Tag: PianoHistory

[:en]Recommendations on Useful Piano Technical Exercises (Part I)[:zh]Recommendations on Useful Piano Technique Exercises (Part I)[:]

[:zh]Why do we need technical exercises and which exercises I recommend piano players to practice with.[:]

[:en]Bach: Toccata in E minor BWV 914[:zh]巴哈《 E 小調觸技曲, 作品914》 (Bach: Toccata in E minor BWV 914) [:]


(Also see Chinese version)

Toccata in E Minor, BWV 914 

  • “Toccata”: meaning “to touch” (“toccare” in Italian), a highly virtuosic keyboard genre
  • Bach’s toccatas: combination of German toccata style (more serious counterpoint and complex structure) and Italian toccata style (more showy and flamboyant), with alternating free-style (prelude) and strict structure (fugue) – “stylus phantasticus”
  • Basically two sets of prelude and fugue
  • Seven toccatas in total, this being the shortest of all
  • This toccata is also the only one that starts with a slow section
  • Four sections in this toccata:
  1. A prelude in a rather improvisatory style resembling the composer’s later organ work such as Toccata and Fugue in D minor
  2. A little “fugato”, a double fugue for four voices, lively and rhythmic, 
  3. Adagio: recitative style, combination of Italian aria and Northern German fantasia style, highly improvisatory
  4. A final three-voice fugue with an extended subject, in allegro, idiomatic violin writing, also thought to be originally written for organ, showing tremendous influence from Italian toccata writing (“Naples Manuscript”)

A more “liberal” rendition of the toccata:


A lesser known performer yet with another beautiful version of the same toccata:

More background details and analysis in our membership area post.


Teresa Wong[:zh](更多在 英文版)

  • 巴哈七首曲最短的一首
  • 開頭前奏以比較自由,像詠嘆調一樣,以管風琴樂曲般的序奏(prelude) 開始
  • 緊隨着的是一個雙主題賦格曲 (double fugue),節奏明快緊湊,基本是以主音(tonic) E小調和第五音(dominant) B小調在各個聲部 (voice)中重複出現
  • 第三段慢版(adagio)有著非常即興(improvisation) 的曲風,帶有聲樂中的朗誦調(recitative)風格
  • 第4段又是一個賦格曲,有三個聲部,主題比較長 ,亦有管風琴樂曲和意大利賦格曲的影子。



[:en]Three Crucial Steps to Prepare for a Successful Viva Voce Exam[:]

[:en]Prior to the “big day” aka diploma exam day, I ask my students to do three steps in terms of viva voce preparation for me (assuming they have already done all other steps I have given them in the course of diploma exam preparation). And I would like to share with you these three important steps that would give any candidates feel much more prepared and confident to perform well in the coming exam.

The three steps to prepare for a successful viva voce session are:

  1. Think
  2. Write
  3. Speak 


  1. Think

THINK about what and how you are going to answer the questions the examiners pose during the exam. I always give my students a bunch of potential questions the examiners will ask. It is very important to prepare ahead. Don’t just think, “oh, I will know how to answer them during the exam.” No way! Even you have the information at hand/in your head, it is crucial that you think about how to put the information together in a clear, simple presentable speech. And that leads to the second step..

2. Write

WRITE. THEM. DOWN. Seriously. This is the next step you must do especially when you worry a lot about how to say what you need to say in the real exam. I hear a lot of this or a variation of this, “oh, I will know how to answer them because I have the information in my head.” Really? I don’t think so. If you cannot write them down, you cannot answer them. It doesn’t have to be written in full paragraph/sentences (although it certainly helps), but at least in point form, using clear, simple sentence structure. And for those who are not native speakers: this is NOT an oral English exam, so don’t worry too much about the grammatical mistakes or trying to sound like a native speaker or Shakespeare! – actually they might not even understand you if you speak like the latter anyway. The easiest way is to speak clearly and slowly in simple sentence (just use present tense in all circumstances to make it easier for yourself when in doubt), so that you can present your ideas through effectively and get points for that! I do advise those who worry about their oral English ability to write out everything in full sentences first, not to memorize them, but to…

3. Speak

SAY IT OUT LOUD! It is very important for anyone to not only practice their speaking, but also practice talking about music. I have met so many musicians/candidates who might know a lot about music yet fail to deliver their ideas through speech. It is great you can perform well for the recital part, but you do also need to speak well in your viva voce too! Therefore, I always advise my students to TALK TO ME in our lessons, especially in the last few sessions prior to the exam. I ask them questions, and they give me answers in terms of the general repertoire, background of pieces, form and analysis, composer information, etc etc. I also check their programme notes and pose some questions based on what they wrote (and help with some editing- they do have to write their own notes first!). I encourage students to practice talking out loud at home for the viva voce practice and come back with the answers so I can help correct the content as well as sentence structure. That way students feel much more prepared and confident going to the real exam session.


I welcome any questions on the viva voce/programme notes/piano diploma exams in general.

A guided video to how to revise for your viva voce exam part:

Teresa Wong[:]

How long does it take to prepare for the first level diploma exam

I have written quite a few posts on preparation for diploma exams. As I just noticed that some posts/videos are in Chinese/Cantonese (鋼琴演奏考試文憑預備需知 (一) ), I figure I should write them in English again just to be fair.

Q1. How long does it take to prepare for the first level diploma exam (meaning ATCL/dipABRSM)?

A1. It is not such a straightforward answer. Depending very much on the previous experience of a student, it would mean a completely different timing for one student to the other. The better training and more solid foundation a student had for his/her graded exams, the easier and faster the student can prepare for a diploma exam. Although it might seem that the candidate only has to prepare 3 to 4 pieces, each piece is of much longer duration and more complex in technical command and musical expression. The level of performance that the examiners look for is of much higher standard as well. And if one chooses to memorize them, it would even take much longer time to understand each piece very well in order to do so successfully in the actual exam, which is regarded as a performance rather than a test (to paraphrase an examiner’s words, it’s like “a recital people pay to get in, would anyone pay to listen to your playing? Think about it.”) . And for dipABRSM, the candidate is required to not only write more about the pieces but also to be able to answer questions about the pieces performed by the examiners on the spot during the exam. Does the candidate have the ability to do so?

To make it simple, I would give this guideline (do not hold me to this, I say it based on my teaching experience, and I would have a much better judgment and timing if the candidates have been my students “from scratch” or for longer time): if a student has passed grade 8 with merit, s/he shall be able to prepare for ATCL in 1.5 years. If a student has passed grade 8 with distinction, s/he should have no problem taking dipABRSM in 1.5/2 years. I would not recommend anyone preparing to take a diploma exam within a year right after passing grade 8 no matter how great the result is, although there are always exceptions, that some truly gifted students can finish diploma exams faster than anyone (for instance, a student with grade 8 distinction can take ATCL in a year, or I had a student who never took any graded exam but passed ATCL within two years of lessons with me, but that is a very rare exception).

I think it mostly depends on how well a student had been taught during the graded piano years. I can see that after 10 years of being back to Hong Kong, that there are a lot of problems in students’ technique in general. Very few (even among teachers) have been taught about the weight transfer, the relation between the body movement and playing, or even how to play a scales/arpeggios correctly (and that is why I have been developing a piano beginner program to promote solid foundation in a student’s playing and learning right from the start) I am often saddened to see a lot of bad habit has been formed in the playing of many enthusiastic players in their early years of training that has either hindered them to or even stopped them from continuing on their journey to more beautiful music that requires a more advanced level of playing. And such advanced level is not going to be built from a weak foundation no matter how hard one tries. It needs to be broken down, and build a new solid strong foundation in order to progress further. It is indeed possible and not as difficult as most think and believe. One only needs to take away the bad and put in the good. And that is why I am going to launch a technique transformation course specifically for those who would like to change their technique forever for more advanced playing.

I do understand the concern from parents, that it seems like a well has no bottom, when they put all the money and time into their children’s piano lessons not knowing how much more resource they might need to put out further for the completion of a diploma exam. I can say that, with a proper guidance of a good and professional teacher, s/he would be able to tell you just how much time your children would need for such preparation. One thing I would like to add though, music is not an academic subject, and although there are techniques to gain and analysis to write, there are yet another elements, and they are emotion and expression, which cannot be taught but guided. And just how much is that one or two years spent on understanding the music as well as the drilling of the pieces? When I say understanding the music, it is not just the practicing a piece to perfection (playing all the keys correctly in at the right time). Rather, it is listening to the piece, reading about the piece, feeling about the piece, thinking about the piece, all extending to other aspects of the piece, including the composer, the period, the performance practice, the style, the interpretation, the analysis etc etc. How much effort has a student been putting on all these other aspects than merely drilling the piece? It seems all these complicated tasks would be left to be completed only when one is preparing for the dipABRSM, but I can assure you that if you perform all these tasks even when you are working for your ATCL (or LTCL), you would be able to achieve much better result in the exam.

I welcome you all send me any questions regarding diploma exams. And instead of replying on a one-to-one basis, I believe this open answer would benefit many together. I hope this platform has be useful to many of you and it will continuously grow into a bigger community in which we contribute to help each other out in our music journey independently and co-dependently.

Have a great weekend ahead everyone, and enjoy some beautiful and inspiring music!










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