Tag: dipABRSM piano

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.

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! 

5 Tips to Prepare for Your Piano Diploma Exam (ATCL/dipABRSM)

Here are 5 tips to help you prepare for your piano diploma exam:

1. Read the Official Syllabus

Read the syllabus carefully: everything is written out very clearly in the syllabus provided by the music exam board you’re taking exam with, from the repertoire list, to time limit, writing format and word count. Go to the relevant link for your piano diploma:

ABRSM

Trinity College of Music

2. Choose a Well-balanced Program

It is advised to choose a program that includes pieces of not only from different musical periods but also varieties in musical styles and technical command. So think tempo contrast, different genres and structures (sonata/character piece/technical piece/fugue).

3. Show Your Strength and Hide Your Weakness

The recital program is for you to SHINE, to show your performance ability and musical understanding, rather than displaying your shortcomings in commanding a piece or two. Know your strength – usually your teacher (if you have one) would know quite well what that would be. Explore your ability and learn to perform pieces of higher level of difficulties is commendable, but knowing your limit is worth noting especially for exam purpose.

4. Combine Interest and Mastery in Your Exam Pieces

Choosing pieces you would like to learn is very important – but so is choosing pieces you CAN perform them technically and musically to the level of the diploma exam required. Do not choose pieces just because they are popular or technically demanding, but at the same time do not choose some music simply because they are obscure thinking the examiners have never heard and do not know how to mark them (think “new music”) – if that ever happens I suppose you as the candidate would not understand how to play it either! And don’t forget you have to talk about them if you’re taking any diploma exams with the ABRSM!

5. Understand the Difficulty when Preparing for a Diploma Exam

Preparing for a performance exam at a diploma level (whether ATCL/dipABRSM or higher) is a huge step up from grade 8 level – you have to not only learn how to play the piece but also really present the pieces at the performance level that a diploma requires. It’s a PERFORMANCE not just an exam.

Give time to prepare for it. Listen to a lot of performances, read a lot about the music, the history and the composer (you can find a lot of information online or at your local library). Find a great teacher to help you: even if it’s not regular lessons, take some lessons from a teacher or two to get advice and suggestions on your performance would really help you improve and be prepared for the exam.

Good luck to all of you who are preparing for your upcoming piano diploma. Enjoy the process and have fun with it!

More on My Online Piano Consultation Lessons

Teresa Wong

How does an online piano lesson work ?

Hello everyone, this is Teresa Wong.  

Today I want to explain to you how an online piano lesson works. 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 an online piano lesson.  

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!

More on my online piano lessons