Tag: how to play piano

Piano Teaching with a Plan

I don’t know how many times I went into a piano lesson when I was young, that my piano teachers just told me to play this and that, correct me when I was wrong, asked me to go practice more, and that was a lesson.

So when I first started teaching piano, I didn’t know what to do. I was 16 or 17. I started teaching how my teachers taught me, going through song after song, study after study (because, who doesn’t like Hanon or Czerny piano exercises, right?). I corrected students when they played wrong, and asked them to go home and practice it. That was it. I did try to encourage my students, as I had one great Teacher who opened my eyes to different kinds of piano playing and teaching.

When I was in college majoring in piano performance, I took a course called “piano pedagogy”. But it was more on the academic side, that most we did was to study about history of piano teaching and playing, so that was not much of an application to real-life piano teaching.

It was not until when I was in graduate school, that I discovered the beauty of real piano teaching. Since I already took a course in piano pedagogy in college, it was not compulsory for me to take it again. But I decided to do it instead (as I felt I really didn’t know how to teach effectively). I am so glad I did it. I learnt so much from the lecturer that the information still applies today.

One of the things I tell my piano teaching students is that they must have a plan. Do not go into a lesson thinking they’re just going to “wing it” (after many years of teaching one can do it naturally but there is still a plan involved in general). When a teacher takes in a student, there must be a conversation about the goals and expectation, with the student, and the parents if the students are young. Review the plan from time to time during the year to make sure they are on track. Schedule on the yearly calendar performance opportunities such as concerts and music gatherings/performance classes, and when suitable, exam and competition opportunities as well. 

Communicate with the students and parents regularly to see if there’s any concern regarding practice and progress. Understand if they have any problems with their playing and practice.

Teaching with a plan is going to give the teacher, students and parents a lot of confidence, assurance and accomplishment in this music journey together.

Piano Teacher Training Course (Level 1) (Cantonese) 鋼琴導師訓練課程 (第一級):

https://teresa-wong-music.teachable.com/p/piano-teacher-training-course-level-1/

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..

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

A New Beginning I

Hi all,

I apologize for not having been here or on any social media channels lately.

I just came back from a wonderful trip in Hawaii. It’s beautiful and just a great time there. It actually made me miss Hong Kong a little bit regarding all the food selections! Hongkongers are definitely spoiled with their food choices.

During my holidays in Hawaii, I tried to do a couple things that scared me, both of them required me to be in the ocean. I don’t know if any of you read what I wrote all this time, but I did write about my fear in water. I took swimming lessons and so far I am somewhat better in the pool but if you ask me to go do some water sports in the big ocean I would definitely think twice (or more like hundred times!).

I think I didn’t write about this for some reason, but I went on a diving trip (yes, diving in deep deep water under many feet) a couple years ago in Taiwan, after I tried this “discover diving” thing in Okinawa. I thought it was fun and easy (!) and therefore I decided to venture out to get the open water diving certification after my Taipei stay to finish my Music Together teaching certification (oh yes that’s another story for another time).

That diving trip was gruesome three whole days of me being in the cold open murky wavy water, floating on top of and diving in deep in the ocean. I am not sure if I want to do it again soon, but I do think I will get back at it in the (far) future, perhaps at some place some time with clearer and warmer water.

Anyway, back to the Hawaii trip. I went snorkeling for a few times and I saw some amazing sea creatures! It was not a really fun thing for me to do – like I said, I do not like being in the ocean or somewhere deep. But I made myself do it and I thought that was good.

The other thing I tried actually changed my mind of me being in the ocean and that I actually could enjoy AND have fun about it. It was surfing.

I have seen people surf in TV shows and movies, thinking “wow, that looks so cool”, and especially when I see girls doing it, I am like, “that just looks hot”. Like for me girls doing anything I normally won’t do is “hot”, like driving (which I do now), and being athletic and lifting heavy weights (which I also do now). So being great at water sports is just something that blows my mind and I cannot fathom I can even manage to do it, let alone being good at it.

And there I went surfing.

Needless to say I had this HUGE anxiety before the morning to take my surf lesson, which was like two hours (“Why do anyone want to take surfing lesson for two hours straight? Is there a break in between?”). So with much anxiety (imagining I might drown or thrown out in the ocean without my surfboard and hit my head on the rocks etc) and sleepiness (it’s 8 in the morning! and hey it’s holiday), I arrived at this truck full of surf boards, standing nearby a fit young lady. I thought she was one of the surf students, but no, she’s my surf instructor!

I put on a tee shirt and water shoes my instructor handed me, and we were off to do some practice on the grass nearby with the surfboards. I watched intently what she was demonstrating to me and then I copied. The instruction lasted for 15 minutes. And then she said, “let’s go to the water and try it out!” “What?! That’s it??” I was shocked inside. But I took up the courage and picked up my surfboard and there I went with her into the water.

(…to be continued)