Category: Online Piano Lessons

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Must I learn to read music to play piano?

Some new piano students ask me this when we first meet, “Do I really have to read music? I just want to play the piano.” My answer is, “yes and no”. It depends on what you want to learn and play. There are a lot of great musicians who never learn to read music and yet they play marvellously. And then there are a lot of other great musicians who learn to read music and they play spectacularly. The first group of musicians is usually in the jazz/blues/pop/world music genre. They play by ear, they understand music differently the way those who read music. They usually improvise and create music more freely. The second group of musicians is the classically trained ones. These musicians learnt to read since they were young. They went through all the strict and traditional training. They understand music deeply and through various means. It is not just the reading that they need to learn, but they also know the theory, form and structure behind those notes. All these help them listen and play better. So, if you want to just play pop music and never care to bother with the classical pieces, then “no” I say you probably don’t really need to read music at all, and find someone who can teach you just like that (not the strictly classical piano teachers because they probably don’t know what to do with you!). But, if you ever want to learn something more complicated like a prelude and fugue by Bach or a nocturne by Chopin, then “yes” you would want to learn how to read. I always compare music learning to language learning. It’s really quite similar. Did you learn to read English? I am sure you did because you are now reading my article :) Did you ever wonder, “can I learn to speak English without learning to read English?” It sounds absurd. But the truth is, I bet you learnt to speak before you actually read it – you would probably know more words in your speech way ahead of your reading. It’s the chicken and egg theory. For me, I love to read (I’m an absolute bookworm). So I love to read music as well. I devoured a lot of new music just by playing through them the first second I see them. It’s an amazing feeling to have the ability to be able to sight-read in no time. It’s a lot of fun. But at the same time I like how some jazz and blues musicians who can improvise like mad – that’s really amazing to watch and listen to as well. In fact, I started improvising (and composing) a few years ago. At first, I found it hard to play random things because I was so used to read everything from the score and play exactly that. I was a bit “confused” (a popular word commonly used by my students). I was feeling that I couldn’t make mistake or “ugly sound” like that as I improvised, “that’s embarrassing!”. But I got over it, that’s the only way to learn to play differently. And it got better and was a lot of fun since then. Now I learn to play some blues because it’s just fun to learn something new, and I get to teach students that. For me, it’s not about just strictly “how you must read!” or “it doesn’t matter whether you read or not”, it’s rather what benefits that student the most. After all, music is about enjoyment (not so much for professional musicians all the time! Just like anyone in their field doing it professionally). It’s about people expressing themselves and sharing it with others. Of course there are times it’s challenging in the process of learning – there are obstacles and hurdles, there are setbacks and disappointment. But most important of all, we make progress by making mistakes, getting over them and moving onward and forward. With the new students, I combine listening and reading. Learning by rote is important for any beginners. With listening, memorizing patterns by sight and sound, as well as remembering notes one or two at a time, students make progress very quickly. It’s important for students to gain confidence by being able to play something simply successfully at the beginning, that sense of enjoyment and satisfaction, knowing that they can actually play the piano and make music, is the motive that moves them forward and keep learning. I could go on and on about music learning and piano playing, but I shall stop here and continue with another post on how teachers can motivate students in a positive direction with very simple cues in their piano journey. Teresa Wong

DipABRSM: Examples of Viva-Voce Questions(2)

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How does an online piano lesson work ?

Hello everyone, this is Teresa Wong.  

Today I want to explain to you how online piano lessons work. In fact it is very simple.  

First, you need three tools.  

The first tool is your piano.

The second tool is your phone or computer: this way we can see each other online.  

The third tool is a good internet connection.  There is a fourth tool which is microphone, but it’s not an compulsory item.

Let me now tell you how you can set up for your online piano lessons.  

First of all, you need to sit in front of your piano.  Place your phone or computer next to the piano. The best position is that I can see your hands (and forearms) at the keyboard.  

You can use any online video chat app like WeChat, facetime, Skype, whatsapp.  Here you can see me and my piano. This is how I show how to improve my piano performance. If you have any questions about online piano lessons, simulation tests or intensive exam improvement programs, please leave a message or email me. See you next time!

 

Welcome New Subscribers to my YouTube Channel!

Hello everyone, welcome to my Teresa Wong Music YouTube channel! First of all I like to say hello to my new subscribers: “HI!!” Thanks for subscribing. So I just came back from Long vacation, so you haven’t seen any writing or recording from me lately. Now that I’m back, I’m back at writing your post and recording videos for you, And I’m hoping you are going to enjoy them as much as you have been.

This is the season of exams again so I’m back at providing online consultation sessions. If you are interested in getting some advice from you regarding graded piano exams or piano diploma exams you’re welcome to contact me.  Anything for me from piano performance, from recital repertoire to exam pieces, technique, viva voce, programme notes, I am here to help.

We are also running our “how to build a successful music teaching studio” course again. We are doing a special offer for you. If you’re interested in kickstarting music teaching career,  don’t hesitate! Take this great opportunity and get started! You were definitely learn to build a successful career for yourself!

I got a lot of great feedback from students who took the last course. They were very happy about it and excited about starting their music teaching career. One of the students tweeted me saying that she got fans from all over the world and I’m just really excited for her. So seize this chance and take on the special offer! And until next time, this is Teresa Wong, cheers!

Piano Diploma Exam: Quick Study (Part I)

[:en]Quick Study is definitely deemed one of the most challenging parts in a piano diploma exam (ABRSM).

Many exam candidates are confused, believing that a quick study test in piano diploma exams is not much different from a sight-reading test in graded piano exams. They cannot be more wrong.

Needless to say, passing a sight-reading test in graded piano exams is not an easy feat for some. Many piano students spend most of their time drilling the piano exam pieces, leaving little time on the scales (because they are “boring” and “technical”, and ah, they bear less marks), and not much at all on the sight-reading test.

The truth is, one does not need to pass the sight-reading part in order pass the whole piano exam, and therefore, students (and teachers) simply ignore this part that’s deemed “unpreparable” and focus instead on the other parts that are much more manageable. Years go by, and many piano students’ sight-reading ability went undeveloped.

Poor sight-reading skill is a major contributor to a majority of piano students’ decreasing interest in music learning and piano lessons. When a piano player can read quickly, grasping most of the music elements at first glance without taking a lot of time to figure out what’s going on in a new piece of music, s/he can then focus on how to project varieties of beautiful tone and express musical phrases and styles suitable for that particular piece of music.  Reading and learning new music become fun and exciting as opposed to a chore or to some, an excruciating experience.

When students in their graded piano learning years are not trained with the amazing skills to sight-read quickly, they are not only left with the notion that learning new pieces is a difficult and long process, they also find themselves dread about advancing to the next level: piano diplomas.

A lot of piano students (and piano teachers) choose ATCL, the first professional piano diploma by the Trinity College London, as it does not have a sight-reading/quick study test. On the other hand, for those who prefer dipABRSM, the first professional piano diploma by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), one must pass “all the requirements of both sections” in order for his/her diploma to be awarded, and that includes a quick study test (Note: Section I is the recital, while Section II has quick study and viva voce, towards which programme notes is counted).

Now, a lot of piano diploma exam candidates thought they were well prepared for the quick study test, since they believe they could read music fairly well. Sadly, they are usually surprised (or even shocked) by the fact that their quick study score is so low that they cannot pass the whole exam, even when they pass all other sections.

So what is the difference between a sight-reading test and a quick study test, you might ask?

The difference cannot be underestimated.

The level of difficulty in sight-reading tests increases as the grades progresses. Examiners might not be as strict in their markings when it comes to earlier grades like grades 1-3, but I see comments on sight-reading test for a grade 5 piano exam candidate that demands certain level of musical phrasing and stylistic awareness. One can understand the level of sight-reading ability a grade 8 piano exam candidate needs to display in order to achieve a higher score.

In a quick study (using dipABRSM as an example), the music is of two pages long. That requires quick reading and grasp of musical styles in the 5 minutes of preparation given to the piano diploma exam candidate. Although the music is composed especially for the exam, the styles can be of any musical period. What that means is it can be composed in any style of the Baroque to contemporary period. Candidates should familiarize themselves with all kinds of musical styles and periods.

One must wonder, “how is it possible for me to know all kinds of musical styles and periods before the exam?”

To this question, I say, no one can do that in a week or two. However, it is entirely possible to learn to play all kinds of music with certain level of ease at first glance, not to the degree of perfection, but to show a pianist’s awareness and well-rounded knowledge (and surely, skills), performing a new piece of any style at a pleasantly enjoyable level. I myself absolutely enjoy playing all kinds of musical pieces at first glances, from early period to new music. For me it’s a great opportunity to learn something new – there’re just too many pieces I’ve never heard or played before even after years of study, performing and teaching!

Since one cannot improve his/her quick study ability in a short period of time, a diploma piano exam candidate must start training early and systematically.