Tag: piano lessons

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..

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

Classical Music: Sacred or Scary?

There is a general misconception about classical music. 

“It’s boring.”

“It’s for the elite.” (“high-class”).

“It’s old. Who wants to listen to that?”

“I don’t understand it.”

“I don’t play an instrument, so I don’t get it.”

Classical music is just another music genre, like jazz, hip hop, rock, pop, world. 

Of course, in the hearts of “classical people” – meaning the classical musicians and connoisseurs, classical music is “unique”, “pristine”, even “sacred”, like the untouchable.

I like to think there is something special with classical music of course, with my own background of years of classical music training and study. Even I like many kinds of music, classical music does have a special place in my heart, there’s no doubt about it. But I also like to share with people who are interested in learning and listening to it more, because there’s nothing “scary” or “boring” about classical music at all. In fact, once you get a hang of it, you would start to be able to appreciate it more and bathe and rejoice in the beauty of it, that I can assure you of.

Now, where do we start?

Let’s start from singing.

Who doesn’t like to sing? Who can’t appreciate a good singing voice, even one thinks they cannot sing?

I enjoy listening to vocal music, be it solo or choral. I am quite inclined to listening to choral music though -perhaps due to my training as a choral conductor – from a cappella to chorus with a full on orchestra. My favorite choral music would be gregorian chant and mass, then followed by some beautifully harmonised “modern”choral songs.

Now how do you listen to the music here?

1. Listen with an open mind – forget about what kind of music it is. Just listen and feel. And ask yourself, “do I like it? why?”

2. Find out more about the music – google it, who wrote it? who sang it? is there any story to the music/about the composer – there’s always some story, at least if there’s lyrics, you can appreciate the words.

3. If you know how to play an instrument and understand some music theory, then you can find out some basic structural information about the piece. Or simply, listen to the ebbs and flows of the music. Or, if there’s more than one instrument, can you hear what’s there? How do the different instrumentation come together, and how do they interact with each other?

So here are some of my favorite, please enjoy:

First, some good old fashioned piano solo music, everyone’s favorite! :

Famous nocturnes by Chopin:

Now, some choral music with piano accompaniment, some more harmonized, easy listening and “modern”:

And here is some unaccompanied (“a cappella”) mass, it’s for me very healing and almost spiritual experience listening to this kind of music:

If anyone wants me to talk about these music genres, I am happy to write about them in the future. Just send me a message and let me know!

Much blessings in music,

Teresa x

Enjoy your piano playing

[:en]You know, sometimes when I write, I get really worked up.

You know why? Because I care.

I care about how people teach, and how people learn.

Because I had “teachers” who screwed me up, never taught me anything, implied that I was bad at playing, trashed my confidence, without a care. And I vowed to myself I never would do that to my students, or hir any teachers who would do that to their students.

But I also had some wonderful Teachers who are great at what they do, who are good at their craft not only in playing but also more importantly in teaching. Those are great human beings who have inspired me to do the same for my students, every single day I teach and run my piano school.

So yes I might sound mean sometimes in my post, I am very straightforward and blunt about how I think and feel. And I think my readers would appreciate my honesty here.

Now, back to the main topic (which I always get derailed from for five paragraphs right from the start).

So, I want our students to enjoy playing the piano, and I also want you, my readers, who might not be our students (per se), to enjoy learning music and playing the piano. Why?

Because playing the piano is not a torture. It’s not a punishment. And for sure it’s not boring.

Certainly, it’s HARD sometimes. And sometimes it feels like HELL when you can’t get this one passage or a scale or a sight-reading exercise (gasp!! just think about that emoji that looks like “The Scream” by Edvard Munch) right. That can be a pain for a while. But that’s called struggle, and that’s how we learn and progress after we have managed that struggle.

So, I hope you have learnt something from me so far in the past seven and a half years on this blog – I know it’s hard to find it now as it’s sort of embedded in this complicated website of mine/my school. Anyone find it hard to find my articles on this site please let me know, I might separate this blog back to stand on its own if that helps. What I want to do here is to help you get better and enjoy more in your music/piano journey.

And forgive me if I have not been perfect – because I never said so. I might have made mistakes here and there and didn’t write all so eloquently at times because I was mad/confused/hurt/pained/wronged or whatever, but my intentions will always stay true.

Much blessings to all of you and happy playing,
TW

P.S. Hey, I have a new scales video (series) coming out, check out the first one here!

[:zh]You know, sometimes when I write, I get really worked up.

You know why? Because I care.

I care about how people teach, and how people learn.

Because I had “teachers” who screwed me up, never taught me anything, implied that I was bad at playing, trashed my confidence, without a care. And I vowed to myself I never would do that to my students, or hir any teachers who would do that to their students.

But I also had some wonderful Teachers who are great at what they do, who are good at their craft not only in playing but also more importantly in teaching. Those are great human beings who have inspired me to do the same for my students, every single day I teach and run my piano school.

So yes I might sound mean sometimes in my post, I am very straightforward and blunt about how I think and feel. And I think my readers would appreciate my honesty here.

Now, back to the main topic (which I always get derailed from for five paragraphs right from the start).

So, I want our students to enjoy playing the piano, and I also want you, my readers, who might not be our students (per se), to enjoy learning music and playing the piano. Why?

Because playing the piano is not a torture. It’s not a punishment. And for sure it’s not boring.

Certainly, it’s HARD sometimes. And sometimes it feels like HELL when you can’t get this one passage or a scale or a sight-reading exercise (gasp!! just think about that emoji that looks like “The Scream” by Klimt

[:]

Keep Going and Keep Playing!



Dear Students,


Some of you might be feeling down and having a little rough time lately. Honestly, me too. Sometimes I also feel I cannot do this. I feel exhausted and lost, and that I cannot continue to do what I have been working on. But when I think about you, when I get messages from all over the world asking for help and guidance, when there are new students keep coming to me, and existing students reminding me of my good work, I know I am doing the right thing all along and I must keep going. So, I also ask you to do this for me. Please keep going.


Believe in your own ability and the work you have been doing. When you look back last year or a couple years, what do you see? Do you see that you have come far along from where you were? I sure do, for myself and you as well. (If you have not, you should really face yourself and ask yourself why.) I see I have walked and progressed far from where I was last year. And let me tell you this: I did not know I would come to this point last year, when I was confused with what I had to do! So do not waste your time in tormenting yourself, blaming yourself with what you have not done or achieved. Instead, put your precious time and effort to persist and work harder. Focus on how to sound better, improve each movement in a more precise manner and project each note with a more refined tone quality. Above all, open up your mind, your (inner) ears, your (inner) eyes, your body and your soul to accept the new sound, the new possibility to achieve what the next new height, which as a matter of course is unknown to both you and me, because you have not reached there yet! But with hard work and perseverance, we can do this together. Only if you want it. Only if you truly want it.

Now go get some practice done, whether at the piano, at the computer (listening), the book/score (reading /analyzing), your mind (thinking/changing the way you think) or your heart (believing/changing the way you believe in yourself/this thing called the purpose of playing the piano).


You are much better than you think you are. You can do much more than you think you can.


Your Teacher,

Teresa Wong


My student Douglas and Me
My student Douglas and Me