Now he works at a music conservatory and competes internationally.

One special thing about him is not about how well he plays or how devoted he is into piano, but rather that he always keeps a good spirit about his playing and doesn’t focus on one slip or two. I believe it’s his positive attitude that keeps him moving forward and progress immensely.

Obviously not everyone wants to become a professional pianist, and I don’t actually care about that. What I truly care about is that my students, no matter young or mature, beginner or advanced, enjoy their playing, their practice, their lessons, and above all, respect that they have their own special journey in music; that sometimes they progress quickly, and other times they would get stuck and feel lost. The only way to move on is to keep going. It’s okay to take a break, but after rest, it’s time to stand up and continue the journey, because, this journey is super beautiful, and it is so worth it.

Teresa Wong

P.S. I just want to say a special “thank you” to whoever is reading this. This journey for me has been great, a lot of ups and downs, has taken me to so many places in the world and met so many people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. I feel honored to have you read this, follow me, taken/taking lessons from me (as a student, a teacher, or as a parent, in person or online), read/bought my books, watched me videos. No matter what the future brings, I know I have shared with you in all honesty and that I have done something good..

References for Specific Topic – Bach

For those who are preparing for their piano performance diploma exams (ABRSM/TCL- dipABRSM/ATCL/LTCL/LRSM), here are some excellent examples for your reference on programme notes writing:

I know a lot of you are preparing for the Toccata in E minor BWV 914, and so here is one of analysis you can find online.

Books

Title: Oxford Composer Companion: J.S. Bach (Oxford Composer Companions)

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Editor: Malcolm Boyd

Title: The Cambridge Companion to Bach (Cambridge Companions to Music) 

Editor: John Butt

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Title: The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents

Author: Christoph Wolff

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Title: J. S. Bach’s Well-tempered clavier : in-depth analysis and interpretation 

Author:  Siglind Bruhn

Publisher: Edition Gorz

Scores

Title: J.S. Bach : An introduction to his Keyboard Music (Alfred Masterwork Edition)

Author: Willard A. Palmer

Publisher: Alfred Music

Title: The Well-Tempered Clavier – Revised Edition

Publisher: Henle Verlag

Want to learn more about our online consultation sessions for your piano diploma exams?

Sound (CD etc)

Title: Well-Tempered Clavier

Pianist: Andras Schiff

Title: Glenn Gould plays Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Books I & II, BWV 846-893

Pianist: Glenn Gould

Title: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 & 2 [4 CD]

Pianist: Roselyn Tureck

Title: Bach, J.S.: Keyboard Works

Pianist: Angela Hewitt

How to teach piano beginners (I)

As piano students and performers, you all know the importance of piano lessons and practice, and how a great teacher can inspire you to the next new level. But as piano teachers, do you know what you have to do in order to be successful in teaching piano students?

In this series of articles , I’d like to share with you some useful ideas on how you as piano teachers to prepare yourselves on taking up this wonderful career of piano teaching.

Teaching piano beginners is a challenging task. Many might think it’s easier than teaching students of more intermediate levels. It’s crucial for piano teachers to nurture their beginner students carefully so that students start well on the merry way of music learning and enjoyment for many years to come.

The following tips are applicable for teaching piano beginners in general.

1. Use piano instruction books effectively

There are a lot of piano method books out there and many of them are quite excellent and fun. But not all of them are suitable for teaching purpose. Piano teachers should identify the books they find that are in line with their own teaching approach and choose wisely. More importantly, the piano method books out there do not teach teachers how to teach their books. So it’s up to the teachers to use the books accordingly. Even if the teachers are professionally trained musically, it doesn’t mean unfortunately that they are trained to teach music, and I know a lot of times they are frustrated with how to communicate in a way that students can understand and learn effectively.

This leads me to the second point..


2. Learn how to teach

I for a while did not understand the importance of learning how to teach. It was not until I took classes in piano pedagogy in graduate school and first-handedly received high-quality piano lessons from master piano teachers, that I understood the surprisingly distinct difference between the old-school mediocre piano teaching and the great piano teaching, which could immensely inspire a student to a great new level in piano playing and music understanding.

After finishing my master’s degree, I continued to learn and dig deeper in the subject of “teaching”. In piano teaching (or instrumental teaching for that matter), there are two main aspects one needs to learn as a teacher: teaching music and teaching in general. And in music teaching, there are piano playing (technique and repertoire) and music rudiments (theory, reading and aural ability, history). To be a successful and well-rounded piano teacher, one must not only acquire knowledge in music and piano but also learn how to teach.

Teaching is not to feed information into students’ brains- it’s rather to inform and guide the students, so that they are well-equipped with data they need to form their own judgment and apply their knowledge accordingly.

High-quality piano teaching does not have to be reserved to music students in prestige graduate schools only. As a matter of fact, children needs great teachers to learn from and be inspired by at early ages, right from the start of their music education journey.

3. Teach students how to practice

It’s important to teach students how to practice. A lot of teachers think the students automatically know that how to practice on their own, and hope that the parents would somehow take that responsibility to teach them or show them how. That cannot be more wrong.

First thing students should know is that practice is crucial for successful piano playing and repetition is important in their piano practice. And repetition does not mean playing a piece twice or the whole piece all the time. There should be guidance on how to practice and what to practice, what goals they set in each practice session and how to achieve those goals accordingly.

In our piano beginner books, we write out step-by-step instructions for students and parents to follow at home during their practice, so that they know what to do and what to pay attention to. In piano lessons, teachers should also spend time to explain to students how to practice certain phrases and what they themselves should pay attention to during their practice at home. Students need to know what they are looking for in their own practice and playing, instead of teachers pointing out their mistakes and them rectifying them afterwards. A lot of self-awareness and attention to details are required in students in their own practice (and playing) to make that practice session effective and productive.

When students know how to practice and what to look for during practice, it’s time to be creative in their practice. Teachers can demonstrate different ways of tackling a problem, whether it be a rhythmic, harmonic or coordination aspect. Teaching students to understand the components and make-up of a music piece would tremendously help them practice more effectively. No one gets far with practice or playing without understanding the musical content of a piece they are learning.