My Pedagogy Articles
Article 1. Better Practice App (Fall 2016)
I have always said that the best piano teachers are those who can get their students to practice the most – not because they are forced to, because they love it. There is a new online portal called Better Practice App that aims to do just that. It serves a similar purpose to the Notebook Pages above, but in a much more interactive way.
It does cost $4 per student per month, but if you are interested in using it for yourself or your children, it would be a great benefit. It automatically records your practice time and gives you individualized assignments based on your self-evaluation of your practice. Let me know if you would like more information about it!
You can visit their site here: https://betterpracticeapp.com/innovation
Article 2. Brand-New Theory Series: Celebrate Theory (Fall 2016)
Music theory is the analysis of music. Although it is not necessary to be able to play music, it is essential to the true understanding and deeper understanding of music. For many kids, especially, it is hard for them to make the connection between the music and the theory, which is often seen separately as “homework” – and many theory workbooks up until now have not done much to alleviate that, so many students end up just memorizing concepts without understanding the significance.
There has a been a new series released, called Celebrate Theory, which aims to bridge the gap between the music and the theory. Most of you currently have theory books, and I will be transitioning over to this series, as they have included many exercises that are interactive and helps student make more connections than simply memorizing concepts.
Read more about it here: http://www.musicdevelopmentprogram.org/celebrate-theory
Article 3. Graduation 2016 - Congratulations Malavika Theophilus! (Summer 2016)
I have been truly blessed to teach Malavika Theophilus.
High school students are especially busy, yet Malavika was always so diligent in everything demanded of her and never made excuses.
She has achieved many great accolades, such as completing Level 10 (Advanced) of the Certificate of Merit program and receiving the Senior Award. She has also received Branch Honors in the CM program. Last year, she participated in the University of the Pacific Piano Day Masterclass last summer, where she got to work with the music faculty there, including Dr. Sonia Leong.
A graduate of Homestead High School, she will be attending UCLA in the fall (which also happens to be my alma mater). Go Bruins!!
I asked Malavika to share a little with us about what it means to have music as such an integral part of her life and where she can move forward from here.
Q: How did piano enrich your life?
In addition to acquiring a lifelong skill, it gave me an outlet to express myself. Even though it required a lot of time commitment and was challenging at times, it was really rewarding. One of my favorite things about playing piano is that I am able to entertain my family and friends. I also have the privilege of playing at my church. It gives me great joy and it is an opportunity to give back to my church family. Taking tests for piano and theory was stressful but in the end it felt good to get recognition for all my hard work and I liked having something tangible to show how hard I had worked. I have always loved music and I am really grateful that I had the opportunity to learn piano as I know I will have this skill for the rest of my life.
Q: What were some of your struggles and triumphs?
It was difficult to balance piano and schoolwork at times. I had to learn to set time aside every day and to actually stick to the schedule I set for myself. I struggled with actually holding myself accountable to practicing every day, but in the end, it taught me how to make effective use of my time.
Q: What advice do you have for other students?
Create a practice schedule that you stick to because it really helps to have some sort of routine
Play piano even if you stop taking lessons because it is a great skill to have
Share your talent by playing for friends and family
Don’t be discouraged if something is too hard; just keep practicing
When learning a new song, use your time effectively and work harder on the parts of the song you don’t know well
Take small breaks when you practice so you don’t overwork yourself. Learning music should be fun!
Article 4. Creating a Sense of Community (Summer 2016)
Music is made to be shared, yet for so many music students and families, it is such an individual thing. Weekly lessons are private, practice at home is mostly private, and exams are also private. Even though there are recital opportunities where students and families can come together to experience music together, the majority of times parents are focused mostly on their own child(ren). Just like sports has soccer moms, dad coaches, and team potlucks, music students and families can have the best experiences when there is a camaraderie with each other. And while your child’s sports teams may change, the music studio will be there all the way through high school!
When I was taking lessons as a child, the studio owner always held lots of events and performances and through those, the students and parents got to really know each other well. This made recitals more interesting, as we were just as nervous for our friends as well as our own performances. We also pushed each other to achieve the very best in collaboration. Everyone else in the studio felt like family, rather than strangers.
Many piano teachers are just about the music. Yet I believe music education a whole experience. I am not teaching students music, but to be lifelong learners. And you can’t learn alone. Learning happens through interaction, and the positive attitude can be infectious!
Recently, I have increased efforts to build this sense of community among the studio members. But I can’t do it without your enthusiasm! And you certainly showed me that by the large group we had at our summer party.
In case you missed it, there are still more opportunities! For adults, we have our event at Café Pink House, and for the kids, we will go to dinner following the recital.
Article 5. The Voice - of a Piano (Spring 2016)
In recent weeks, I have asked many of my students this question:
“True or false: A piano can sing.”
TRUE!!! A piano should sing out just like a human voice.
Many piano students play with what I call a “half-touch” or with a touch that is shallow and not confident. It is similar to those who are shy of singing and sing from the throat. The singing voice comes from deep in the diaphragm regardless of volume (loud or soft), and the touch on the piano should be the same. It needs to have a deep touch, regardless of whether it is a soft or slow passage.
Your piano touch is like the quality of your voice. Have you ever watched American Idol, The Voice, or America’s Got Talent and immediately known the singer was going to be bad? It is because their tone quality was bad… doesn’t matter if the pitch, rhythm, etc., were good. The same goes for piano. Without the proper touch, hours of practice may not be as beneficial.
Article 6. 90/10 Rule - Changing Focus (Winter 2016)
What are these two numbers, 90 and 10, you say? In my experience, both as a performer and a teacher, I have found that it takes the same amount of time to complete the first 90% of a piece for performance, as it does for the last 10%. What do I mean by that?
Let’s say that you have learned and applied all the notes, rhythms, articulations, dynamics, and fingering. It seems pretty good to go, right? No, unless you want to play like computer software plays sheet music – accurate, but terrible. Sometimes learning this part, which I am calling the 90%, takes a while to learn, but often it does not.
The last 10%, which refers to really expressing the music - the subtle musical qualities, such as phrasing, body/arm/wrist/hand/finger motions, balance, voicing, etc., can seem relatively simple (after all, the notes were the hard part, right?), but really it can take a lot more time to master.
As we prepare for recitals or exams or other performances, it is this “10%” that really separates those who “wow” versus those who don’t. This comes with focus and an understanding of the musical qualities. This is my job to teach these things and make students aware of them, but if they do not take it to heart, the last 10% where the music really lies, will never be felt.
Article 7. Practice Log & Results (Fall 2015)
A few months ago, I recorded every student’s practice time based on what they wrote in their notebooks, and I had some interesting findings.
“Practice makes perfect,” right? Hmmm… First of all, there is no such thing as perfect as even professional musicians are always changing how they interpret pieces. Secondly, it must be good, focused practice. Practicing a lot, but poorly, will actually make the pieces worse.
Sometimes parents ask for the “magic number” for how much practice is needed. Of course there is none, but I’m going to go out on a limb with this one and give you a ballpark range, based on my research and experience.
It breaks down as follows:
Early beginners (first 6 months of lessons): 1.5 hours
Beginner-Intermediate (up through Level 6): 3 hours
Advanced (Level 7 and above): 5+ hours
What does this mean? Typically, I have found that those who practice the time given above progress where noticeable progress is being made. Those who practice less than that amount of time tend to only progress laterally (playing more songs but all of the same level). Of course, spreading this out over six days is much better than cramming it into two, but that is still way better than not practicing at all!
Article 8. Practice Log (Spring 2015)
I like to say that the best piano teachers are the ones that get their students to practice. There is certainly a direct correlation between number of hours practiced per week and amount of progress and improvement made. There are very few instances where progress halted because the student “didn’t get it” or their fingers didn’t cooperate. It is almost always because the student didn’t practice sufficiently.
Almost every teacher nags their students to practice. It’s like it is in our blood because we want to see you or your child achieve. It can be a constant battle, and trust me, you aren’t the only student who has five other extracurricular things going on or works 40 hours a week. I understand that, and am not like some teachers who demand 15 hours of practice a week (although I wouldn’t complain if you did!).
Technically, I have given you all a notebook where you are supposed to write in how much time you practice. And some of you have done it on a regular basis –- thanks!! But many of you haven’t, and I haven’t been strict about that. Things are about to change, as beginning April 1st, I will be recording everyone’s practice time. Why?
1. It helps me help you. If you are progressing well, but not practicing much, that means I can challenge you more. If you are practicing a lot, but not progressing well, that means I should sit down with you carefully on details and slow down the pace.
2. It keeps us both accountable. You won’t improve if you don’t practice, and it is my job to make sure you improve… so connect the dots!
3. Something to work for. Imagine if school had no tests. Or if employees never had performance evaluations. Then what would give you incentive to study or work hard? In a sense, piano lessons would be like this if there were no recitals, exams, or competitions. So recording practice time is like “checking homework” in a sense.
If you would rather not write in your time manually in the notebook, there is a perfect app called Music Journal, which I featured in a previous newsletter. It is free for iPad/iPhone and records how much time you practice! Check it out at the App Store!
Also, I know this is completely on the honor system. If you write the wrong time, I probably wouldn’t know. But the main person you would be cheating is yourself!
I hope that this becomes an effective teaching tool and I thank you in advance for your cooperation. Happy practicing!
Article 9. Why Perform? (Fall 2014)
One of the core values in my music teaching is having students perform. Performance is not only about music, but about values such as confidence, humility, showmanship, and inspiration. In elementary school, I used to be a very shy kid, but the constant performances in public helped me to grow as a person. Performances for others also lead students to have higher standards for themselves… no one really practices until they have to play for other people!
Every performance does not need to be a huge one… which is why I mix it up with more intimate “mini-recitals” like the costume recital we just had. But just getting up in front of a crowd of people and even playing a 10-second song can be very, very intimidating. Yet it is healthy to get the adrenaline going! It’s the same response that goes for sports games, public speaking, college and job interviews, and more.
This is why I do my best to provide many opportunities for performance. There are opportunities for those who really want to excel, and more relaxed ones for those who just want others to enjoy the music they’ve worked on.
Article 10. Pianos vs. Keyboards: Is there really a big difference? (Spring 2014)
When I first started taking piano lessons, I started on one of those “toy” keyboards that you can find at Toys R Us or Costco… the kind that usually sell for $200-300 or less. It was fun because the keys lit up, it had all kinds of built-in tones, and more.
However, it was really only good for a few weeks worth of piano lessons. Three main reasons are the lack of key weight sensitivity, pedals, and a full 88 keys. Many keyboards are made from plastic keys and lack touch sensitivity (play the same volume no matter how soft or hard you press the key). For these reasons, many teachers won’t even accept students who don’t yet own a piano. I’m a little more lenient but I do highly recommend it as soon as possible. Also, as the author of the website writes, you want to set yourself (or your child) up for success, right? It quickly becomes difficult to progress without the proper materials.
For almost every family, cost is the number one factor. But pianos don’t have to break the bank. Used upright pianos can often be found fairly inexpensively, and new digital pianos (with weighted keys) can be found for even cheaper. Digital pianos can sometimes be a good alternative if you have limited space or practice a lot at night! They don’t need tuning and the touch is amazingly close to acoustic pianos.
I could write a whole lot more about this topic, but I’ll spare you guys, hehe. For more information on how to select a piano, feel free to contact me!