The Steep Learning Curve of Teaching Piano Online 31 March, 2020

Teaching online has been a learning curve for me. Desperate times calls for desperate measures.

As of today, the worldwide pandemic has taken 30,000 lifes. In Singapore alone, we have 879 cases of people infected with the Coronavirus. The figures continue to climb and explode.

To curb the further spread of the virus, Singapore has taken measures such as recalling all Singaporean students studying overseas back to Singapore, closing the Causeway, closing incoming tourists from high risk areas such as Europe, USA, South Korea, and China.

Just last week, all enrichment centers have been ordered to close. Although I teach privately one-to-one, I have chosen to move my piano teaching online for 2 weeks. I believe that this is a good opportunity to drill my students for the real thing, ie. school closures. I have taught 3 days of online piano thus far and this is my observation.

Attitudes of Parents:
Most parents are very supportive. They want what is best and safest for their children. Hence, they were willing to try out this new idea and way of conducting piano lessons. I do understand that for some group of piano students, online lesson might not work. Such students are those with short attention span, learning disability, and very young preschoolers. For this group of learners, if every school goes into closure, piano lessons will have to be suspended. Then there is the group of anti-online learning parents. Nothing will make these group of parents change their minds. "Nope, no online learning for my kids. I will postpone piano lessons until real lessons resume". To this group of parents, while I understand the discomfort of the parents, they need to adapt their mindset to see that the future of education and life in general is heading in the direction of the virtual world. If they don't catch up now, their children will be left behind. When MOE have the school go into blended learning, the government does not ask permission from the parents if they want their kids to go into online learning. The dynamics just shift overnight. So, a little flexibility goes a long way because safe distancing means just that, safe distancing. I totally think everyone can play a part in stopping the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Teachers are very creative by their career calling. I have seen how piano teachers in USA and Australia adapted quickly to move their piano teaching online with state imposed school closures. Teachers in Singapore can learn a lot by observing from our peers in other parts of the world. I think one good outcome of this pandemic is in a way it brought and unified communities around the world together to fight this situation. Teachers were willing to share resources, ideas, games....because we were forced to learn very quickly how to do what we do best but now, online.

Kudos to the Students!
I must say that I really enjoyed teaching my students online. We did the normal rhythm clapping, sightreading, playing repertoire......I even taught my 2 theory students online.

Online Teaching platforms I tried out Google Hangouts and zoom. I felt that google hangouts had better sound quality. Zoom on the other hand had more functions, like screen sharing, whiteboard, pairing of my other devices like laptop, handphone and ipad. There was a lot of resources on Youtube about how to optimise zoom to teaching music. My only gripe is that some students had poor internet connection, which made streaming live piano playing a bit difficult.

I resolved this by pairing my online teaching with a piano practise app, Tonara. This app was a Godsent. Within the app, I can write the assignments, send pdfs, videos, audios, links. And my students can chat with me. Check out some of the videos where I talked about how the Tonara app has helped my teaching studio:

While I pray that Singapore may never need to go into school closures and nationwide lockdown, nevertheless, like the scout's motto: "Be Prepared" is the way to go moving forward.

Online Piano Lesson 27 March, 2020

From the start of the Coronavirus Outbreak near Chinese New Year 2020, there has been growing tension as we watch the number of deaths climb. When the Covid-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), I wake up each day to catch up on the latest news on the Covid-19 global news.

On March 24, 2020, the government mandated "all centre-based tuition and enrichment classes to be suspended to reduce the intermingling of students from different schools and enhance the safety of students." (ST news). As my piano teaching is home studio based, with students coming in one at a time for their individual lesson. I continued with piano lessons as usual. 

On 27 March, 2020, MOE issued all schools to start implementing home based learning once a week starting in April. 

OK, before things take a turn for the worse, I want all my piano students to know how to continue with piano lessons should a lock down happens. Hence, from 28 March -11 April, all lessons at Forte Music Training will be conducted online.


What you will need: a digital device

1. A laptop
2. A tablet or ipad
3. A handphone

Good to have:
1. External Speakers
 Mine is a Flip 4 bought from Sim Lim Complex. Cost about $100 plus.

Flip 4 external speaker

2. External microphone I use a lapel Microphone bought online.

Lapel Microphone


This is my simple setup.
I place my laptop next to my piano. I also have the overhead view, in case students need to see my hands.

This is another setup by a teacher friend of mine.

Here are a few helpful links on teaching and learning in Zoom.

Tim Topham

Happy teaching and learning online!

You Cannot Fail.... 31 October, 2019

My mother says "You cannot fail your piano exams".

When I processed this statement through my head long after the student has finished the piano lesson with me, my heart weighs heavily. This is so wrong. When a child looks to the adult closest to them for support and hears this kind of a threat, what kind of message is being sent?

Tiger Moms
I know you mean well because you want your child to work hard, to be driven. And giving them the message of "failure is not an option", perhaps the intent is to help the child to build grit. For you, your child's excellence in all areas is your trophy that you wear proudly as a Mom. If they fail in an exam, it would mean a loss of face for you. But honestly, if you want the trophy, go take the piano exam yourself. Walk the talk. If you think that you cannot settle for anything less than a distinction, go take the exam yourself and see what kind of a score you get. I once had a student who got 93 marks out of 100 for his theory exam. When I asked him, was his mom happy? My student said, "no. My mom said I should score 100".  

How to develop grit
I allow my students to fail. Yes, you heard me correctly. Failing is a life lesson that everyone has to go through. But what gets the student through failure is family support. The support must be there. Or else, the work has no meaning. Yes, the child might score 100 full marks....but it is for Mom's credit. Not because the child wants it for himself. The child feels supported when Mom cheers him on even when the going gets tough. The child feels supported when Mom supports him with time to practise and time for rest. The child feels supported when in spite of a bad lesson, Mom encourages him to work harder. And when he misses the pass mark, Mom encourages him to try again. 

When the ultimatum is set at "You cannot fail your piano exams", it can drive fear, anxiety and stress. It can put undue psychological stress on the child. My JC literature lecturer once said, "nobody is going to care about your grades after you walk out of this school. You don't carry a sign around your neck saying you've scored an 'A' for literature". My literature lecturer was an expatriate and he opened up our view of life to the bigger picture than scoring good grades. I am infinitely grateful to Prof. Whitby from NJC for helping a bunch of us retake our 'A' level literature. Looking back, each and every one of us that that retook the 'A' levels did pretty well in our career and in our life, in spite of the extra one year to get to the university.  

What if the child fails? Would he find the tallest building to jump off from? Would that make Mom happy? 

Soar to Greater Heights, Just don't Jump. 1 October, 2019

Every year around this time, students start receiving their ABRSM practical exam results. With the rise of social media, proud teachers and music schools will use the stellar results of their students as advertising tools to attract the next cohort of new students.

This is also the time where "kanchiong" parents and students will exhibit the trademark "kiasu" Singapore behaviour and start looking for piano teachers that can fast track their piano learning by jumping over a few grades.

I try to understand the logic for this mentality. Why? Why? Why? Why must parents and students go so fast? What is the hurry?

Over at 'Kiasu Parents', a popular internet forum rife with gossips and comparisons, mummies discuss how skipping grades to finish grade 8 in piano by primary 5 is the way to go. You safe time and money. Both very scarce commodities in the typical Singaporean Student's life. (faintzzzzz.....slap forehead).

DSA is another reason. DSA stands for Direct School Admissions. Some piano students would like to use Music as a DSA subject to get ahead during their secondary school admissions.

By finishing grade 8 before PSLE, it frees up the student to move on to learn other things when they go to secondary school.

An experiment to show how over fertilizing a plant leads to death

I highly advocate all my students to take care of a pet or a plant, to see and experience what factors contribute to healthy pet/plant growth. Nutritious food, water, care and attention.....all help to contribute to excellence in healthy and happy pet / plant. As seen from my video above, an over enthusiastic fertilizing routine eventually kills the plant. Although, what seems to be promoting growth initially, ends up hurting the health and growth of the plant.

I have seen too many students passion and love for music killed by jumping over piano grades. There are gaps in the learning. With transfer students that have gone too fast, too soon, the damage is irreversable.
The student may have finished grade 8, but when they want to take up diploma, or take the teaching exam, it is a long upward haul. And it is very difficult to clear a pass at the higher levels of diploma and above.

Slow and steady. This is the best approach to most areas in life. By going at a steady rate, you allow the child to grow and learn more repertoire. Technique also has the time to grow. With strength in fingers and dexterity, this makes it easy to learn almost any type of music that you wish to play. You have time in between playing exam pieces to learn pop songs, improvise, play lead sheets, explore duets etc.

Please slow down. As what my father used to say, "finish grade 8 so quickly, then what?"
You may have obtained the grade 8 certificate, but it is as good as not having learnt to play anything.

Personal Development 15 August, 2019

What do you do for your own professional growth? Are you constantly learning, improving, exploring new teaching ideas and materials? Are you in a state of GROWTH?

Conversely, are you stagnant and burn out from your piano teaching? Do you look forward to the end of your teaching day where you can chill in front of the TV and watch Korean dramas? Is the last time you had lessons with a piano teacher the last time you picked up a piece of new repertoire? Are you using the same method books that your teachers taught you from? Are you too tired from teaching to go to the piano and find time to practise? 

There are a few ways that we piano teachers can continually work to hone in our teaching skills. Let me share with you a few ideas. Perhaps you can write to me about your own ideas too? 

1. Join a Piano Teachers Forum
Piano Pedagogy Teachers Group 
This is a facebook group that I created so that piano teachers in Singapore can have an online community to belong to.  There are also a lot of other great forums especially in Facebook where piano teachers all over the world can bounce ideas off one another.  The great thing is that some piano teachers are also composers such as Wendy Stevens and Anne Crosby to name some. In this digital age, sharing is the best way to learn and grow. 

2. Attend a Piano Teachers' Workshop
I am happy to announce that Forte Music Training will be presenting 2 workshops in the month of October as part of the 'Music Industry Vetarans Sharing Series'. Do look out for announcements and workshop details later on in the month.
Alfred's Publishing and ABRSM Singapore also conducts workshops. I believe that this year's topics are centered on ARSM diploma topics.

3. Youtube
This is a youtube channel by a piano teacher. She puts out interesting vlogs each week. 

Tiffany Poon is also a young upcoming pianist that puts out regular vlogs. I find the vlogs about her piano practises and concerts rehearsals interesting.
And there is my own youtube channel where I do all things related to piano and piano teaching. I try to make this relevant to teachers especially teaching in the Asia region.

Watching youtube videos is cheap and it keeps us motivated to stay abreast with piano performances. By watching other people play, we can also motivate ourselves to play better and learn new repertoire. We also learn that there is more than one way of playing a piece of music. 

4. Reading
I love to read. I get my teaching ideas not just from education books but from all literary genres. Some of my favourites are: motivational books, technology, marketing, business, investment. By growing as a person, I have so much more to offer to my students. I become a more interesting person who can be conversant in a wide array of topics. And it is so important that to build rapport with our students and parents, we must first speak in a lingo that bridges. 

Hence, I strongly urge teachers to always look for ways to stay ahead of the piano teaching career. When you have much to offer in your teaching, students will flock to you. Stay happy teaching!

Dorothy Chia is a piano teacher in Singapore with over 27 years of piano teaching experience. She is the owner of Forte Music Training. Her professional mission is to bring piano teaching to new levels and by that she tries to engage the teaching community through her vlogs, blogs and workshops. You may write to her at or follow her on instagram and her facebook pages.

Giving One Month Notice When You Want to Stop Lessons 2 July, 2019

In my Studio Policy that I go through with all piano students before they embark their piano studies with me, I have a clause regarding termination of lessons:
Students must give 1 month notice in advance to the instructor prior to stopping lessons. Similarly, the instructor reserves the right to terminate the student's lessons by giving 1 month advance notice to the parents. Should lessons be terminated without advance notice by the students, there will be no refund of the unused portion of the fees.
You can think of this termination notice as the equivalent to changing jobs, or changing schools, or migrating to a new country. You cannot just suddenly stop one thing and start the new one on the next day! The termination notice is a period of transition that allows you, the quitter, to gradually unwind and pack up as you prepare to move on.  It is also a period which allows the organisation where you are quitting to find a new person to fill up the opening, if it is a job opening....this period allows the organisation to find, recruit, and hire a new person to take over the job. If you are migrating to a new country, you have to oversee the logistics of moving, closing bank accounts, packing, finding a new accomodation, new job, new ID etc. So a termination notice for ending your piano lessons serve a similar purpose, it is a transition period for the teaching studio to find a new student to fill up the vacant lesson slot.

Parents and students are generally resistant to follow this giving 1 month advance notice of termination of lessons. Perhaps a few scenerios are playing out on loop in their head.

1. They are afraid that the piano teacher will feel resentful and give them sloppy piano lessons once they know that you are quitting.

2. They are afraid that you will take the money and run.

3. They feel embaressed to tell you why they are quitting, cos they are changing to another teacher.

So, for the record, Parents. Piano Teachers need 1 month notice because teaching piano is their bread and butter. It is their livelihood. When you suddenly quit, we are suddenly a few hundred dollars down in our income this month. You may think that you are the only 1 student that stopped lessons, but just imagine, 3 students quit in a month all without serving notice. This tends to happen towards the end of the year, when the exam fever of PSLE, O and A levels hit. The piano teacher's income can nose dive by a few thousand dollars that does not pick up until the new year!

Please be considerate and kind to give your one month notice when you wish to stop lessons. I am long past the idea of holding on when a student tells me that they wish to discontinue lessons with me. I believe that my time with each and every student is precious. And when the time comes to say 'good bye', let's do it graciously.

The Rise of Music Illiteracy 11 April, 2019

On one hand, there are more parents today sending their kids to Music Lessons than 10 years ago. But, there is also an upward trend of piano students who are not able to READ MUSIC. Ironically, that piano student who cannot read music might have even completed grade 8, and has a reading ability of a grade 2 student. So what happened along the way? What could have caused such a mass music illiteracy rate to seemingly happen in the population of piano students overnight?

Cause #1: Going too fast
Parents want to chase certificates. Hence, they push for skipping of grades, faster than the student can absorb the music on the score. Just imagine having a 5 year old preschooler read a primary 1 textbook, or a secondary 4 student attempt a phD dissertation. If you cannot fathom that happening in the world of academic, why do we do that to Music Education?

For example, a child has completed grade 3, this is what a grade 3 piano exam piece looks like (from the current 2019 abrsm syllabus). 

And after the child has passed his grade 3, the parent now pushes for the child to skip to grade 5. 
This is what a grade 5 exam piece looks like:

The grade 5 piece is longer, about 3 pages in length. The music of grade 3 has a key signature of 1 flat, F major. The music of grade 5 has a key signature of 3 sharps, A major. New technical challenges in the grade 5 piece include better coordination: chords on the first page vs LH alberti bass on the second page, contrasting moods and character as the music moves from A major to A minor, RH also has ornaments on the second page. 

Many parents are unaware that the choice to skip grades put a strain on the child's music learning rate. As the student struggles to learn the much more difficult piece of music, they resort to having to memorise the music, copy the teacher's playing or write out the letter names of the notes on the music score.

Cause #2: Poor Foundation 

The skill of playing the piano is a mastery of pulse, rhythm and note reading laid on at the early years of picking up the skill to play the piano. How the first teacher introduced the student to this skill of playing the piano is crucial and has a long lasting impact on the student's relationship with Music and Piano playing for the rest of his life. So, if the child at 5 years old is allowed to look down at his fingers to find the correct notes to play, and this is not intercepted by the first piano teacher, bad habits creep in and it would be near to impossible to eradicate this bad habit later on. Similarly, a child who memorizes the music after playing the music for a few days will develop the habit of not reading the music score but to play from his comfort zone of just playing by ear. For such students, the piano teacher can throw 3 to 4 new pieces each week at the student, play longer repertoire,  as well as do a lot of sightreading at the lesson to spur the student to combine their good ears with the use of their eyes and intellect in working out new pieces of music. 

Cause #3: Old fashion reading

Ask any proficient pianist if they rely on "All Cows Eat Grass" or "Every Good Boy Does Fine" to read their music score, and you will most likely get a 'no' for an answer. While the use of this strategy is a possible prop to read, it is nonetheless a poor strategy. The music must always be counted up from "All" to get to "Grass" and from "Every" to get to "Fine". Hence, the note reading is slow and labored as the student has to always resort to counting the lines and spaces. Imagine to get to the letter 'z' of the alphabet, you have to count from 'A'. You have to develop your brain to instantly recognise the letter 'Z' intrinsically as a stand a lone letter, right? 

A good reader of music will tell you that the brain processes music in chunks of patterns. I personally find that the best strategy of efficient Music Reading is a combination of : reading in intervals, good keyboard geography, a keen sense of pulse, and most importantly, being able to hear the music internally before the execution of the sound. 

Cause #4: the rise of the internet and apps

These days, more and more people think that they don't need a piano teacher to teach them to play an instrument, they can learn the skill online. Online learning works in a very broad sense, but the teaching is not directed at an individual. It is a one-size-fit-all approach. Learning online by watching youtube also works better for pop songs and contemporary pieces, where there is less attention to the finer details like tone, technique, motor execution etc. The playing of Classical Music requires much more finesse in the mastery and it is best learnt by the student from a face-to-face lesson with a teacher. 

I have also seen apps, where the student copies the lighted up keyboard, as the notes fall tetris style. The bird's eye overview of the keyboard tells the students which note to depress. As a Pedagogue, this is a modernised version on 'copying'. No learning takes place. The student is merely, 'copying' or 'imitating'. Students on this mode will never become creators, or independant learners. They will merely be good at 'copying'. So they need an app designer to design and show what a piece should 'look like' tetris style. 

So to all parents, students and piano teachers out there, fighting Music Illiteracy is much like fighting Dengue. It really takes a concerted effort from all parties out there. Just as a harmless mosquito bite can kill if it harbours the dengue virus, the rise of Music Illiteracy can KILL the future of Music if it is not curbed. I am already getting students at the Diploma level with the reading skills of a grade 2. I shudder to think of the day when the piano teacher with a literacy level of a grade 2 teaching the next generation of musicians. 

Quick Study in the Piano Diploma Teaching Exam 5 April, 2019

In my years of preparing and mentoring young piano teachers for the Dipabrsm Piano Teaching Diploma, I find the most common cause of failure among exam candidates is the Quick Study section of the exam.

While piano teachers can prepare for the viva voce component by using my book, Piano Pedagogy: The Questions & The Answers, and practise the grade 6 pieces to get ready for the DipABRSM piano teaching diploma, there is not much that the candidate can do to prepare for the Quick Study Component. 

In the Quick Study exam, the student is given 5 minutes to prepare a piece of music (about 1-2 pages) afterwhich, they have to perform the music. 

In the day to day teaching, every teacher is really sight reading the music that they are teaching their students. Sight reading is a very important skill to have, especially in the task of piece presentation, accompaniment, or in playing duets. Very often, one cannot teach 'music' by just talking through the music. The best way to teach is to demonstrate and to model the sound that we teachers wish the student to emulate. Hence, in the DipABRSM teaching diploma, the quick study is marked out of a total of 15 marks. To pass this segment of the exam, the student needs to score above 6 marks. Failing this segment also leads to failing the DipABRSM exam. 

One does not suddenly become good at sight reading, nor does one suddenly become bad at sight reading. The skill of sight reading is acquired by reading music consistently, reading widely every kind of music that one can lay hands on, playing the piano every day and applying the skill of sight reading in the daily activities such as accompanying a ballet class, or playing for church etc.

Very often, young teachers fail at the Quick Study because:
1. They don't practise the piano because they have a full time day job and piano playing is only for the weekends.
2. They have skipped over too many grades when they were learning the piano. Often, students in Singapore will take only the key grades eg. grades 1, 3, 5, 8. And often parents want the children to embark on an accelerated learning so that they can 'finish' piano and then focus on the academic studies.
3. They have poor reading strategies eg. they cannot hear the music in the head, they cannot hear the phrase and read note by note, they don't know the style of the music that they are playing due to inexperience.
4. Poor exposure to a varied Piano Literature. 
5. Poor reading skill eg. poor integration and application of scale, arppeggio, chords and inversion

The skill of sight reading is best learnt through cumulative and daily commitment to sightread every day. 

My Piano Studio is NOT your playground 30 Jan, 2019

It is my custom to interview new and potential students before they sign on with me for piano lessons. At the interview, the parents will be invited to accompany the student to my studio. My intention is for the kid to see me, their potential piano-teacher-to-be, in the safety zone of their parents by their side. (PS. when the real piano lessons under me begin, parents are not allowed to sit in at the piano studio). It also allows me to go through my studio policy and arrange piano lesson timings to fit the student's schedule.

As of 2019, I begin to notice quite a few of my potential students-to-be come into my studio, with parents in tow, plus the entire village of grandparents, grandaunts, brothers, sisters and what nots!!!! And in my mind I am thinking, I am only interviewing one child, how come the whole clan needs to visit my studio? Nonetheless, they are welcome to sit on my living room couch....and enjoy the aircon while I speak to the student-to-be and the parent. 

Now, even more disconcerting is I notice that more and more young children come into my studio and the kids treat my living room like a playground. So here I am talking to a parent, and out of the corner of my eye, I will spy one child playing with my table water feature. Or, the child will be so excited to sit before my grand piano, that they start to 'bang' randomly on the piano keys while looking inside at the mechanism. Hello!!!! and all this is happening right in front of the parent's presence. And yet, in spite of my horrified look, the parents seem unperturbed by all the misbehaviour. Gosh!!! is this really happening? Have the human race in 2019 reverted to Neanderthal apes? Do these kids know the meaning of manners? Of sitting quietly in a teacher-to-be's studio? But no, the children even crawled under my grand piano as if they are having swimming lessons on the floor of my living room!

So with the grandparents on the sofa, and mummy and daddy talking to me discussing my studio policy....I have to make do with 'monkeys' climbing, jumping, crawling and playing in the living room and on my beloved grand piano. 

While it is not possible to go back to the Elizabethan Era of refinement and elegance, or to the age where 'children are seen and not heard', I merely request parents to brief their children on proper behaviour of civilized and well brought up children who should sit quietly and read a book, and to refrain touching items in a stranger's living room that does not belong to them.

My piano studio is a sacred space where Music learning takes place. I prefer to teach children the Art of poise and elegance where Classical Music can take root and blossom. And I whispered to the mummy gently before she rounded up her brood to leave my house, "Mrs So-and-So, if your children wishes to study here with me, kindly tell them to refrain from running around my living room as if they are in a playground". Well, that must have worked. Mrs So-and-So decided that I was not the piano teacher-to-be afterall. She wants a piano teacher that allows her kids to run around the piano studio like they are in a playground. Afterall, children need space for creativity, don't they?

What do you want? 30 May, 2018

I was having lunch with my husband at a foodcourt just the other day and sitting next to us was a family comprising of mommy, the maid, the boy (ge ge) and the girl (mei mei). Nothing unusual about a family having lunch on a Saturday afternoon. But what made the event thought provoking to me was Mommy asking her kids, "what do you want? (for lunch)". The boy looked to be 5 and the girl maybe 4. 

Maybe it is modern day parenting. Parents these days can afford to pamper their kids more. Parents are also more well read and believe in inculcating confident kids who have the autonomy to decide and have a strong say in what they like/ dislike, what they want/ don't want, what they can dictate and have the world abide by their choices. As I am seated next to this family and watching the kid decide on their choice of food from the array of food choices that the kopitiam foodcourt offers them, a nightmare is playing out in my head about the new generation of 5 year olds that we as piano teachers are faced with today.

So judging by the way this mother is bringing up her children, should I now start to modify my piano lessons scheme to the tune of:
  • So do you want to play scales today?
  • So what piece to you want to learn?
  • So do you want theory homework?
Actually, if I am the 5 year old, I would choose to play only Frozen....because that is what I want.....and Fur Elise...because I like it. Scales are I don't want that. I have no time for theory homework, so any piece of homework that you give is not going to be done anyways. And you can always watsapp my mom about my theory homework coming back undone, and I just know, mommy is going to agree with me that I have so many tuition, enrichment, music, swimming classes that it is ok not to do that piece of theory homework, because I really really have no time.

These kids are going to grow up thinking, "mommy lets ME choose ALL the time". "Hey, even my mommy listens to ME, you are only a piano teacher. My mommy pays you to teach me piano. So YOU have to listen to ME."

And so this sense of self entitlement translates to other aspects of their lives. It used to be that cyclists and e-scooters have to stop for cars and pedestrains. These days, cyclists and e-scooters will ring their bells and expect you to give way to them coming through! These days you see a lot of cars who do not switch on their headlights at night or do not signal when they want to change lanes. They don't care and there are no traffic police around to catch them. They don't care if they are endangering the lives of other road users. Nope, they only care about themselves. 

In the movie, Lord of the Ring, Frodo Baggins was given the task of ring bearer. A task that he did not choose, but a task that only he can do. Said Frodo, "I wish the ring had never came to me. I wish none of this had happened." Isn't this a Truth in everybody's lives? Most of the events and people are really put into our lives not by our choice. 

So what could the young mommy have done differently? Well, she could ask her 4 and 5 year olds, "What do you want? Rice or Noodles? Chicken or Duck?" So there is still a choice, but there is a short list to choose from. And either way they choose, you are OK with the outcome. Similarly, that allows us piano teachers to give our piano students a choice of "major or minor scales?", "A1 or B1?", "theory homework done at home or the next lesson is only theory?"

And so, what did Gandalf say to Frodo over his lack of choice? "And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide."

The Soft Approach 28 February, 2018

It used to be that teachers have the respect and authority to be didactic and effective teaching includes reprimands, nagging and sometimes punishments. But times have changed. And piano teachers have to ride with the waves of change to stay in business.
Have you heard of this generation being called ‘strawberries’ ie. easily bruised? ‘durians’ ie, soft on the inside but prickly on the outside? Or parenting styles such as ‘tiger moms’ ie, very strict and demanding moms. Or ‘helicopter parents’ ie, parents who are overprotective and keeps hovering around every move of their child creating an over reliance on them? It is all a big mystery. But I do know, that to understand and teach the child effectively, the piano teacher has to be able to magically transform and adapt their teaching to mould and fit the style that the child is used to at home. In this age of student-centric teaching, it is best to tread carefully and treat each child as VVIP when they come for piano lessons.
Your lessons must be FUN!
Kids are already so stressed in schools, and the last thing they want to feel is another stressful piano lesson. Plus, learning is so much more memorable if the student is having fun at the same time.
Be a friend I usually find that if the student comes for piano lessons and they share with you what happened to them during the week or whether they are feeling happy or sad, that means that they trust you, and when that trust is gained, they are more likely to coorperate with you.
Accept that you are a service provider
Since when did we piano teachers become a service provider, you might be thinking within yourself. Sadly, it has been so for the past decade. Maybe because the child sees that the parents pay you for a service rendered. And when that service is not up to par, the parent ‘sacks’ the teacher. (gasps!!!!). So in the eyes of your customers (the parent and the student), you are paid to do a job. You are as good as their helper, tuition teacher, enrichment teachers, ballet teacher etc.
What can we piano teachers do about this changing trend?
It is about focus. Focus on excellence in your teaching. Focus on excellence in your playing. Focus on excellence in your teaching strategies. Find 101 ways to teach something, surely one way will get across. Inspire. Stay Calm. When you refuse to let the toxicity of the situation get into you, you raise yourself to a higher level. Realise that you have already attained a standard of ‘guru’ state of piano proficiency. And it is always a choice that you allow the student to choose to practise or to slack; to love music or to hate it; to embrace aesthetics in their lives or to live a dry and soul-less state.
What do you piano teachers out there think? How are you coping? What injustices upset you? What kind of students’ learning dismay you?
Dorothy Chia has taught piano for over 20 years privately and at music schools and institutions. She is the author of Piano Pedagogy - The Questions and The Answers. You may visit her website.

Exploring A Sideline

10 February, 2018

Some Piano Teachers shared with me that it is increasingly difficult to get new students, retain old 
students and start work in the earlier part of the afternoon. I can sympathise with all that I am hearing.

The school hours today is very Long. Students don’t get home till past 3pm. It is normal for piano
Teachers to start work at 5pm and end teaching at 10pm. Furthermore, students are bogged down 
with school homework and tuition homework that they do not have time to practise. So not only do
piano teachers get less students, the quality of students is also dropping.

In the past, students will follow up with the same piano teacher as they move up the grades. Now, there
is no loyalty. Every school year, the students will find a teacher based on the availability of the
teacher to fit their time slots. 

Because many piano Teachers and music schools now offer free trial lessons, some students are
known to jump from one free trial lesson to another free trial lesson so that they can learn piano
without having to pay a single cent.

There are also more “fly by night” piano Teachers. These are Teachers who have some skills in
playing the piano and they wish to earn some side income, so they give piano lessons and
charge a very Low rate.  Some are foreign talents who undercut the local Teachers and spoil

So there have been requests from some piano Teachers asking me if there are any sideline that
they can explore while they are not teaching.

Personally I have 2 sidelines and still creating more. It is my personal belief to have multiple streams of income being an entrepreneur. So, I have my publishing business and my skincare business on top of my main business of piano teaching.

Last year I joined Mary Kay a multi level marketing business dealing with skincare and make up. I have used Mary Kay before while I was in the USA back in the 90’s. I knew that the products are superior 
in quality and I did not mind venturing into this sideline business for some extra income as well
as learn more about skincare and makeup, something which I enjoy.

Mary Kay instill the Golden rule of God, family and career as our core company culture. This also resonates well with what I believe in.   I continued to upgrade through courses and I love to share about Mary
Kay’s great skincare products with friends that I meet.

So if you wish to know more about exploring a sideline business, I would be most happy to share with you.
Please visit my website

Brunch with Azariah Tan (Dr) 9 February, 2018

The Singapore Piano Teachers first meetup for 2018 is to welcome Azariah Tan (DMA). We have a robust attendance of 9 participants for "Brunch with Azariah Tan" held at Burger King Plaza Singapura on 2 February, 2018.

Azariah has a hearing impairment since young. But his career choice and decision to master Music will leave many wondering if this 'madness' is justified. Azariah Tan, 26, graduated with a Doctor in Musical Arts in Piano Performance from the University of Michigan. He also holds a double Master of Music from UM in Piano Performance and Chamber Music in 2011. Prior to that he obtained a first class honors degree from Singapore's Yong Siew Toh Conservatory. Now based in Singapore, Azariah hopes to contribute to the larger Piano Teaching Community.

Azariah was the first to reach out to contact me, first through the 'Singapore Piano Teachers Meetup Group' where I am the organiser, and later through emailing me. Our common alumni, the University of Michigan and our common shared area of expertise, Piano, immediately connected us. Azariah has big dreams of sharing his ideas with piano teachers in Singapore. While in Michigan, Azariah worked at the Faber Piano Institute, where the famed authors of 'The Piano Adventures' method books, Randall and Nancy Faber taught. I for one am very keen to learn from Azariah first hand what it was like to watch Nancy and Randall teach young children.

One thing all the teachers who came to the meetup agreed on, was how the Teaching Profession has changed. Parents expectations are up, students don't have time to practise, and what is this new fad of giving away free trial lessons? While we all have shared experiences, we don't really have a solution. The piano teachers all agreed that it was good to have a meetup session where 'the piano teaching journey' is less lonely. Very often we work alone and it is difficult to find friends with common working hours as ours.

There will be more Piano Teachers Meetup lined up for 2018. If you want to have a group of like minded piano teachers to journey with and learn together, do join us.

Search, look for 'Singapore Piano Teachers' and you are in! What are you waiting for?

I hope that Azariah, the newbie is unfazed by the interesting anecdotes shared by the piano teachers at this meetup. We wish Azariah all the best in his career.

All About Aural Training 7 November, 2017

I teach piano teachers and one common lament I get from them is that there are components in the Aural test where their previous teachers never fully explained to them the strategy behind 'how' to arrive at the answer. What should they be listening to? How to work out the answer? If one does not have perfect pitch, is there another means to manually work out the answer? My students who are now piano teachers themselves, said that their piano teachers then just played exercise after exercise during the aural training with little explanation. Hence, they had to resort to guessing the correct answers. They guessed the cadences, chord progressions and modulations. So sometimes, with luck they will get it right, and when luck runs out, they will get it wrong. And now they have a REAL problem at hand, they don't know HOW to teach the next generation of music learners HOW to work out the cadences, chord progressions and modulations. Many teachers have asked me to teach them how to teach aural. Are you one of them?

I believe in solfege singing. I believe that it is a powerful tool to sightsinging. Singing solfege enables to musician to 'hear in their mind' the music that is printed on the music score, even when they do not have access to their musical instrument to play the music out loud. Singing in solfege is more accurate than merely singing to 'la, la, la', simply because it grounds the pitch. Giving the mind a grounded system to place the pitch is definitely more accurate than floating around on 'la, la, la'. So important was solfege singing, that at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where I did my graduate work in Music, Sightsinging was a 2 credit course by itself that all music majors had to take. When I went for teaching job interviews with Music Schools in Singapore, I remember that I also had to sing and accompany my singing with instant piano accompaniment, plus do so expressively! When I was a student, my RCM trained piano teacher only made me sing to 'la'. Now, I am totally bought over to the 'dark side'......I make all my students sing solfege when they are beginners all the way to grade 8.
Watch my 3 year old nephew sing his do re mi for me in this youtube:


From singing the solfege, the singing is translated to playback:

This is Justin playing his grade 6 Bach piece after one week of working on it:

This is Justin in 2017, completed his abrsm grade 8 with distinction, playing on a piece of anime music that he has learnt on his own outside of his piano lessons.

Don't you wish for the same kind of musical growth for your students?

There is also a component in the exam in any piano exam board where the student is asked to talk about the music. It really is a test of the student's understanding and expounding on his knowledge of Music History and Theory and applying it onto the music that is placed before him. How many times do we talk to our students about the music that they are working on? Do we analyse the music score? Do we understand the key, the structure, the cadences, the modulations, the texture, the harmony, the mood, the style, the composer? Do we as piano teachers FORM the musicianship of our piano students? 

There is a trend among students these days, especially those who dislike their piano lessons, to have a 'bochap' attitude. Whatever the teacher says at the lesson is immediately forgotten once they leave. But I choose not to focus and dwell on that. Much like the fisherman casting out his net to catch fish, he will get all sorts of debris, and cockles and shellfish, and algae which is of no use to the fisherman. He is focused on the fish that he can sell. Likewise, we piano teachers will get the half-past-six type of students but the gem lies in that student who experiences the 'aha!' moment. And that totally makes all the rest that did not make it seem so much worthwhile teaching.

Teachers who wish to hone and polish their AURAL TEACHING SKILLS might be keen to join my upcoming AURAL REFRESHER COURSE for piano teachers. Write to me at  

More details are found here:

If you missed this, I will be repeating it in 2018. Do look out for it.

Grace Ng finally taking her ATCL exams
1 November, 2017

Born with a visual impairment, Grace Ng, 18 is determined to obtain her diploma in piano. It was Grace who contacted me via Watsapp for piano lessons. She asked me in her text message if I have ever taught anyone with a visual disability before. And I honestly texted back, "No". Our conversations could have ended there. But when I asked her if the person with the disability was in fact she referring to herself, she replied in the affirmative. I was on one hand curious and on one hand apprehensive. Grace has just passed her grade 8 abrsm then, and I felt that I had to listen to her play in front of me to see if we could work something out.

When Grace visited my Woodlands studio for the first time last year. Her mother, Catherine, was very relieved to find out that I was also a Catholic. It was as if by divine providence, Grace was led by divine 'grace' to piano teacher, Dorothy 'gift of God'. And after that fateful first meeting, I was in fact humbled and graced by Grace who taught me so much in my piano teaching.

We relied a lot on technology. Grace can only see a music score by bringing it up close to 5 cm in front of her eyes. Initially, I taught her by rote, bar by bar. But I found that to be challenging at the piano lesson. So I decided to do audio recordings. I did slow versions, hands alone versions and hands together versions. And Grace could listen and look at the score to learn the work.

I also had to choose music which was not too technical, with not too much leaps. I was lucky that a few years back, I had the privilege to meet up close with pianist / composer, Kevin Kern, who also had a similar disability. Hence, I know instictively that if Keven Kern could do it, so could my student, Grace.

I had to modify my piano coaching as well. Unlike other sighted students who could start anywhere I point to on the music score, Grace could not. So I often had to play what I wanted to hear and trust that Grace would go home to figure it out in her own way.

What struck me was that Grace was more hardworking, more determined that my normal sighted students. Grace might not be the most musical, but she was hardworking and had more grit and perserverance. Grace also had very supportive family, especially her mom, Catherine.

Grace performed in my student concert in 2016. And in a month's time, Grace will be taking her ATCL performance exam. I wish Grace all the best!

Grace's performance:

Make Up Lesson Policy 23 October, 2017

I once read somewhere that “How you say your hello determines how you say your goodbyes”. I have a studio policy in place so that every single student gets equal treatment every time. And for the studio policy to be effective, I implement it and stick to it. It is easy to agree to the terms and conditions when a student is new to my studio, but inevitably, parents and students forget over time and so they will once again push boundaries to see how far the teacher can cave in to their demands.
Piano teachers if they operate independently are self employed. They are often not covered by company’s health insurance, hence they have to cover their own insurance by making sure they have a comprehensive healthcare and hospitalisation coverage. They do not have sick leave, or maternity leave, or emergency leave. Meaning to say, if they do not teach, they are not paid. If they are sick and have to cancel lessons, they are not paid unless they make up that lesson that was cancelled.
Most private piano teachers have worked out some sort of “make-up lesson” routine privately with their students. However, parents need to know that teacher A will have a different operating system from teacher B. So it is best not to make comparisons but stick to the policy and agreement that they have with the teacher that is teaching their children.
In my 20 over years of piano teaching, I have heard the gamut of complaints from parents and piano teachers. Each side thinks that their perspective is valid. But let me just state the side of the piano teacher. These are some of my perspective:
  1. Piano teachers are not at the beck and call of the parents 24 hours. We have off days where we choose not to reply to your sms and watsapp, unless it is a life and death emergency.
  2. If your child is sick, please don’t show up for lesson. Because when we catch the germs from your sick child, we have to cancel an entire week of classes.
  3. It is not fair to cancel or MIA 1 hour to your lesson time and expect the piano teacher not to charge for the lesson.
  4. Your child may be a VIP to you, but they are just another student to us. I don’t really understand why you need to dictate that the piano teacher swop another student’s lesson time with your child’s, so that it is to your convenience and to the inconvenience of others.
In the recent years, most piano teachers will agree with me that it is a common Singapore phenomenon that piano students have to ‘take leave’ from lesson for an entire year sometimes because they are having PSLE, O level, A level. Or for those having lesson, they will ‘take leave’ pre-exam, on the exam, and post exam. And then the moment the year end holidays begin, they will disappear for the obligatory family vacation. So, pretty much a piano teacher’s income is adversely affected in the months from October - December.
I have scoured the internet and piano teacher forums to find out what is the best way that piano teachers all over the world address these woes. The ability and willingness of a piano teacher to give ‘make up lesson’ largely is an individual decision.
Personally, I have a Work time where I work very hard, and a Me Time, where it is spent of doing work that includes visiting my parents, going out with my husband, shopping and excercising. And I value every single student who studied and studies with me. I just hope parents can step outside of themselves and see the perspective of where we piano teachers are coming from.

10 October, 2017    Tuesday

I am so excited that in the second half of the year, I have been bringing my 2 publications, Theory Explorer and Piano Pedagogy, to the music schools in Singapore. The objective is to get piano teachers and parents excited about the new way of teaching piano and music theory!

Every few years, I am introduced to terminology such as 'the strawberry generation' (easily bruised), 'the durian generations' (hard and prickly on the outside and soft on the inside), and I last heard we are now facing the 'i-generation' (self entitled and born in an age surrounded by technology). As a piano teacher working with young people, I find that I have to 'update' myself to communicate and engage the new behaviours of young people who study music with me. 

Dorothy Chia at the Methodist School of Music

In July, I gave a workshop on Theory Explorer and Piano Pedagogy to the music teachers at the METHODIST SCHOOL OF MUSIC. 

Dorothy (L), Janice (next to Dorothy) and teachers of Presto Studios

And in October, I visited Presto Studios, a boutique Music School opened by my former student, Ms. Janice Ong.

In both these music schools, teachers are enthusiastic and passionate in their teaching.  While it is the Music Teachers that make the learning come alive, it is also imperative that they be given the tools and materials to make that happen. I urge principals of music schools to be leaders in their chosen field and run ahead of the tides of change to continually empower music teachers to upgrade and stay abreast with new materials and ideas.

Piano Pedagogy comes in 2 volumes, The Question and The Answer. I personally use these books to prepare my advanced diploma students who wish to explore a career in piano teaching. Through discussion, the newbie teacher is mentored by a more experienced and seasoned piano teacher. Using the Piano Pedagogy books as a resource book, the newbie teacher learns through structured questions various aspects of piano teaching eg. method books, studies, technique. The piano teacher mentor also learns because young people come with new ways of looking at things. And as we all know, there is always new perspectives to old 'problems'. So really, the 2 volumes of Piano Pedagogy books are really evergreen resource materials. Piano teachers who have taught 1 year or 50 years can revisit the book again and again because the students that we face are always different. A smart teacher continually improves herself/himself to cope with this change and arm themselves to be student directed in their teaching and personalise the lesson to the individual student before them.

Theory Explorer also comes in 2 volumes. Through the workshops, I will show teachers the differentiating factors in my books compared to the other Theory Books in the market. The inherent values in the book makes music theory comes alive! Kids cannot get enough of working on their music theory. And when teachers start to 'see', they understand. And it is very satisfying when a teacher is able to empower their music charges to be equally passionate over a "boring" subject such as Music Theory. Theory Explorer gets the beginner student to grade 1 faster because the pace is fast, the activities are engaging and kids are self-motivated to complete the exercises in the books.

If you wish to bring the workshop to your music school or you can help me to link up with your music schools, please drop me an email at

14 July, 2017

So happy to be part of this masterclass, to work with a group of  very talented young kids learning piano and to make their work go from good to excellent!

In doing this masterclass in collaboration with Yamaha, I was at first apprehensive about what if the kids are all very good and I have nothing to say. Thankfully, that did not happen. There were 7 masterclass participants who played and for every single piece, there was always an idea that I was able to bring to their attention to think about and to explore. I think they studied with excellent teachers to get to where they are. But in a masterclass, the student gets coached to try new ways of approaching their music. Perhaps it is to learn a new technique or to hear the music in a way that they have never thought of before.

I feel that often we are held back by fear. Fear of what the public will think and percieve of us. Fear of not being ready. Fear of making a fool of ourselves. Fear that we will loose our students rather than wanting for what is best for the kids and giving them every opportunity we can lay our hands on.

Kudos to Yamaha for exploring an unchartered territory of doing masterclass, even when there are many naysayers around.
Kudos to the piano teachers who came and learnt. I hope that you have had more ideas to incorporate into your teaching.
Kudos to the students, for believing in yourself. That you can do it!

23 March, 2017

"The road to heaven is narrow and winding......"

So this student needs badly to pass MEP (Music Elective Programme) but she was put in some crash course in Music Theory which got her a pass in grade 5? or was it grade 8? But, none of it helped her now as she is totally clueless on how to go about looking at a piece of music, much less answer questions and talk about the music.

I reiterate again and again, piano teachers should stop cutting corners. There are many piano teachers who themselves have never been through MEP, nor prepared for any diploma exams or auditioned into any university to study Music. So, they just do what parents ask them to do, get the kid to pass a piano exam. Nowadays, kids can pass lots of piano exams but they are not music literate. They cannot sight read, cannot play by ear, have very little understanding of the form and analysis behind the music that they play, cannot compose, cannot arrange etc. In a nutshell, they are book smart with certificates to show, but shallow in originality and creativity. 

"My child just wants to learn for fun". Right. Wait till they are doing Music for MEP, there is some academic rigour involved as well. 

Let us piano teachers teach with an objective of injecting passion in Music to our students. I have nothing against crash courses, if the student 'gets it'. But if the student doesn't 'get it', then it would be totally short sighted to go fast and furious to learn enough to scrape by, but with no depth in the learning, the student fails in long run when they really need to put their musical skills to the test.

6 December, 2016

Piano Practise

I started a group lesson for 4 year olds using the Music For Little Mozarts Books published under Alfred's Publishing. For teachers who are familiar with this program, the lessons are focused on basic keyboard skills, simple pre-staff reading, music movement, singing and the theory excercises are largely colouring and tracing. It is a really fun program and gives 4 year olds a headstart into piano learning in a fun way.

Now if you take note of the psychology of the average, normal 4 year olds, they have a very transient memory. If you are now a teenager or an adult, think back to what you can remember back then when you were a 4 year old? Not much, right? Well, 4 year olds learn best when they are PLAYING. 4 year olds do not learn in an abstract manner. They have a better grasp and understanding when their senses are involved. Hence, to teach rhythm, use percussion instruments. To teach keyboard geography, I use a keyboard mat and have the kids jump on it. To get the kids to feel the musical line, have them sing the musical line. And most normal, average 4 year olds would switch off once lesson time is over. Which means, it is very important for parents to stay involved and engaged in the kid's MUSIC TIME at home.

The good thing is that the Music for Little Mozarts books come with CDs which replicate all that is done in class. So, all the activities that were done in the lesson with a bunch of 4 year olds under the supervision of the class music teacher can be taken over at home by the parent with the child. However, this will need very disciplined parents to put MUSIC TIME into the family schedule. That is because, no normal and average 4 year old is going to run to the piano and start to play the piano/keyboard all on their own. Even if they do, they are an exception. 

There is a danger of saying the dreaded words that no piano teachers want to hear, "I have no time". No, no, no! Deciding to take up piano lessons is a commitment and an investment of time. It is precisely this minute but cumilative bit by bit of time vested into MUSIC that will reap dividends in your child's Music Education. 

I would suggest:
  • Creating a time table for your child and stick to it
  • Have one parent ( can be father or mother) commit to MUSIC TIME with the child
  • View Music investment the same way as you view your Money investments, seriously.
Just as one has to learn to manage one's money, one also has to learn to manage one's time. And there is no better time to start learning to do that than at the ripe young age of 4 year old.

28 November, 2016 

Christmas comes early to FORTE MUSIC TRAINING. 
Overseas customers can now make purchases of Dorothy's 4 books on ebay!
Give the gift of music.

Book Titles:
  • Theory Explorer for the Young Musician, book 1
  • Theory Explorer 2 for the Young Musician
  • Piano Pedagogy - The Questions & The Answers
Shipping charges apply. 

Singapore Piano Teachers Meetup Group
13 October, 2016

What an exciting month of October. Piano Teachers from the Singapore Piano Teachers Meetup Group got together to share and learn about the new ABRSM 2017-2018 piano exam pieces. We have just had 2 rounds of sharing where SPT Meetup organizer, Dorothy Chia, engaged teachers on the grade 6 and grade 8 syllabus. Dorothy touched on technique, style, phrasing, pedalling but more importantly the topics were dealt with in the context of teaching Singapore students. 

The Singapore Piano Teachers Meetup Group started in 2013 by Dorothy. The aim of the meetups was to engage piano teachers on a social and professional level. Very often, piano teachers in Singapore be they teaching privately or at a school operate in a very solitary manner. But all teachers actually face the same 'problems'. Teaching piano, staying updated with new method books, dealing with a new generation of parents and students, and at the same time staying updated with our own professional development. 

Past meetups have included fun activities such as playing at the "Play Me, I'm Yours" pianos, make up sessions with Mary Kay make up consultant Bernadette. On the professional front, Dorothy has conducted sessions on "when is a good time to start my child on Music Theory" for parents. She is also running a SPT roundtable sessions in the upcoming Fridays for piano teachers to get together, play, discuss and talk about all things related to the new exam pieces grades 1 to 5. This is where piano teachers are empowered to share and grow together in synergy.

If you are keen to join our activities, do sign up at under Singapore Piano Teachers.

Having a growth mindset
29 September, 2016

What does having a growth mindset mean? Perhaps this article might help:

The other day, a student showed up for piano lesson. She is sitting for her PSLE this year. Well, I don't have kids, so I only know when exams is around the corner is through my piano students. Anyway, the other day when I gave her some homework to do, she said to me in a rude tone of voice, "I am having PSLE next week you know?"
Ouuuu.......SOREEEE, I didn't know.
And I said nochalantly, "So?" 
"I need to get top grades. I need to get into the Best Class in so and so school."
And I thought to myself, "ah but then?". 

And just yesterday, a student showed up with her grade 4 theory question, lento assai, left blank. 
And so that was a teachable moment.
"Do you know the meaning of lento assai"? I asked 2 other students after her. Zilch.
So here I have, 3 students who do not know the meaning of lento assai, which means very slow, by the way.
"Do you know where I can find the answer?"
One said the Eric Taylor red book and another said google. Great, now we are making some progress!
So supposedly you have now found the answer, and you write it into the blank in the theory book. Do you put the information into the brain and now remember the meaning of lento assai for posterity?
" will forget" both student tells me.

And here is where we have failed in our EDUCATION system. And I threw it back at each of my 3 students.
Does it mean you study because at the end of the tunnel, you want an 'A'.
So you study because the end of all that studying is an 'A'.
And after the exam, all the things that you have studied is purged, deleted, reformatted, and your goal of an 'A' is achieved but really most students walk around with nothing in their brains.
'Yep'; 'Yep'; 'Yep'.....all 3 students of varied ages from primary to secondary school agreed with my theory.
Do their parents know that? 
Do their teachers know that?
Does our Minister of Education know that?

When I lamented that my best piano student only got a merit in this year's exam, "Ms. Chia, besides teaching the grade 8 exam pieces, you also make your students play other pieces right? From this year on, you just make your students play exam pieces. Every week play exam pieces, confirm they will get distinction." When parents hear 'distinction' they will be very happy right?
And so, I am still thinking about that.

Today I attended the ABRSM 'hallmarks of distinction' seminar. It was a great seminar. There were 3 learning moments that I experienced, that were all not related to the seminar.

Experience 1.
I went to the wrong building. For some reason, since the day that I signed up for the seminar back in March?, I kept thinking that the seminar was in the Paya Lebar Learning Institute. So I was half an hour early. I walked to the learning institute and took the lift to level 5. But there was no theatrette. Must be the other lobby. So I got down and tried another lift. OK, I was lost. And there was another lady waiting for the lift so I started to talk to her. "Do you know where the theatrette is?"She did not know, but she went to the reception to try to get me the answer. We actually exchanged name cards. Turns out she is here on a company retreat. My impression of her is that she is a dynamic person, friendly, and definitely somebody that I would like to make a friend of.

Experience 2
SingPost building is definitely a maze. But that is not the point. I found at least 2 other interesting individuals who like me, decided to take the staircase to another level to find alternative toilets. And of course, when you go against the norm, well, you get to experience new adventures outside the norm. Turns out there was no other floors that we could get into with alternative toilets. But we did find an unused ladies toilet on the ground floor. And we had to go around the building to get back inside. We actually took the cargo lift up. And we entered some back room of SingPost. Before we bumped into a staff who was able to direct us back to the theatrette. 

Experience 3
I plonked myself next to another teacher who sat alone. So I talked to her. Turns out I was more notorious that I realized. I found out that we have a mutual friend. And again, that was not the point. The point I want to make was, "why are teachers so afraid to say that they are attending a seminar?" Is it so embaressing? I think we should continually upgrade and stay abreast. ZJ the teacher that I sat next to said that she studied with Mrs. C. Oh I have heard of Mrs. C. She is very famous. The girl that I went to UM with was her former student too. "Which one is Mrs C" I asked ZJ. "The lady in blue with white hair." Now I want to be like this Mrs C, when I have white hair, or rather more white hair, I will still be attending these seminars to find out what new things are there for me to learn. 

I sometimes am a bit cynical at where Singapore is heading. We have a nation of zombies who think they are the future think tank! But reality is that we better do something fast to get that tank filled. These future think tank have an empty tank, but they are actually quite oblivious to that. When I am old and in hospital, I sure hope the doctor who is treating me have something in his tank.

We not only have a nation of zombies, we have a nation of fixed mindset individuals. And like the zombies, fixed mindset individuals have a taking attitude and not a giving attitude. Is this the start of the decay of society? Are we rotting inside while appearing solid and sturdy on the exterior? 

The importance of scale fingerings and getting them right
19 September, 2016

I get a lot of transfer students who come to me at grade 6 to 8. I usually audition these students before I take them on. And one of the items in the audition is scales.  Playing scales at an audition is sort of like the 'handshake' that you give your interviewer when you enter the room hoping to be hired by a company. Scales make or break the piano students' ability to tackle grades 6-8 repertoires and beyond.

I look at the student's scale fingerings. I listen to the evenness, the grasp of technique, the tone, the dexterity and expressivity. It is also easy to weed out the ones that do not practise scales. The ones that have to start and restart their scales. The ones with faulty scale fingerings. 

I really think the first beginner teacher MUST integrate scale playing into EVERY LESSON. Inspire the child to want to practise the scales. Begin the lesson with scales. Watch videos of music with scales (there are a lot! ). Catch faulty fingerings and nip it in the bud. Why? ABRSM the piano examination board does not penalise faulty scale fingerings as long as the flow of the scale is maintained. But, faulty fingerings might get the students through the lower grades. When it comes to playing scales a 3rd or 6th apart, the faulty scale fingerings really gets in the way. These students have no tactile memory and by the time they are at grades 6-8, they are not able to change the bad habits.

Teachers who teach lower grades should teach every child as though they will proceed to levels beyond grade 8. Short sighted piano teachers who teach the student just to get by with grade 1 or grade 2, thinking that in competitive Singapore, the child is best to focus on excelling in academic subjects and piano lessons can be seen as a 'standby subject' (just in case they cannot find a job later on) is really short changing the student. 

Yesterday, I asked my student if the teachers in school still scold them for wrong doings? Some replied yes, some no. But I got a very interesting answer from a student that attends NJC (my alma mattar). "My teacher does not scold. When he gives worksheets, you can choose to do or don't do. When it comes to passing up homework, he does not go after you if you did not turn in homework." On one hand, maybe this is just apathy. On the other hand, it is also transferring the responsibilty onto the student. Or it is just the clever use of reverse psychology / peer pressure.  "So do you turn in homework?" I asked. "Everyone turns in because they are scared not to"

What can we learn from Joseph Schooling?
24 August, 2016

By now you would have heard of Joseph Schooling, who won a gold medal in swimming, Singapore's first, at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. While many kids and parents want their kids to be a Joseph Schooling, the path he has taken remains one that not many will choose for themselves or for their children.

1. You need a DREAM
In this case, it was the kid (Schooling) who had the dream, NOT the parent. The motivation is internal. I really believe, it is a personal calling. Everyone has a life calling. Some are called to be single, some to married life, some to enter into a religious calling. Catholics believe this calling is divine, so you have to discern what is your life calling. However, this quiet voice within is also clouded by many noises from without. "You cannot make it", "You don't have the talent", "You don't have the financial backing" etc etc. There seems to be more 'nays' than 'yays'. It takes a very determined person, to take his dream from start to finish.

2. You need to start YOUNG
I always tell my students, your youth is your most precious asset. When you are young, your body is strong. Your mind is at its optimum. You have the mileage of the years ahead of you. Do everything that you can while you are young. 

3. You need GRIT
So Joseph Schooling won his gold in the butterfly stroke. Do you think he only know how to swim the butterfly stroke? Of course not! He would have to swim breast stroke, freestyle, back stroke etc. But his natural tenacity is probably in the butterfly and so he chose to specialise in it. 

Do you think he woke up at 4am to train for only one day? Absolutely not! He woke up at 4am every single day to train, for years and years and years. So working backwards, if he started swimming at the age of 4, and he is now 21 years old, he would have woken up to train at 4 am for 17 years! 

Do you think Schooling had no spelling tests? no exams? no PSLE? 

4. You need supportive PARENTS
The parents supported Schoolings dream to be an olympic swimmer. They gave him the financial support, the moral support and the guidance. They got him the best coach and enrolled him in the best school. Even when the Singapore system of National Service got in the way, they sought every means to get him a NS deferrment. Do you think it was just the kid waking up at 4am every day? I think the parent had to do it as well. And great parents make sacrifices and go the extra mile for their kids. More parents can learn a lesson or two from Mr. and Mrs Schooling.

I would say find your talent. Every child has a talent. It might not be academic. It could be sports, dance, music, languages, sciences......and then fine tune that talent and pour in lots of hardwork. Don't aim for mediocrity.

If you are an artist, be the best artist!
If you are a char kuay teow hawker, be the best in char kuay teow!
If you are a music teacher, be the best music teacher!
If you are a doctor, be the best doctor!

Special August National Day Books by Local Authors Promotion by MusicNuts

3 August, 2016

Dorothy Chia is also the author of Theory Explorer books 1 and 2. Printed locally in Singapore, Theory Explorer may cost more than the other theory books for children that is printed in Malaysia. But, in the big picture, you will still save on time and money because you can go straight to grade 1 after completing 2 books instead of 3 or 4 books.

Dorothy elaborates on what makes Theory Explorer different from the other children’s theory books that is in the market:
  1. Theory Explorer book 1 has a theme on Travelling the world while Theory Explorer 2 has a theme on the conservation of the planet. Rarely will you find a Music Theory book that incorporates exploration of Geography as well as teach young children about social responsibility.

  1. The artwork of each book is drawn and conceptualised by a single artist from start to finish giving the book a unified look. Children are intrigued by colourful illustrations. Hence, the cartoon characters in each book is carefully crafted so that children can relate to the cartoons. For example, in Theory Explorer book 1, children can relate to the bear family. Learning a musical instrument need not be a solitary endeavour, but a family affair. In Theory Explorer 2, the cartoons such as tiger, dolphin, turtles and owl represent endangered animals. The green pages focus on conservation of our planet’s forests, the blue pages focus on conservation of our ocean and the brown pages focus on conservation of the environment. Such is the detail that has gone into crafting the artwork in each book.

  1. Children learn best when they are engaged in a multi-faceted way. Thus, in the Theory Explorer books, Dorothy reinforces concepts through the activities in the theory books. The student first learns a new note. This is introduced by writing, then it is further reinforced by pasting stickers or colouring. Instead of tests, concepts are tested in a very interesting manner called, ‘storytime’, where children are tested on their note recognition by filling in the blanks to tell a story. Dorothy believes that children learn best when they are having fun.

  1. Theory Explorer books 1 and 2 are the only books in the market that separates the learning of pitch from the learning of rhythm.

  1. Even the table of contents in each of the two books is in the form of a game where the students get to cross out the topics after it has been accomplished. Because the table of content is modelled after the ‘snakes and ladders’ game, children are intrinsically motivated to work towards completing the book. This accelerates their readiness for tackling grade 1 theory.

  1. In Theory Explorer 2, basic score reading is introduced to children. No other music theory book for children has incorporated score reading at such an early stage. But Dorothy, makes score reading really accessible to young children.

With so much goodness packed into 2 books, piano teachers and young parents with young children starting out on music, why don’t you give these books a try if you have yet to do so. When you have children getting all eager to do the exercises in the Theory Explorer books, you can be sure that your child is off to a good start in learning Music Theory!

This article is published in the August Newsletter of MusicNuts.
You may purchase Dorothy's Books here.

Special August National Day Books by Local Authors Promotion by MusicNuts
3 August, 2016

If you teach piano or are considering a piano teaching career, Piano Pedagogy - The Questions and the accompanying book of model answers, Piano Pedagogy - The Answers, by local Singaporean piano teacher, Dorothy Chia, is a must have book in your piano books collection and arsenal of music reference books.

The books were written and published by Dorothy Chia in 2012 and 2014 with the objective of helping young newbie piano students prepare for the Diploma in Piano Teaching (DipABRSM) and the ATCL in Piano Teaching. Dorothy felt that there was a dearth of reference materials that sufficiently equip teachers for the wide scope of Viva Voce questions that can come out every year at the Piano Teaching Diploma examinations. “Some experienced piano teachers who have taught for many years would rely on their own private notes and past year Viva Voce questions garnered from past students who sat for the piano teaching diploma exams,” noticed Dorothy. Although there are books on Piano Teaching and Piano Pedagogy in the market, there was no book that systematically tackle topics relating to piano teaching in a systematic format that was easy and relevant across piano teaching in different countries and examination boards. Having taught for over 2 decades and having prepared diploma candidates for both the piano performance and piano teaching diploma examinations, Dorothy endeavoured to share her knowledge and experience with other piano teachers. Dorothy holds a Master of Music in Piano Pedagogy and Performance from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She also has  B.A in Music (Piano), LTCL and ATCL (Piano Performance), and CTabrsm. Dorothy was also one of the 5 winners of the D.H. Baldwin Fellowship for Teaching Excellence in Piano in 1992. She is the only Singaporean to have won this award given by the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company in the United States for excellence in the field of Piano Teaching.

Piano Pedagogy - The Questions was written as a compilation of questions in a workbook format that trains the serious piano teacher to stock up on their knowledge in a systematic way.  Piano Pedagogy - The Questions can be used to prepare for the piano teaching diplomas across various music examination boards such as DipABRSM, ATCL, and LRSM, LTCL in Piano Teaching. In the workbook, the student teachers can pencil in their answers. They will find that with experience as well as with teaching each new generation of piano learners, their own answers will continue to evolve. What worked in teaching a generation of piano students 10 years ago, might no longer work for today’s piano learners.

Many students and piano teachers who have employed Piano Pedagogy - The Questions and the accompanying model answers have given stellar testimonials of it’s effectiveness in their examination preparation.

“A million thanks for having come up with an invaluable book ‘The Questions’! I am especially impressed with the systematic organisation of the topics. The questions are indeed relevant to the pedagogy field. It is highly recommended to those who intend to take a teaching diploma. It has certainly helped my student pass the DipABRSM (teaching) diploma.”

Chong Poh Kong (Director, Classical Heritage Music Centre)

"I have personally benefitted from the sessions with Ms. Dorothy Chia using the Piano Pedagogy books that she wrote to guide students who are preparing for their piano teaching diplomas.
Having grade 8 qualifications in piano and theory does not naturally make one a competent piano teacher. Piano Pedagogy is a course that potential or existing piano teachers who have not undergone such a course should seriously consider taking it.
Piano Pedagogy broadens my knowledge of musical genres, music theory and piano repertoires. Its sharpens my understanding on the different teaching approaches and strategies that I can use to engage pupils and enhance their learning, as pupils have different learning styles and personalities.
The time spent with Ms. Dorothy Chia has been enriching, and it inspires as well as challenges me to become a more effective teacher."

Ms. Kwek Shee Cher, MOE teacher

This article is published in the August Newsletter of MusicNuts.
You may purchase Dorothy's Books here.

The Super Bug Comes for Piano Lessons
16 July, 2016

I was super looking forward to my June piano break because I get 2 weeks off from Piano Teaching. And then on the last day of teaching just before my break, a student came to lesson with a stuffy nose. She didn't have the flu yet, so I didn't send her home. So we had our lesson as usual. Then the Super Bug struck it's first attack!

I started to feel that I was coming down with something just before I left for the airport. So I decided to pack along my cough mixture and a packet of Telfast for flu. When I landed in Japan, I started to sniffle. Hiaz.....not quite my dream holiday. So on the 3rd day of the holiday, hubby decided that I should just rest until my body had enough sleep. That was a good decision. Because with a fully rested sleep, the sniffles and cough left me. Fortunately, I was able to enjoy the rest of the holiday with little fuss.

As per norm, I started work almost immediately upon returning back from the holidays. If I remember correctly, my first student on a Sunday morning, the first day of teaching after the break came to lesson with a bad sore throat. As he seemed ok otherwise, piano lesson continued on as usual because his piano exam was in 3 weeks time, and he cannot afford to miss any lessons. I got through Monday, and then on Tuesday morning, I felt the screechy throat. Cannot be bah!!!! The Super Buy has jumped onto me. How suay can I be?

I could feel the chills coming in my body. As the next day was a Public Holiday, I figured that I had better catch the doctor before the clinics close for the Public Holiday. So hubby took me to RM. Because I was a self paying patient, I did not have to wait too long. My queue number got called.
"I think I am going to fall ill. I have a sore throat and a cough." I said to the doctor.
He took my temperature. But, I did not have a fever. outside is normal but my inside is hot!
"No, you don't have a fever." said the doctor.
"What happens if I go home and I develop a fever?" I asked.
"Then you take a panadol." replied the doctor. "For now, you have no fever"
So I had some exotic cough syrup, an enzyme (anti inflammation drug for my throat) and something for my flu.
I cancelled my afternoon students and took the medicine and went to sleep.

True enough, by Tuesday morning, I woke up with a fever. I have a thermometer somewhere. We found the digital thermometer, but the battery was flat. Luckily, we also had the old fashion mercury stick in your mouth type of thermometer. Yep, 38.1 degrees.
"Oh no! Today is a public holiday. No clinic will be open"
I googled and made some phonecalls. RM in the town area was open. But because it was a Public holiday, consultation fees were doubled.
I don't care the money, I just want to get well.
My doctor was Dr. J. A brilliant chap, clearly very hardworking fellow. (He actually comes out of his room periodically to follow up that his patients were in the right room for follow up tests that he has prescribed). Anyway, Dr. J confirmed that I had a fever.
"I Knew it!!!! Darn!!!!"
So, I was giving more exotic cough mixture (which did not work), antibiotics, on top of the flu tablets which I was suppose to continue to take.
Suppressed with medication......I slept through 48 hours.....waking up only to eat and shower.
I had to cancel one more day of teaching.

Friday, I was well enough to offer to teach some make up lesson. But only 2 students were able to come for the make up lesson.
The medicine got me well enough to get back to work.

But the night time was filled with disrupted sleep interrupted with coughing spasms that woke me up. Midweek, I had run out of medicine. So I made a trip to the government polyclinic.
"What medicine do you want?" polyclinic doc asked me.
What a strange question. I thought the doctor will assess my condition and give me a prescription to cure my ailments?
"We have to wait for the cough to run its course. So, for now, I can only prescribe you medicine to help to alleviate your symptoms" said the doctor, as if she read my mind.
I also discovered that the drugs presribed by RM a private clinic is not available at the polyclinic, probably because it is too expensive.
Ah......I learnt something new that day. If you are rich enough to go to a private clinic. You have access to better and more expensive drugs. If you are poor and could only go to the subsidised government clinic, you are only given the cheaper drugs.

Since the western medicine was not working, maybe I should switch to TCM. These days TCM is just as expensive. I was told I had 'wind' cough. No raw food, no fruits, no chilled stuff, minimise proteins. Restrict my food to just fish and pork. No coffee, no tea, no sugar. Yes Mad'm!!!!!
But with all good intentions, my body did not respond well to the medicine. I felt my throat burning.

Threw out the TCM and went back to RM.
Ah, so I was back to seeing Dr. J.
Dr. J remembered me.
So we had to do a process of elimination. I was asked to do a blood test.
Anyway, to cut a long story short.....I was given a fresh batch of medicine, and a few hundred dollars poorer.

I am going to have to send out a new circular and be very strict about enforcing it.
If you child has sore throat, runny nose, fever, rashes.

Learning on a Grand Piano
8 July, 2016

Steinway Essex model 155 at Woodlands studio

Some people think that a piano is just a piano. It does not make a difference on which piano you are learning from. I once encouraged a parent to buy an acoustic piano for his child who is starting to learn piano. But the parent said that an electric piano will do the job as he is not concerned with technique development. He just wants his child to develop an aesthetic appreciation through learning music.

I teach on a grand piano. I teach teachers taking the Diploma in Piano Teaching Exam as well as students taking the Diploma in Piano Performance exams. At this level, it is important that the student works on a grand piano.

The mechanical action of a grand piano is different from that of an upright. On a grand piano, the force of the fingers directed into the key is directly translated to an equal but opposite force of the hammer moving upwards to strike on a string.

screen shot from

On an upright piano, this force is more diluted as it undergoes a series of levers to move the hammer to change the downward force into a forward-backward force to move the hammers to strike onto a vertical string.

The technical precision of a grand piano is more crucial in playing the larger and more difficult repertoire at the advanced piano learning. On top of that, the sonority of the reverberation of the soundboard is immediately felt as the sound leaves the piano from the top of a grand piano as opposed to the back of an upright piano. This immediate feedback of sound delivered as soon as notes are struck on the keys is like fuel to a concert pianist's playing. The beautiful sonority is what the pianist strives for, and to have the 'kick' diluted due to technical limitations of the piano equally dilutes the spirit of the pianist.

Did you know that the 3 pedals found on a grand piano is a little bit different in function from the 3 foot pedals found on an upright piano? The most frequently used pedal is the damper pedal. The outer right pedal. When the damper pedal is depressed, it raises all the dampers (they are black in colour and its function is to damp or stop the string from vibrating). The damper pedal works the same way in both the upright and grand pianos.

However the left and the middle pedals work differently on the upright and on the grand.
On the grand piano, the left pedal is called the una corda pedal. When depressed on a grand piano, the keys along with the hammers shift to the right slightly. This is to enable the hammers to strike only 2 instead of the normal 3 strings. The sound is softer and the tone colour mellower.

Another pedal that works differently on the grand is the middle sostenuto pedal. This pedal allows a note or a few notes in a chord to be sustained usually in the bass, while the hands can then move to the upper register and play there without loosing the bass notes. On an upright piano, the middle pedal merely moves a piece of felt cloth over the strings and act as a practise pedal to mute the sounds of the piano.

Both the sostenuto and the una corda pedals are more often used in works such as those written by Debussy, Liszt and Ravel. Very often, piano students do not get to pieces by these composers until at the advanced levels.

At the end of the day, choose to purchase a grand piano if your house has the space. You will definitely enjoy playing the bigger works on a grand piano. Conversely, a 5 year old starting out on learning to play the piano do not need a grand piano yet. A lower to mid-end upright piano would be sufficient to get the child started on the music that he is starting to play. Choose a piano that suits your budget, living space and level of playing ability.

Being Honest because Deception won't get you very far
16 June, 2016

"Ms. Chia, I'd like to study grade 6 theory under you. I found your name under SMTA"
Sounds like a normal request.
Sure, I can teach you.
I normally will teach students who want to learn.

"Ms. Chia, I have a few questions from the Josephine Koh book that I would like to clarify."
Again, sounds like a normal request.
Sure I can teach you.

"Ms. Chia, can I use a chord I or a Ib here? Can I use a chord III? "
Oh, are you creating a menu of possible chords that you can put under that note?
Well, the choice of a chord really depends on the progression. So, to decide which chord to use would depend on what came before and what is going to follow after.
So, while you can use several possible chords under a note, you have to really see the context and flow of the harmonic progression.

"Ms. Chia, I can leave my book with you for you to mark."
Gasp! 26 pages to mark!!!!

I am not Josephine Koh. So really, if you want to know the model answer to Josephine Koh's grade 6 theory book, my advice would be, go to Josephine Koh and ask her to mark your working of Josephine Koh's book.

Let's say you are a Math teacher teaching sec 1 math. So you bought the Math text book and work through all the exercises in the book. Then you go and find a math tuition teacher, and you give the math tuition teacher the entire math sec 1 text book that you have worked out the answers to mark, so that you can be sure that you are competent to teach sec. 1 math when the semester begins.

Now, if you are the student, would you want this kind of Math teacher?

If you are the tuition teacher, would you mark the Math teacher's homework?


Feeling frustrated teaching Aural?
7 May, 2016

Aural training is best incorporated into the actual music that you are working on. It really makes more sense to integrate cadences, intervals, harmony, modulations, form and style awareness into the big picture of 'REAL' music. The way most piano teachers are doing here in Singapore, is to just have aural training during the 10 minutes of aural time, where you make the students stand next to the piano, and you the piano teacher plays single line excerpts to test mini-components such as cadences and modulations. And because Aural takes up only a tiny fraction of the exam marks, 1. teachers and students give it little priority and 2. squeeze in aural test one month before the piano exams or 3. totally leave out aural training altogether to focus more time on the preparation of exam pieces. In the introduction page of the ABRSM grades 6-8 aural book, this paragraph may be found:

"If practical aural activities are threaded in imaginative ways through every lesson, preparation for the aural tests within an exam becomes a natural extension of what is already a central part of students' musical learning. If, on the other hand, aural tests are regarded moreas a series of 'hoops to be jumped through', preparation for which might be left until only a few weeks before an exam, or given just a few minutes per lesson, there is a real risk that students' aural potential will remain unrealized."

What this creates is a pool of listeners among students, who grow up to be the next generation of poor listening piano teachers, and the cycle repeats itself. Each pool of fresh piano teachers having watered down skills handed down to them by their previous piano teachers. So piano teachers out there, are you doing an injustice to your piano students? Are you handing down only a fraction of your own knowledge? Is your own knowledge fuzzy and needs revision?

Here's the goal:

  • To teach aural skills well, you the piano teacher first needs to be excellent in your own aural skills.
  • You need a strategy. Only then can you impart that strategy to your students.
  • You need to be able to work out aural excercises, and apply them into real pieces of music that your students are working on.
  • Combine aural with music theory to reinforce understanding. 

Feeling at a loss on teaching Aural especially to students grades 6 to 8?
This short Piano Pedagogy Elective may be helpful to you to be more effective in teaching Aural to your students. Click here for more information.

Are You Teaching students to read in an outdated method?
4 May, 2016

Every piano teacher laying the foundation of teaching young beginners at the piano is tasked with the very important responsiblity of teaching students how to read music notes. A non-music person always marvel at how a music person can decipher the 'tow gays' (bean sprouts) ala music notation on the printed page and out of the musical instrument, produce such heavenly music. Little do they know that the reading of music notation entails a process of:

1. Note names and pitch recognition
2. Rhythm notation and execution
3. Eye-to-Hand execution of music notation into playing an instrument

That is a lot to process from symbol to sound. 

You can read more at my blog:

Passion must be felt
5 April, 2016

Passion can only be felt, not taught.

Listen to Li Yundi play a very simple Chopin Nocturne, doesn't it move you? How come out of 10 piano players, we might be lucky of we encounter 1, who is able to let his music speak to us. What is that X factor that we are missing? As a piano teacher,  teaching piano students young and old every single day, I would boil it down to passion. The person must first feel passionate and excited with his music, then he is able to transmit that passion that he feels to his listeners.

So how to catch this illusive, Passion?

1. Model it
I watch kids and they are mini versions of their parents. Same style of behaviour, same life patterns, same values, only different bodies. Kids watch, and then they pick up what they see through imitative behaviours. Hence, piano teachers can model good piano playing to their students and trust that by some subliminal process of osmosis, that good piano playing is being picked up by their students. Whether it be playing a piece of music for a beginner of 5 years old to an advanced piece of music for the diploma student, always model a good sound. From the technique, to the presentation, to the interpretation, model the finish version that you hope to get. It is not just 'getting the notes' but much more. That is why, I also believe, even if we head down the path of computer music, the soul and the human touch can never be replicated with a machine. Only a soul that is moved can play music that will move another soul.

2. It is much more than grades, exams and competitions
If you focus on developing a musician, the grades, exams and competitions will take care of itself. If you focus the piano lesson on building musicianship, expanding repertoire, cultivating technique, educating an intelligent musician that is able to perceive theory, form and analysis onto his playing, then that young musician will have the skills to do well in exams and competitions. If you focus on grades, exams and competitions at the expense of building musicianship, you are actually contributing to the construction of a musical zombie. When I think back to what gets me excited about piano lessons? I would think it is the music. The new pieces of music that I get to play keeps me going. I also love the social part of teacher would organise pre-exam studio classes where we booked a studio with a grand piano and play. Not only did I hear myself playing my music on a grand piano (my home piano and my teacher's piano were uprights), I also made friends ( there is a certain camaraderie among my fellow piano mates who studied under the same piano teacher as me), I certainly expanded my scope of repertoire through listening to pieces that other students played.

3. Teaching piano is much more than just making a living
Sure there are days where I finish a day of piano teaching and I just want to close the lid of my piano and not play. But I think part of the joy of music making is to continually explore the piano repertoire by the great classical composers. When I hear a piece performed at a concert, I will look them up to play. I might not play the music up to a performing standard, but I would be able to play it through, pretty much like how you go to the library to borrow a novel to read. Part of building that passion is to continue to play and learn new music long after my last piano lesson with my teacher. I think it is sad if piano teachers do not like to play the piano.

Sometimes, we rediscover that spark of passion only as an adult. I met such a friend lately. She shared that after she attended a piano recital by Li Yundi, she was so moved. She said, "I never knew that piano music can be played so beautifully like that". And after that day, she has be verociously playing her piano. It is ironical that in the Singapore Piano Teachers Meetup group, which I am the organiser, this lady (a non-piano teacher) is the most enthusiastic one turning up to play piano then all the sleeping members who don't seem to be very keen about all things piano.

Passion can only be felt with the heart. You can teach technique, you can teach repertoire, but a musician that is passionate about music, that can only be caught from one passionate music individual to another music individual. I must say, it is very exciting to be among a group of piano enthusiast who absolutely love what they do (outside of piano lessons).

This is a video of the Canon in D played by the people who showed up to play at the "Play Me, I'm Yours" streetpiano last public holiday. Enjoy!


Musician's Injury
22 March, 2016

Musicians, like sportsmen and dancers, may experience injuries in the course of their music career. Injuries that can impair movement related to piano playing include: carpel tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow and golfer's elbow. My piano teacher said to me before that whilst it is normal to experience fatigue from playing, it is NOT normal to experience pain.

In the course of my own music career, I have experienced injuries 3 times. Twice when I was a piano student at university in the United States and once when I was a piano teacher back in Singapore. I remember the first injury occurred when I was working on a Liszt piano concerto back in the 90's. It was a usual weekend, and I did my normal grocery shopping. I carried 2 heavy bags of groceries and walked a distance of about the length of Orchard road from Tangs to Somerset, from the supermarket to my apartment in the USA. Upon reaching home, I stuffed away the groceries and rushed off to practise my piano. After practising my usual dose of 3 hours, I headed home and experienced a pain in my wrist. Thankfully, my piano professor modified my octave technique, and I was diligent about putting ice compression a few times daily on my injured wrist. The pain subsided after a few weeks and I was back to my normal self.

The second bout of injury happened when I worked as a Summer camp counsellor in my second year of studies for my Masters Degree. I missed a step and my 3rd finger on my left hand bent backwards. A sharp pain shot up my arms and within hours, the area behind my 3rd finger was swollen badly. Learning from my experience with my 1st injury, I immediately put ice compression on the injury.Thankfully it was the summer break, so there was no classes at university for 3 months. I literally stopped playing piano for 3 months waiting for my finger to recover. During that time, there was alway s the nagging fear that what if my fingers do not recover? Does that mean the end of my piano studies?

The third bout of injury happened recently. And again, it was not from the act of playing piano but rather from housework. It could be from carrying heavy groceries from NTUC, ironing clothes or mopping the floor (though my doctor does not think the mopping action was the cause of the injury). I have a pain in my right elbow. Initially, I thought perhaps it is my old age that rheumatism is setting in. So every night I would have my husband help me apply Chinese ointment on it before I sleep. But the pain remains there. So I upgraded my self treatment to Chinese koyok. I tried all different types of brands. All the self medication did not help alleviate the pain. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would put the pain on a 5. I was still able to play piano and teach, but I had trouble lifting a kettle, or an iron. So I finally went to consult a Sports Specialist Physician (Orthopaedics International). I was diagnosed with tennis elbow, and prescribed some anti-inflammatory medicine. I also underwent physiotherapy, where I was given ultrasound on the inflamed area on the elbow. Again, I was back to my reliable ice pack treatment.

In the USA there are entire institutions and medical centers that focus on Performing Arts Injuries. However, in Singapore, this is an area that is not often made known. With more professional young musicians performing at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, NAFA, SOTA, Lasalle-SIA etc, more musicians and teachers should have an awareness of musician related injuries and where treatment can be sought.


Sitting Posture at the Piano
23 February, 2016

Sitting tall, back straight with feet flat at the piano is probably the most tedious lesson and habit to instill in a beginning piano student.

When we do yoga or dance ballet, alignment is crucial. Improper alignment can result in injury, aches and inability to balance or execute the relevant yoga asanas or ballet moves eg. pirouette.

Likewise, sitting well at the piano is the basic foundation to play well. I usually sit in the middle (in front of the piano keyhole or the name of the piano brand). I like to pull my back straight as that keeps my spine aligned. That way I can shift my body weight effortlessly as I move my hands on the upper or lower registers of the piano. I can also lean forward to a more emphatic tone or bigger sound.

Sitting tall is like a clothes hanger. It keeps my shoulders straight and not hunched up. That way, I can keep my arms relaxed and hang downwards along the sides of my body. A relaxed arm can give very powerful strokes into the keys when I am playing. It can give me a singing tone when combined with curved fingers. I can also move my arms freely during scales and arpeggios.

Sitting tall also requires me to keep my feet flat on the ground under me when I play. My feet should avoid dangling or swinging back and forth when my fingers are playing the piano. The feet is like roots of a big tree. As the branches spread up and outwards, the roots keep the tree firm and strong, so that it does not topple over during a storm!

What is the difference between a Piano Performance Diploma and a Piano Teaching Diploma?
12 January, 2016

Did you know that there is more after you obtain a grade 8 in my piano exam?
I was having a very interesting conversation with a student of mine who shared with me that she did not know that there are 2 types of piano diploma exams. And that was what prompted me to write a blog on this topic - Piano Diplomas.

If you completed your grade 8 and is looking for further studies in piano, there are 2 main examination boards, ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) and Trinity-Guildhall. There are also less popular ones like LCM. If you wish to study in a structured institution, you could opt to enroll in LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts or NAFA (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts). I shall focus more on ABRSM and Trinity-Guildhall which most piano teachers preparing diploma students will encourage their students to take the exams of these 2 exam boards.

The general perception is that ABRSM is more difficult (to pass) than Trinity-Guildhall. But there is also a general perception that ABRSM has more prestige and recognition. Perhaps this has to do with the syllabus requirements of the exams of these 2 respective exam boards. The ABRSM diplomas has a Viva Voce and Quick Study segment in the exam. This really determines the weeds from the wheat. The Viva segment tests the exam candidate on general knowledge on Music. While the questions are usually about the program of music presented eg. history, background of composer, his contemporaries, theory and structure analysis etc, the scope of question is limitless. To do well in this segment, the student needs to be well read and more importantly, be able to articulate his thoughts well and clearly. The Quick Study of the ABRSM diplomas is a sight reading test. Unlike sight reading at the lower grades 1-8, sight reading at the diploma level need to draw out more musical nuances and stylistic understanding. In short, it is not enough to play notes off the page. I find that students who can hear the music in their head prior to playing the music, fare better in Quick Study. Trinity-Guildhall diploma exams do not require Viva Voce nor Quick Study.

There are 2 types of emphasis that piano students can choose to focus on: Performing or Teaching. The Teaching diploma has a minimum age requirement. Which emphasis to focus on will largely depend on what are your objectives. A performance diploma will push you further on your playing skills post-grade 8. A teaching diploma will equip you with a strong understanding of piano pedagogy. You will need to know how to demonstrate and address various teaching related matters eg. technique, curricullum, method books, teaching beginner piano students etc. 

Teaching responsibly
1 December, 2015

I hold a Master of Music in Piano Pedagogy and Performance from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Prior to that, I have all 8 grades of abrsm piano practical and theory. I also hold an ATCL and LTCL diploma in piano performance. Upon my return, I was in the first batch of CTabrsm course (Certificate of Teaching). I taught piano at Cristofori and Yamaha Academy before going full-time privately. I also lectured on Music subjects like Form & Analysis, Opera, Music Theory at NAFA, SIM, TP, RGS, NTU. I am a published author of Piano Pedagogy - The Questions & The Answers, a guidebook written for piano students preparing for the viva voce segment of the teaching diploma exams. The teachers that I have studied with include: Mrs. Vivienne Tan, Mr. Ong Swee Chuan, Prof. Katherine Faricy, and Dr. Arthur Greene. My piano pedagogy teachers include: Dr. Mary Ann Hanley and Prof. Joanne Smith.

My past teachers have influenced me. Yes, but I am not teaching solely in the way that I have been taught. I think to be a good and effective piano teacher, one needs: 1. skills  2. knowledge  3. pedagogy training 4. continual self development.

1. Skills
I always teach my young teachers that when you do a teaching diploma, please play the grade 6 or 8 pieces at a level that is distinction level. There is no end to constantly hone one's playing skills even many years after we have completed our last piano exam. There is always room to work on one's repertoire, technique, improvisation etc. One can also pick up new skills such as Jazz piano or Pop piano or even a new instrument such as the Pipe organ or violin. 

2. Knowledge
"You cannot teach others what you don't know", is a mantra that I tell all my students. If you have no idea what is a suite? Why is it important to know the various dance styles of a suite? What is the performance practise? What is the form? What is the harmonic progression of the music? Who is the composer? What other works did the composer write? Who are his contemporaries? If every of these questions is answered by a 'don't know', then you should seriously do something about what you know that you do not know.  Piano teachers who do not know that they do not know, are teaching in a sub-standard manner. There are also piano teachers who say that " It is not important to know too much as the students don't care anyway, and it makes no difference to the student".  Hmm, let me share an analogy. You know the Laolao brand of frozen yogurt? The first time I was really intrigue so I went for the whole pick the yogurt, then you pick your toppings, and the types of fruits you want with the yogurt. The second time, I just want the yogurt without the toppings because I did not want to consume so much sugar. Likewise, I have the skills and the knowledge, and for a fee, I can teach you the student what I know. But some students choose that they do not want what I can offer, maybe they don't have time to practise, or they are disinterested. So I just teach them what they want to know. I still have the knowledge to offer, but what I have is not affected by what the student chooses to want to learn. 

3. Pedagogy skills
Do you know that every MOE teacher that is teaching the kids in our schools have to undergo training to be certified before they are deployed into the schools to teach your child? 
Every professor that is preparing a PhD candidate has a far superior expertise on the field of knowledge through research and experience before he can sit on the PhD panel of advisors?
Even your kindergarten teacher has had training in Early Childhood Studies. 
Teaching is not just knowledge of content. Teaching includes psychology, curricullum exercution, practicum, comment and critique by self, peers and mentor. 
In a nutshell, you have to study about the what, why and how behind the teaching.

4. Continual Development
The kids are constantly evolving. Children today are not like children 10 years ago. They have short attention span, parents are more educated, the kids are articulate and they dare to question and probe the teacher for what they are learning. You might need to upgrade your teaching to cope with this new generation of learners. I was watching a documentary last night where the expert said that, "in 10 years, 50% of the workforce will consist of the network generation". So that 10 year old kid that you are teaching today is going to be that 'network generation', are you ready for that?

Sometimes parents change piano teachers as swiftly as they change jobs. And because the new piano teacher is inheriting the child who has spent some time learning with a previous teacher, some time inevitably is spent on patching up things which the previous teacher did not teach.  Note reading, rhythm, repertoire, sight reading, theory, aural. We also have piano teachers who come from overseas and have brought their own culture of teaching background and are not preparing the student adequately for the abrsm piano exam. Sometimes the child grow slack in their learning, and just pick and choose what the piano teacher teaches. Eg. a lot of students don't want to play scales. So they have a horrible fingering, bad technique and dextirity.  

My advice to piano teachers is that if you wish to teach, teach responsibly. You do not want to replicate another 200 half baked piano students who inherit 50% percent of your half baked knowledge. For things just gets watered down. The pool of knowledge gets smaller and smaller and smaller. 

Social Media: Friend or Foe?

Befriending the virtual world....
There are friends of mine who belong to the era before emails, sms, social media came into existence. And because they did not jump into the bandwagon when social media started to take on the world by storm, they are a bit taken aback by the public display of narcism that goes on in social media. They are appalled by the need for food porn. Or why is there a need to make public a diary of events in anybody's life? Then there are the perfectionists who insists that every photo posted be immaculately photoshopped so that only a perfect picture of themselves is made public. Then there are the secret voyeurs out there who read everybody's status updates but will not post anything on their own status updates.

I remember trying most blogging platforms.; Wordpress; .....I like and I have a few secret blogs. I write pretty much about mundane things. I seriously do not think anybody is really reading what I write. So the anonimity provides a sense of comfort and freedom to express. 

These days, I see the blogging platform and social media as an important business tool. Some people are in the Civil Service, hence they feel that BIG brother is always watching. Hence, they don't have social media in order not to be traced by BIG brother. Some are in important posts in their workplace, hence, every word needs to be uttered carefully for fear of being quoted out of context and be perpetually misunderstood. Some are public figures, hence, they do need to be seen in the correct context. Hence every social media entry and tweet are pre-planned and scrutanized before it is posted online. 

Social Media is undeniably POWERFUL. And with great power, comes great responsibility. 

In today's business world, you need to have a positive web presence. You cannot set up a business and be invisible. You can be a thought leader. You can be a social influencer. You can also be a mavrick and blaze a new untrodden trail. 

Someone asked me, how come in the past, I did not create so much hype online? It seems these days I am rather 'noisy'. In the past, I am author. I write books, the selling was supposedly done by my business partner. But these days, I am author, marketer, salesperson, trainer, delivery person all rolled into one. Hence, there was a need to wear many hats and play many roles. 

Business and friendship do not mix....
I actually keep different facebook accounts for different friends. My business facebook consists of the Music and Piano community. My personal facebook consists of childhood friends, friends I have made along the way and church friends. Some personal friends are also music friends, and some music friends have become personal friends. 

Some people feedback that I have been spamming their accounts. So I have revised the group of people that can read my postings. 
Some people feedback that I am boasting. So, I will try to keep the product boasting on my Forte Music Training page and advertise on paid channels.
Some people are on multiple accounts linked to me, so it is as if they see the same posts made by me 3 times. They forget that normal people only see my posts on 1 out of the 3 channels.
Some friends hate it when I talk shop, so I will try not to talk shop when I am with them on social meetings.

This reminds me of what Mother Teresa said:

The version found written on the wall in Mother Teresa's home for children in Calcutta:
              People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
            If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
            If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
           If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
            What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
            If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
            The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
         Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
         In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.
-this version is credited to Mother Teresa


A good pianist vs a bad pianist...
16 November, 2015

When we catagorise good vs bad, in anything, we need to look at:
1. What are the boundaries that we are making this judgement.
2. Are we qualified to make this kind of judgement? Do we ourselves possess the expertise?
3. Is catagorising good vs bad adding value?

I think the luminaries in the piano world such as Lang Lang, Wang Yujia, Martha Argerich and many more. Some you love, and some you hate. They have excellent technique and command of the piano. When they take on the stage, you know that you will be given your money's worth when you bought the ticket. They possess the skill and on top of that, the charisma. They play with a right combination of charm, wit and they push boundaries. They do not play to seek your approval of their playing. They play because they play.

Good pianists have bad days. Take the recent memory lapse of Li Yundi. Will Li Yundi live to see another concert performance? I think he will. Most pianists possess more grit than you and I, mere mortals possess. But I do admit that in the real commercial Music Industry, the audience and bosses may be less forgiving. Because a loss of credibility can take a toll on record sales, concert ticket sales, and artiste bookings. And that is life.

Someone who takes piano playing seriously would work on:
1. The Music
2. The Skill
3. The Knowledge
Most pianists may start off as child prodigies. In this scenerio, the hardware is in-built and God-given. With the correct nurturing, the skill blossoms. Some average pianists become good because of hard work. They hone their skills with many hours of practise. Some pianists do not publicly practise their craft. They just play for leisure. Some pianists win major competitions and then they change their passion into a performing career. Some pianists choose to teach and coach other pianists, usually at a music conservatory or university. These teachers then coach and mentor other pianists to nurture new talents into the piano industry.

A bad pianist:
1. Plays with no soul
2. Plays badly with poor technique and command of the instrument
3. Plays with a harsh tone and poor control
4. Plays with a good technique but sounds mechanical
5. Plays wrong notes that have been practised into the music
6. Plays with no understanding of the Music
7. Plays egoistically....."look at me"
8. Plays for an audience of one.....himself.....and will not think of sharing his music with others
9. Plays and thinks that they have THE one and only way to go about playing that piece of music
10. Plays with bad fingering, poor sense of pulse, poor rhythm, wrong notes, multiple stutterings, does not listen to others or to himself.....and does not know that his playing is bad. 

Some people think that I write my blog for a hidden agenda. Actually I don't. I write because I write. Sometimes a topic surface because I encounter the topic in my teaching. I was asked to comment on what was my take on "A good pianist" yesterday by a student who studies with a friend of mine. So I thought this deserved some mulling, that cannot be justified with a one statement answer. So me being very long winded, has to write an entire paragraph on the topic. But this is one perspective. It is definitely not a Model answer.

Running a good race....
16 November, 2016

Have you taken part in a piano competition before? 30 minutes before your turn in the heats, you are taken to a practise room where you can do some warm ups. Then about 10 minutes to your turn to play before the judges, you are called upstairs to sit in a row of chairs to await your turn. Then your name gets called and you go into a solitary room or stage, you sit on a foreign sounding piano that you have never played before in your life, and then you play your piece of music that you and your piano teacher have prepared for the competition. All the pieces are played from memory. You focus in, playing as if the judges are not there. You try to execute all the practised moves. And then the judges stops you midway, because they have heard enough. You bow, and then you exit. If you made it to the semi-finals, the process repeats all over. 

In a competition, it is best to focus only on your own playing. To trust that you have practised hard. You focus on your playing. You focus on your music. It doesn't make sense to think about what the other competitors sound like? It doesn't make sense to have your confidence shaken at the last minute because you worry that the person who played before you is technically stronger. It also doesn't make sense that you worry about what the judges think. There will be a panel of very experienced pianists, each looking for different qualities in a player. 

In the piano teaching community, piano teachers sometimes view themselves as if they are in a piano competition.

1. Your students are not your trophies
We all know of 'tiger parents' who demand that their children score only 'A' grades in everything. Their kids only attend the most prestigious universities abroad and take only the most difficult courses such as Medicine or Law. If the child wants to be an entrepreneur or an artist or musician, this is viewed as a career that 'cannot make it' and immediately the talent is extinguished because parents will feel it is a lose of face.

Kahlil Gibran said in his book 'The Prophet':

"You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you."

You are a guide, present only for a short period in the lives of your students. You bring out the best in them. You pass on some of your skills. But the learning, the talent, the hardwork must only come from the student. You give them the opportunities, but they must take the step forward on their own. Yes, their success speaks positively of the guidance you have given them. But eventually, they will leave and then they will set up their own Music Schools and Music Studios. But you would have imparted some of your knowledge and that legacy is passed on.

2. The pie is too small
I read somewhere that there are over 800 000 piano students in Singapore. Even if you teach from dawn to dusk, you will not be able to teach all the 800 000 piano students out there.

3. Bad mouthing another teacher
There are different types of teachers out there. Some are ethical, some are not. Some only teach higher grades, some teach lower grades. Some are strict, some are relaxed. Some charge high fees, others low fees. But the 'correct' fit of customers will find their way naturally to the correct fit of piano teacher. Don't believe everything you hear about a person, rather seek to know the person yourself and then judge. Some will click better with you. Some will just have no chemistry. Bad mouthing about another piano teacher only serves to bring down your own character.

4. Being dishonest
If you have studied with a piano teacher, give credit to that teacher who taught you. If you graduated from a certain institution, give credit to that institution where you obtained your credentials. If you claim to be what you are not, eventually, people can see for themselves. If you are a grade 8 holder, you are really not up to teach grade 8. (in my humble opinion). If you dislike piano, you really should not be teaching piano. If you don't practise the piano, you cannot be telling your students to practise. If you cannot demonstrate the pieces that you teach, then how are you teaching? If the market rate from grade 1 is $150-200 and you charge $80, that is call 'spoiling the market'. If your student is really going to fail an exam, but you tell the student they will easily get a distinction, that is not being responsible or honest.

In sports, there is such a thing as good sportsmanship. We run a race, because of the race. If we win, that is a bonus.

There has not been a bigger thief than the internet....
26 October, 2015

I remember the days before the internet. Yes I am that old.

A book was priceless. Reading was the only way you expanded your creativity and knowledge. Going to the National Library of Singapore at Stamford Road was as equally exciting as patronising the wonton mee stall in the dingy hawker center next to the library. I remembered going to the library to photocopy music scores of Music outside of what I was playing at my piano lessons.

There was no internet. Hence there was no youtube. I grew up without listening to much Classical music. I remember my piano teacher was a bit appalled that I had a very limited listening repertoire. He on the other hand had a huge collection of Music Discs that he would transfer into cassette recordings for me to bring home to listen.

There was no internet. Hence there was no google. I remember having to copy down notes about composers and their works. So, I knew very early on that Beethoven wrote the Pastoral Symphony. But remember that there was no youtube. So although I had heard about the Pastoral Symphony, I never got to hear what the Pastoral Symphony sounded like.

There was no internet. Hence there was no book depository, no Amazon, no music sheets online, no pdf. There were real books. And there were real bookstores. I was there when Borders was the most popular bookstore in the central of Ann Arbor, the heartbeat of University of Michigan where I went to school. But Borders is not there anymore.

If you want to do research you google. If you want to listen to music, you Youtube. If you want a particular music score, you search for it and download it for free. The internet has created a worldwide free market of information, that no longer exists in the heads of real humans. As the internet grew larger and larger in size, the cumulative and assimilative knowledge of all creation is as huge as the universe. As human grew more and more dumb, because all knowledge is now available online, there was no necessity to store it in their brains. The supply of free knowledge is there because there is a demand for it worldwide. Why pay for books when you can download it for free? Why pay for music when you can listen to it for free? Why pay for movie tickets when you can stream it free online?

Pretty soon, all things will be digital and virtual. There will not be a need for real money, real goods, real pens, real classrooms, real office, real interactions, real world.......because, the virtual world is SO MUCH MORE REAL.

The Purpose of Piano Lessons....

22 September, 2015

I did not know that my thoughts were not normal until I discovered that very few people out there think like I do. I don't know if my thoughts and opinions are right or wrong. Maybe there is no right or wrong, just different. And I am very proud to announce that I am OK to be different, and I celebrate that difference.

Wierdness no.1: Piano lessons is NOT about Piano exams
I don't know how many parents, teachers and students out there is experiencing this: you sign up for piano lessons. You specifically tell the piano teacher that you want to do a grade 5. The piano teacher tells you what are her monthly rates. If the price seems reasonable to you. You sign up for lessons. And when you show up, your teacher will coach you on the 3 choice of exam pieces and scales. Aural and sightreading is thrown in as a bonus.

This is SO wrong!

I believe this stems from Singapore's Education System. Students and parents perceive that going to school is for exams. Studying is for exams. And when you do well in an exam, you will do well in life.

This is ALSO wrong!

Dorothy's POV:
Piano teachers main objective is to provide Music Education. So first, you need to know what is the objective of Basic Education--> Music Education--> Piano lessons.

Well, in a broad nutshell, the objective of Education is:
1. Cultivate the person
2. Develop knowledge (through the study of subjects eg. Math, Science, Languages)
3. Social development - working with peers, being in a community, adhering to civil norms
4. Physical Education - develop the body and health
5. Aesthetic Education - Arts, Music, Literature etc. These subjects develop the emotional side of a person. The Arts are what contribute to heritage and culture. It develops the Creative side of a person.
6. Emotional Development - Responsibility, leadership, team spirit, grite, self motivation

The list is not exhaustive. But where do exams come in? They come in after each year of studies, and tests if the student has reached a minimum level of competency to move up to the next level of learning.

So, the meat of learning is in the PROCESS of learning. Not exams, which is the END of each level of learning. 

Here is the good news. If you MASTER the process, you will also do WELL in the exam. If you merely master the exam, you might or might nor have mastered the content.

Wierdness no. 2: Piano lessons only become meaningful when you use it
I often lament that piano teachers stop practising when they become piano teachers. I myself have not finished learning all the Piano Repertoire out there! I hold a Masters of Music in Piano Performance and Pedagogy. And even then, I am still learning new piano music every day and every year. 

When I obtained my grade 8, I have not really played the big works of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninoff, Liszt etc.  

My technique was still growing. I was good in exams. But, I had to learn to perform. Learn to perform? Yes. I was really bad at it. I had to memorise my music. Piano exams or juries as we call them in the Music Schools during my university days consisted of playing a programme of music on stage, before a jury comprising of all the professors in the entire University Music Department. 

So how to use one's piano skills meaningfully?
1. Play and accompany - a choir, a singer, a ballet class
2. Play in an ensemble - play with a trio, a piano quintet, a jazz band etc.
3. Play in church - what better way to worship then to utilise your God-given talents?
4. Analyse all music that you are playing so that it makes sense to you and you make sense of it to your listeners. 
5. Play for your office parties, overseas conference. I once saw a judge perform when he had to attend a business trip overseas, and Music was the cross cultural plateform that brought all the different country representatives together after dinner.

Wierdness no. 3: the diploma exam is not about just mastering the notes
"Can play the piece, then can go for the diploma exam already".
Of course not!
You have to work on your technique to play the big works.
You have to understand the music, to play it meaningfully.
You have to perform, not play the piano.

And of course, this was a big mystery to my students. Until they started to study with me. And the ones who are able to absorb what I had to offer, actually find that they enjoy the refreshing perspective.

Wierdness no. 4: Continue to grow
I want to learn the computer.
To integrate computer enhancements onto piano music.
I took up the Electone after my M.Mus.
I took up the Pipe Organ. Yes, the piano background helped. But the pipe organ is a different animal altogether.

I was surprised that piano students in Singapore are not appreciative nor grateful to their piano teachers. I was surprised that majority of students see their teachers as:
1. Someone who is paid to do the job
2. Someone who can be replaced by another to do the job

I have always felt that a piano teacher-student relationship is one that is bonded by a strange Teacher-Mentor-Friend kind of role. As Music is a very hands on subject, there is an intense passing down of 'gong fu'.  I speak to my students as friends. I speak to my students as a 'Master'....which means, I correct the 'wrongness' be it in technique, or style or interpretation, or rhythm or fingering. 

There are still students who perhaps due to the influence of perceiving the maids / helpers as someone paid to do the job. Transfer that perception onto teachers. Not very healthy. Nonetheless, I try my best. 

Moving up a grade……

As the recent ABRSM exam results roll out, some students rejoice at their ‘better than expected’ results while others ‘sink to the depths of disappointment’ lamenting the unjustified marks. Then comes the blame game: the aircon was too cold, the exam piano was out of tune, the examiner is a man / lady,  the examiner spoke in a way that I could not understand, my teacher did not teach me this, my teacher did not push me hard enough etc . But today, I am going to touch on the topic of upgrading, that is moving up from one piano grade to the next piano grade.

If I score a Distinction, does that mean I can skip over the next few grades?
Congratulations on scoring a distinction. It means that you have attained a level of proficiency for that grade. You have mastered the musicianship and skill at the piano that puts you at the upper tier among your peers in terms of ability. But deciding that a distinction puts you on a fast track is the equivalent of thinking that I top my class in primary 1, so I am ready for primary 3; or I top my class in secondary 1, so next year I will attempt my GCE ‘O’ Levels.  When you decide to fast track, you are actually telling yourself and your piano teacher, ‘please cram the next 2-3 years of learning into 12 months.’

The abrsm grades are put in place because it organizes learning into a system.  At each level, a certain skill set is learnt. At the end of the learning, an exam tests your proficiency level. For example, at grade 1, scales are played hands alone with keys up to 1 flat and 2 sharps.  But at grade 3 scales syllabus cover hands together with key signatures up to 3 sharps and 3 flats. And this is just looking at scales. Cram sessions at piano learning also means cramming technical growth, aural development, repertoire building, and musicianship growth. 

Perhaps this ‘ends justify the means’ mentality stem from an economic perspective.  In some farming states, cows and livestock are fed genetically modified food to accelerate growth and size.  Crops are pumped with hormones so that the farming cycle is shortened and production is increased. Companies ‘hire and fire’ to keep costs down. When you are young and fresh out of the university, you are cheap labour with vibrant energy and enthusiasm, hence companies welcome you. But once you reach middle management level, you become expensive to hire and once recession hits, you are the first to go. And the sad thing is, we translate this ‘ends justify the means’ mentality onto the next generation. What we are really telling our children is that their worth and identity is on a piece of paper or on the perception of others on them. Distinction=Yay!, Pass=boo!; Grade 8 = Yay!, grade 1 = boo!

Maybe I need more parents to think like my father, ‘jump grades and go so fast, then what?’  I looked back at my stacks of tuneful graded studies, abrsm graded studies 1st and 2nd series, Hanon, Schmidt exercises. I am so glad that my fingers had time to grow together with the repertoire that I was taught when I was a student. I always tell my student, why do you think a person that runs a marathon has to train, go to the gym to workout, build muscles, endurance, watch his diet? Likewise to piano learning, it is not just about the exam.
Some parents want to cut cost. The faster the learning, the less they spend to cover grades 1-8. Some teachers want to increase their earnings. If a student moves from grade 1 to 2, the fees increase by $20? But if a student moves up 2 grades, the fees can increase by $40! And then think about it, can your child’s learning be measured by mere dollars and cents?

Love the child.
Let the learning take place at a pace and comfort level of the child. Let the child grow and develop healthily. Let Music be more than exams. Let Music be a love that will take them all throughout their adult lives. Only then, you have invested well in a Music Education for your child.

By Dorothy Chia, 1 September, 2015 

The Role of Parents in their child's Music Education 19 August, 2015

When do I begin piano lessons for my child?
The ideal should be when they can hold a pencil, sit still for 10 minutes, take simple instructions, count 1 to 10, know their alphabets from A-G, basic writing skills, and be toilet trained.

Will starting earlier mean they get to finish earlier?
A child's developmental growth happens in Natural timing. There will be spurts, and there will be lull. Expose the child to basic Music Appreciation eg. play CDs in the car, take them to outdoor concerts in the park, sing out phonics, alphabets etc. Then usually when they are ready for preschool, it is also a good time to introduce piano lessons to them.

What kind of a piano teacher should I get for my child?
A piano teacher who is serious about their profession would hold a minimum of grade 8 abrsm practical and theory certificate. Have undergone diploma in Piano Performance or Piano Teaching training. Some would have a Music Degree obtained from a reputable university.

Ideally, the teacher's personality should click with the child. The teacher should play well and be able to have a good understanding of Piano Literature. Watch the teacher's playing at the piano as their playing style will influence the playing of your child. A good teacher will put the best interest of your child's Music Learning first. They will want your child to be happy and make progress at every lesson.

What if I have a different expectation from the piano teacher?
Request for an interview prior to signing on for lessons. It is best to make known any expectations from both parties. 

For example, some parents will want their kids to 'Just Play and Learn for fun'. (Usually, this means that parents want their kids to play but not have to practise). Or, some parents want their kids to FINISH grade 8 by primary 5.
(Usually, this means that the certificate is more important than the skill). 

Some piano teachers have a studio policy that states down the teacher's side of the expectations, eg. payment of fees, missed lessons etc. Some piano teachers will accede to the parents requests, but some won't. 

Hence, for the happiness of both parties, and most importantly the SANITY of the child, it would be most helpful to work in a way that is of the BEST interest of the child.

So now the child is taking piano lessons, what can I as a parent do to help?
As with all good parenting skills, you are your child's biggest fan and cheerleader but they have to do the work. No parent or piano teacher can do the learning for them. 

A parent can:
  • Give emotional support
  • Remind them to practise
  • Listen to them, this includes all the wrong notes and stutterings
  • Take them to weekly piano lessons
  • Pay the bill promptly
A parent can be a hindrance when:
  • Give unrealistic goals
  • Expect distinctions at every exams
  • Let their child get away with not respecting the teacher, not doing homework, miss lessons, not practise
  • Outsource all things music to the teacher because they don't know music
  • Micromanage 
  • Apathy
In my 20 years of piano teaching, I have worked with some of the most wonderful and supportive parents. These parents respect the teachers and their child. They have high standards, but they put the child's psychological well being and happiness above their own. They see Music Education as important as sports and academic pursuits because they believe in a holistic development of a person. A tree takes many years to grow, but a strong and well nourished tree will grow tall and provide fruit and shade in many years to come.

Singapore Piano Teacher's Meetup Group Social on 10 July, 2015

To know and interact with fellow piano teachers in Singapore, is simply - euphoric. On this little Red Dot, there are many interest groups, which include K-pop Dancing, Photography, and Cycling. However, an interest group for Piano Teachers is quite unheard of, probably due to the individualistic nature of piano playing. Here's at least one from is external) - Singapore Piano Teachers.

The Singapore Piano Teachers meetup group was started in June 2013 and currently boasts more than 100 members comprising active music teachers. There have been more than 45 activities organized in the past 2 years. The meetups range from small group breakfast meetings to discuss selected topics related to piano teaching, formal seminars conducted by invited lecturers eg. iPad Music Course by Ms. Julia Wee, and Impressionist Art & Music workshop by Ms. Cynthia Tan. Members also get invited to book launches by Singapore Piano Teachers meetup group founder, Ms. Dorothy Chia, owner of Forte Music Training(link is external), piano teacher and author of Piano Pedagogy and Theory Explorer. "As piano teachers, we often work in a solitary manner in a schedule that does not conform to normal 9-to-5 working hours. This group was formed to allow piano teachers to get together to socialise, offer support, network and grow professionally", says Dorothy.

Today's lunch social was arranged at Russkiy Dome(link is external), a Russian Restaurant along West Coast Highway, just opposite Haw Par Villa. It is a small cosy place in the reddish Westway Building, and is also absolutely great for a getaway from the usual Hawker Centres and Cafes. By 12.30pm, Deborah, Dorothy and financĂ© - Steven, Serene, and me were already looking through the menu which offers so many choices of authentic Russian food. We were also introduced to the chef cum restaurant owner - Rinat. He's a Russian from Uzbekistan, and has lived in Singapore for 5 years. He is also Deborah's husband! Ha - didn't see that coming, right? 

The dynamics was awesome, as we chatted about the matryoshka doll(link is external), our recent upbeats in life; and topics like organising concerts for our own students, and music mobile apps that can help students. It was really exciting to hear everyone's views and discover new perspectives. It was casual, cosy, warm, and inviting. And despite the nature of the interest group revolving around piano, Deborah is actually a violin teacher! 
I certainly do believe that a piano interest group can also be a great support system for piano teachers, since we can identify and unify to help solve another teacher's problems, and provide emotional support for one another. Some of us are experienced piano teachers who have taught for many years and we might just be able to offer tips and advices to those who have just started the teaching profession; whilst they can, on the other hand, broaden our horizons by showing us new approaches to the otherwise traditionals. 

The Singapore Piano Teachers group is meeting this month for a course "Understanding Dyslexia and Autism" and a free studio class session, "Moonlight the Moonlight Sonata". Interested teachers can join the group by searching for Singapore Piano Teachers is external)

The views expressed in this reading article are personal and do not represent the views of the members or organisers of this meetup activity. 

Article Contributed by: 
Sng Yong Meng is a private piano teacher for over a decade, since 2004. He is a member in the Singapore Piano Teachers in, and was part of the committee in National University of Singapore Piano Ensemble from 2003 to 2004. He also occasionally performs at wedding dinners, including his adult student, Kate's wedding, at Raffles Hotel. He is also a founder at Sym Paradises Pte Ltd(link is external), SGMusic Pte Ltd, and

You can find the full length article here: thepiano

5 Points that you may have what it takes to be a Piano Teacher3 June, 2015

1. You are passionate about Music
At the school concert, you are first to volunteer to perform. You are the one that people look to when it is somebody's birthday, and they need someone to plonk out the "Happy Birthday" song impromptu. Guess who is the official accompanist for the school choir at rehearsals? You definitely have the groove of Music rattling in your bones.

2. You are willing to have an open ear to all genres of Music
You explore Music in all shades that they come in: Classical, Rock, Pop, Jazz, Christian etc. In the car, listening to the beats of Jay Chou or JJ Lin really lifts up your moods even if you are stuck in the rush hour traffic.

3. You just know how to make the music tick and show it to someone
A good teacher can make something challenging easy-peasy to a newbie. Not only do they demonstrate the 'how-to' on the piano; they break it down to easy steps of the 'whys' and 'whats'.

4. You are good in Music Theory
And Music is not just about playing. Music is also a going behind why composers put together a piece of music. You are able to make sense out of the Music Score in front of you. The music is practically playing itself off the page on the piano stand.

5. You just love Music Talk among kids, teens and adults
The interpersonal relationship communication just flows when you are on the topic of Music. You get people excited.....sure sometimes you nag, sometimes you are fiery, sometimes you are pulling your hair out.....why? why? why? are people not jumping onto the piano to play that beautiful piece of music? You just want to win people over to your side. The aesthetic side. The side where no Math, no Science, no Technology can ever, ever replicate the experience.

Yep......if what I have just mentioned in the above 5 points describe you. You may just be ready for a career in Piano Teaching.

Dorothy Chia

In Giving that we Receive
27 May, 2015

Two years ago, I thought about my life as a piano teacher:
1. I was teaching from home and I found that my life was mostly revolving only around work, church and sleep.
2. My friends were mostly other piano teachers, who have the same type of schedule as me.
3. Life was good, there was nothing much to complain EXCEPT that I was not really GROWING.

The Concept of Giving.....
I remember on one holiday to Shanghai, China, the tour manager shared an interesting concept: 'It is in giving that we receive'. That evening, a bunch of us from the tour group decided to take an excursion to explore the city on our own. And so we decided to take the subway in the Chinese city. It turned out that to buy the ticket from the ticketing machine, we need to put in the correct amount of change. One guy from the group took out all the coins in his pocket and offered it to the rest of us. He said, not to worry, just use the coins first and then we can pay him back when we have small change. So the 3 of us bought our tickets. When it came to the guy who gave us the small change turn at the machine, through some strange malfunction, the machine started spitting out coins. So the guy not only got his tickets free, he also had more small change than he started off with. 

Planting seeds.....
A few years down the road, another friend shared he buddhist insight of planting seeds. That which you do not have, you must give away. Eg. If you desire LOVE; you must give away LOVE; If you desire COMPANIONSHIP, you must give away your COMPANIONSHIP; if you desire MONEY, you must give away MONEY.......
So I found myself with another public holiday to spend alone, and I joined a meetup to visit an old folks home. There wasn't much that followed except that I started joining activities in meetup groups to fill my life with meaningful activities. I also believed that to expand my social circle beyond just piano teachers, I need to take that step out of my comfort zone to meet people from other walks of life. It is through one such meetup group that I reconnected with my primary 1 classmate (the same person that shared the planting seed concept) and at the meetup group for 'people who work unusual hours' I met Steven, the guy that I am engaged to. I was so excited about meetup group activities that I encouraged other piano teacher friends to also join activities that would widen our otherwise solitary day-to-day living. 

Of meetup groups....
And 2 years ago, out of a whim, I started my own meetup group, 'Singapore Piano Teachers' meetups. I was so excited that I posted it on my facebook and every page where piano teachers gather to encourage piano teachers to join. The objective is:
1. Build friendship - we are now 98 member strong and growing.
2. Support group eg. How to handle parents, How to handle rude students....
3. Share ideas eg. Teaching tools, theory, motivation, jazz, improvisation, christmas jamming
4. Perform and learn new repertoire eg. Tackling the Appassionata Sonata by Beethoven
5. Offer courses, encourage peer to peer learning
6. Excursions eg. Steinway Piano Exhibition, URA walk to explore Singapore heritage trails
7. Makan sessions and foodie adventures eg. 2 Men Bagel, buffet at Central, 
8. talks eg. Health talk 
9. Book launches - Piano Pedagogy, Theory Explorer
We have met at McDonalds, Yamaha showrooms, some of the member's piano schools, my living room etc.

Some teachers were openly sceptical. "Haha, there are too many meetups. We don't need another meetup", "You set up the meetup group to promote your books and courses right?", "You are not allowed to promote or advertise in the group".  

The parable of the multiplication of 5 loaves and 2 fishes....
But in the course of the past two years, there have been more pleasant experiences than bad experiences. The piano teachers that came were open to share. If they had a skill, they shared. If they had a premise to offer, they offered. If they had an expertise, they shared. If they had a good book that they came across, they introduced others to it. 

And so the Singapore Piano Teachers meetup group is now TWO years old. 
In that span of time, I have came up with 3 books, 1 will be out soon; gotten engaged, met NEW friends, and expanded and grown as a person. 

It is in giving that we receive. What a blessing to have received so much more, than I have given. 

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