Learning piano as a journey

These few years I heard of many stories of children achieving grade 8, or even diploma, at a very young age, say 10 years old. While their achievements are definitely commendable, we should know that not everyone has to take their path in learning music.

Remember Beethoven who had a sad childhood due to his father who forced him to master the piano at the expense of his general education? While he turned out successful, this path is not what children have to take to be a successful musician.

If a child shows exceptional talent and interest in playing the piano, I believe most piano teachers would be more than excited to push this child to excel further. It could be the case for children who achieved grade 8 or diploma at a young age.

However, there are many other things to life, such as academics, exercising to remain healthy, building social relationships, financial literacy etc.. and the list goes on, that a child needs to develop to lead a healthy life. And furthermore parents have to make a decision on which enrichment area to develop: ballet, robotics, sports, music etc. We cannot be good in everything as they are all skills that require a lot of time to master.

As such, a child may not be able to invest the required amount of time each day to move on the grades quickly. And that is ok, as long as the practice time is enough for her to meet her own learning goals. It is not a competition to complete grade 8 in the shortest amount of time, or at the youngest age when compared to our peers. Pushing them too hard to excel may inadvertently result in their dislike for the piano.

Personally, I admit that I did not do one grade each year (that would take 9 years to reach grade 8 if we consider beginner as one year as well). I actually took a longer time. My piano teacher and parents were not too eager for me to achieve good grades or a fast track. What I felt from them was that they genuinely want me to like playing the piano.

Despite not getting merits and distinctions in most of my piano exams, my piano learning journey has allowed me to love playing the piano. My teenage years were turbulent, and the piano is a major support for me through this time. I have the space to explore music, and to just play around the piano keys to express myself.

At the same time, I had the time to take up more responsibilities in school, such as being the conductor for my CCA and a class monitress. I would not exchange anything for those experiences.

If I want to polish up my piano playing skills, I have so many more years in my life to do so. There is no need to rush through it.

And here I am today, as a piano teacher.

P.S. I just achieved my grade 8 music theory certificate at the age of 28.

*Click here for a fun quiz on today’s blog entry.



My song composition: Simplicity

I finally did a recording of my song composition titled “Simplicity”. I am happy to share with all of you.

Not everything turned out smoothly though. As I could not connect my digital piano straight to the computer, I had to use my ipad to record the sound. Turned out rather ok, though with some background noise. It will be better in future, as I continue to explore a software I purchased (“Wavepad Sound Editor”), to see if I can do more advanced music editing.

I will leave my comments on Wavepad software to some time later. Currently I only know the basics like trimming the start and end time, reducing some noise and amplifying the sound volume. Wait while I explore more! I am determined to make my ipad recordings sound more professional~

Now, before I share the link to my composition, I would like to give some background of my song. Mainly I want to encourage people to embrace and appreciate the simplicity that life offers us in the first place. In many places, there is great competition to get ahead. While striving hard for a better life is healthy, excessive greed to be better than others can destroy our happiness.

I hope for people to not lose touch with their innermost feelings and thoughts while going through life. It may be difficult when we are so busy everyday. But just pause a while to enjoy the beautiful nature (what life offers us in the first place), and it may bring you back in touch of what is truly important, like appreciating what you have.

When we are in touch with our innermost self, we also gain insights into our own behaviour. Rather than pointing fingers when things go wrong, we can understand the whole situation calmly, and have the wisdom to focus on solving the problem and prevent it from occurring in the future.

In all, there are many benefits when we live simply.

Of course, in the acquisition of technical skills and knowledge, we have to think deeply. Our buildings are safe because our engineers have in-depth knowledge of construction principles. Having in-depth knowledge of human biology enables doctors to cure patients.

But in our social interactions, I believe simplicity is the way to go. No need for lying or hiding of information.

Here is my YouTube link to my song composition: Simplicity. I hope you like my song, as well as my artwork that goes with the song. If you would like to use any parts of my video, you can contact me here.

Learning music with composing, and, Pokemon

Just when the craze over Pokemon is nearly over, I found an idea to incorporate it with music. I know I am a bit late here, but here’s my story as to why I want to write this blog post linking music with Pokemon.

I attended a digital art club session yesterday, and was introduced to a free sketching app. To try my hands on the new app, I drew Gyarados from my Pokemon game. I am quite proud of my work haha (it was previously shown above, but I had to take it down because Pokemon turned down my request to use it). Just in case you’re interested to have a look, drop me a message, and I will share a copy with you personally.

I wanted to find a way to relate my sketch to music, since this is a piano blog.

And so I thought of writing a short song about this Pokemon character. Yes, on Gyarados. In fact, I would think it’s quite fun to ask students to create a short song on their favourite Pokemon characters, or even Disney characters (Elsa, Cinderella etc).

I have not tried this exact idea yet, but it does seem similar with general music composing. In fact, I do get my students to write their own songs now and then. Below are some ideas on how to go about doing it from my experience.

As younger students may not have enough musical exposure yet, I encourage teachers to make it simple first. Try a 1-bar melody first. Then just keep going with the flow of ideas. You can use your instrument to help you try the sound. If ideas run out, you can use composition techniques like repetition, sequence up and down etc. As a start, I recommend creating a 4-bars song ending on the tonic note.

Teachers may help with the harmony if students have no knowledge of chords yet. If they already know chords I, IV and V7, it’s good to let them explore by themselves. As much as possible, let them use their own ideas. It’s ok if the lyrics does not rhyme yet. I feel that my main job for starters is to help out when they are stuck, or to correct them when something is definitely wrong, like having 5 beats in a 4/4 time signature.

For melody and lyrics, there is really no absolute right and wrong, and I am quite open to different ideas to encourage creativity. But of course we can still discuss about how to make the composition more musical. For example, choosing a melody that complements with the mood, choosing the right lyrics to match a melody and making them rhyme etc.

I hope you find these suggestions useful. I am not a professional songwriter, though I do have great interest in this area.

And of course, students can compose about their favourite Pokemon characters. Previously I had shared my song, Gyarados, on my blog. It’s a short 8-bar song depicting the ferocious temperament of this fighting dragon. But I had to pull it down as a Pokemon staff turned down my request to use it.

If you are keen to take a look at the song, you can email me through the contact form, and I will share a copy with you personally. I have been working on a number of songs recently too. They are similar to our mainstream pop songs, and are safe in terms of copyright issues. I look forward to sharing them on my blog soon.

Helpful teaching aid: Quizlet

Some years ago, I chanced upon Quizlet while searching for online flashcards. I initially wanted to find soft copy music flashcards that were printable, but to my pleasant surprise, I found this website which brings more innovation to flashcards.

The flashcards can be accessed online through the traditional “term vs definition” format. But it’s more than that. You can reinforce your memory by typing in the terms as prompted by its definition. And you can take quizzes, in formats such as true/false, multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank. My favorite is the “scatter” and “gravity” games, where you challenge yourself to other players’ scores with your newly-learned knowledge. Very interactive indeed!

I have to let you know that I am an ambassador of Quizlet. But do not worry, my review is honest. If you have any doubts, you can go on to www.quizlet.com to try it out for yourself. It’s free to have a student account. It is also free to download flashcard sets that others have created and shared. All the features I mentioned above can be accessed using the free account too.

Now if you are a teacher, and you want more features to customize your own flashcards, such as the ability to include images in them, you have to upgrade to a teacher account. The details can be found on their website.

I have been using the free version for some time, as I am rather cautious with spending. But recently, I upgraded to the teacher version, because I want to include images in my flashcards and get more insights on my students’ performance. I foresee my students using and loving this product, so I believe that this investment will be worth it.

Here’s the web-link to Quizlet: www.quizlet.com. There is a special promotion recently. As an ambassador, I can extend free Teacher upgrades to 5 friends. Follow the instruction below to claim your free upgrade. (note that it only applies to the first 5 people)

How to collect your free Quizlet Teacher upgrade:
  1. Click on my promo link: quizlet.com/promo/UKJinghang
  2. Create a new free Quizlet account or sign into your existing account
  3. Once you’ve logged in, your upgrade will be activated! Learn more about your upgraded features, and check out Quizlet’s Help Center.

Have fun exploring the wealth of knowledge in there!

Being direct in teaching

I just read an article about how a person’s co-workers are indirect, and beat about the bush when asked a question regarding work. And they even came up with new unrelated questions to avoid the initial question. What made me shocked was that in the comments thread, other people replied that the co-workers responses were justified! My guess is that the corporate world is so self-defensive, that they cannot let down their guard to just answer a simple question. A lot of efficiency lost here. It’s a pity.

Which makes me think back to my own teaching. I think my students will know by now that I am a direct person, and I bring that to my teaching. I believe that being direct has many benefits in learning:

1) There are no assumptions. I like to get feedback on how well my students understand the material by asking them questions on what we have covered in class. When questions are direct, I can better gauge how much the student has learned, not having to leave anything to assumptions.

2) Explanations are clear. When students ask a question, I aim to be as direct as possible so that explanations remain short and simple. In this case, learning is enhanced as only the necessary information is relayed. If I beat around the bush, students have to filter out those unnecessary information, which can confuse them.

3) Lessons become more efficient. There is often a lot to do in one lesson. By beating around the bush, we waste precious time talking about irrelevant things. While getting to know your students personally is important, the main focus of piano lessons, as the name already implies, should consists mainly on skills to play the piano.

Sometimes people may be indirect as they want to withhold information. It is alike self-protection, in case the person who asks the question use their information against them. Indeed, I have seen a video where people collect information from an unsuspecting passerby, only to use that information to extort money from his family.

An actual world should not be like this. When we learn more about others, we use this knowledge to help them, not harm them. As with most things, knowledge works in both ways; use it well and you contribute positively, use it for harm and you become another source of problem for the world. How does all these relate to being direct in teaching? Well, in my studio, I believe in using knowledge positively and building trust. So go ahead to ask questions directly, and I will answer them straight to the point. 

Teachers’ Day 2016

teachers-day-presentsHere’s sharing some Teacher’s Day presents received in 2016. Thanks to all students for the great teaching year! My best teachers’ day wish is for you all to enjoy and stay motivated in music learning.

I have been teaching for around 10 years, starting right after my A levels. And it’s more than 4 years for full-time teaching, starting right after my university graduation. I foresee myself teaching for many more years to come as I am rather satisfied with the different aspects of my job. Teaching also becomes easier with more experience; I might have already gotten past the most trying stages. Here I share some things I have learnt in my teaching journey.

Music teaching covers a wide range of learning opportunities. You can be sure that you will not reach a point of stagnation. If you are willing, there is always something more you can learn. You could do beginners’ classical piano teaching for a start, and as your students move on, you need to learn how to teach the intermediate range. And then there are opportunities for pop piano lessons, mobile apps to incorporate into learning, not forgetting the marketing and bookkeeping required if you have your own studio. As you work with different students, you also learn about different personalities and learning styles. How to best inspire them and motivate them to practice are important skills you continuously learn as you teach.

You will work at a different hour from your peers. As an enrichment provider, your busiest hours will be the weekends, followed by weekdays evenings, when there are no school or CCA. While you may have to miss friends’ gatherings and public events held in the weekends, you get to enjoy empty malls on weekdays afternoons. What’s more is not having to travel during peak hours (that’s my favorite plus point about the work timing!).

Empathy and humility are very important. With empathy, a teacher can effectively understand the student’s needs. Even if the teacher has a lot of musical knowledge, she cannot be a good teacher if she does not place the students’ learning as the focus. Sharing is also 2-way, and humility allows us to appreciate some excellent ideas from students that we might have overlooked.

Patience is a virtue. A grade 8 certification does not stem from overnight practice; we need to have the patience to guide them step-by-step to achieve their long-term goals. Patience can be very trying, especially for unmotivated children, but it can be a chance for your own personal growth. Come to think of it, patience has such a strong impact on our personal success as well, doesn’t it? 

As with all careers, music teaching has its up and down days. Staying humble in the good days and persisting through the bad ones will reap its rewards in the long-term. A fulfilling career I would recommend to aspiring musicians!



Learning the recorder

I have come to quite like the recorder, since playing it in my primary school days. I play it now and then, not frequent, but enough to sustain my interest. As I was already learning piano in primary school, the recorder was easy to pick up for me. My sisters and I would play duets or trios on our recorders, which was great fun!

Now, as an adult, I am exploring the various avenues to expand my musical knowledge. I have a few instruments in my mind: the harmonica, the guitar, the ukulele, the violin, the pipa (a Chinese instrument) and the recorder. I have one of each instrument in my house. And I did experiment with all of them before except for the violin.

I decided to go with the recorder. I might be wrong, but my understanding is that it is relatively easier to play. As I have always taken ABRSM exams for my piano grades, I want to explore Trinity grading. I have chosen the recorder as I think that I can progress quickly to learn more about Trinity’s grading system. Quite useful for preparing my piano students for Trinity exams, if they request for it. Also useful knowledge for me to take the Trinity Teaching Diplomas in future.

There are many more reasons why I want to learn the recorder:

  • I have always had an interest in the recorder
  • I want to experience being a learner again to understand my students better
  • I feel that school students do not appreciate the recorder enough. I hope to change this mindset. It is actually a fun and proper instrument, and can make a nice sound.
  • For school students who do like playing the recorder, there is limited avenue for further learning. I hope to provide a place where they can learn progressively, just like the current system for piano.
  • There are ABRSM and Trinity grading systems in place for recorders, although not widely used in Singapore yet

My preparation plan:

  • Buy Trinity exam pieces and scales for grades 1-3, and try them out at home using my plastic Yamaha recorder (I have been using this recorder since primary 1)
  • If all goes well, arrange for a consultation lesson.
  • Then purchase a better quality wooden recorder, if there is a need. Decide on taking the soprano or alto recorder exams, or both.

I feel that consultations, instead of weekly lessons, are enough for me, as I have sufficient background in music, like note reading skills, techniques to play with a steady pulse etc. These are the benefits of learning a 2nd instrument: the music fundamentals are the same, now I just need to sound the notes in a different way.

Of course, taking weekly lessons with a teacher will speed up the progress. But the cost and traveling time are really out of my budget: despite researching high and low, I could only find a recorder teacher in town area which costs double of regular lessons! And for a side update: I bought a Yamaha plastic recorder with wooden finish. Quite happy with my purchase: I can feel that playing the higher tones take less effort, and sounds much better.


First blog post

I can be considered rather new to the blogging world. I had a blog in secondary school, but just for a short period of around 6 months. And that was more than 10 years ago!

Now, after 10 years, I decided to start a site, as well as blogging, for reasons related to my career: to let prospective students and their parents learn more about me before deciding to sign up. This is very important to me. In my own piano learning journey, I have some teachers that I like learning from, and some not so much. Most of the time it is not due to the lack of skills in the teacher, but more of a mismatch of personalities, causing lessons to be a little of a dread. The ones that I like learning from make learning so much more enjoyable!

On top of prospective students and their parents, I created this site to share my teaching journey. There’s a page of free resources. Not a lot of content yet, but I will add on as I gradually develop my site. And of course the blog page, where I will be adding more entries as I share more about my teaching and learning experiences. I hope you will keep coming back while more contents are added to my site!