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.
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.
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.
“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!