Category: Piano Practice

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

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).

Five Steps to Effective Piano Practice

How do we practice effectively to improve our piano playing and perform well in concerts and exams?

Here is a simple guideline anyone can follow in every piano practice session.

Five Steps To Effective Piano Practice

1. Tone

Tone is the quality of sound, which is different from the volume of sound (when we talk about “dynamics”, the softness and loudness of sound, the piano and forte).

How do we achieve the different qualities of sound? By applying the right technique. Mastering the varieties in attack, touch and weight transfer is the key to a whole new world of sound. Therefore, working on gaining a solid technical control and variety in technical skills is of tremendous importance.

2. Elements

Sometimes my students say to me, “I don’t know what to do with the piece! I just keep playing it through to make it sound more smooth.” That is not a practice. That is simply playing through a piece.

Don’t know what to do? Find out what the important elements in the music piece are. What is going on in the melody? Listen to the different leaps between notes (“intervals“): a third is very different from a sixth or an octave, and a minor third is different from a major third. Pay attention to the subtle change in the melodic contour and show the nuance in your playing.

In the case of a fugue, where is the subject and what are the elements in the subject? Where are the beginning of the fugal entries in various voices? Are there any motives (melodic /rhythmic patterns) that recurs in the song in different voices/registers? And how about the tonalities? Are there any significant key changes? Or perhaps some special sounding chords (dissonance vs consonance)? It would be good for you to be able to identify the chord nature such as diminished /augmented /minor /major /dominant 7th/9th etc., but the first step is train your ears to differentiate the subtle nuance among different chords and harmony first.

One element many piano students neglect is rhythm. Really try to pay closer attention to execute the correct rhythm, for example, dotted rhythm is very differently than an even rhythm, and triplets or quintuplets need to be treated differently than regular eighths or sixteenths. If you can’t play them, clap them first. It’s about getting the rhythm in your body rather than at your fingers. Sometimes I ask my students to dance or tap to the music (of course I do that with them!) . It’s a fun way to practice and get the rhythm naturally easily.

3. Dynamics and phrasing

In general, it should be easy to show the dynamic changes and phrasing in your playing simply by following the markings on the score. But in order to give a more expressive performance, you need to interpret the piece yourself. Where is the beginning and ending of each phrase? After you have found the melodic sequences and the harmonic changes, what do you do to show them clearly to the audience? An expressive and musical playing can only be done by, on top of all the technical analysis, putting your heart and soul into the music, and that means feeling the music emotionally and physically. What do you feel about the rise and fall in the melody? Do you feel the difference between a rising minor third and a falling octave? How do you feel about them and what would you do to show them?

4. Articulation

Articulation expresses the more delicate nuance of individual notes while phrasing gives life and clarity to each musical phrase. Paying attention to articulate each note is like making effort at speaking every word so clearly, that your listener understand exactly what you want to express. And remember, it’s not just if it’s “legato” or “staccato”: there are many ways and combinations to “say” what you want at the piano!

5. Tempo

Having a steady tempo that you can control well under pressure is a major contribution to your success, whether it be in a performance, a competition or an exam. One thing any piano student should definitely pay attention to is establishing a steady pulse. Again, pulse is not the same as tempo, but without a steady pulse no one can hear exactly what your tempo is!

Sometimes it is wise to take the tempo down a few notches in order to present a well controlled and confident piano performance. And when it comes to a piece at a slow tempo, you might find playing it at a slightly more moving tempo helps the music flow along better. There is no hard or fast rule to the decision at tempo adjustment, certainly it’s best to express the music at its desirable speed (or marked tempo), but it is something a performer needs to think about from time to time. Moreover, even the “desirable speed” can be flexible in some cases (note: maybe not so much for standardized piano exams especially at graded levels): go listen to some recordings of the same piece (say a Beethoven sonata or Bach toccata) by different artists (or even same artist at different periods of his/her career), compare the tempi of the recordings, and you might be surprised just how different each artist’s approach is.

This is just a very general guideline to give you as a piano student some pointers on how to have a more effective piano practice session. But if you really pay attention to start following these few rules, you would be pleasantly surprised by the improvement you make at your piano playing!

Have fun at the piano!

Teresa Wong

Words of Encouragement for You

I just want to write a quick note for all of you out there, who might be feeling a bit down or frustrated because you didn’t have the better result than you expected in your lessons/exam/concert/teaching/building your studio. Please read this:

You didn’t fail.

You tried your best and it wasn’t the result you wanted.

You can try again. But before you take that lesson/exam/performance/the next project, think about what went wrong.

Looking into yourself is very important, but most people don’t want to do it. Because it’s hard. It can be embarrassing to see why you made that mistake.

And, you are only human.

What you can do now is to think how to move forward and be better next time around. And to reach that goal you need a much better planning this time.

Because most likely, what didn’t work last time will not work next time either. And if you are just going to do the same thing again, you are simply setting yourself up for error and mistake one more time. Who does that? Some people do. You don’t want to be one of them.

Now, get up and tell yourself, you are setting up for success this time. And you are going to do your best you know how for it – this requires very careful and detailed planning and execution of what your plan is.

Stick with your plan is very important, second to having a great plan. But even if you have a great plan, if you don’t do what you plan to do, nothing will work for you, so remember that.

Great reward comes from great effort with persistence and time. Nothing substantial is achieved within a very short period of time. Teaching and playing is building knowledge, that’s very similar to building wealth, no one can do it in one day or even a year. It’s constant work and struggle. I have had my fair share of work and struggle. I get frustrated myself sometimes. But every time I get beat up by life and I get back up faster and faster. Because I know deep inside me there’s no point wasting more time on anything even slightly negative and unproductive, that is not contributing to my growth and success.

So here I encourage you to just step back, relax, take a deep breath, and get back up on your feet. I know you can do this and you have that power within you to make this work.

Stay motivated,
Teresa Wong

Q&A to readers’ email (3): on effective practice

Q. Why don’t I get better even after hours of practicing? 0-3’45″ : length of practice – how long are you going to practice in each session
3’45″-6’21” : time of practice – when are you going to practice during the day
6’21”-10’29″- : goal of practice- what are you going to get done in your practice, make your goal specific and achievable
10’29” – 12’20”: strategy of practice – goal and strategy go hand in hand really! plan your strategy on what and how and when to reach your goal!