Give your child / yourself the precious gift of music
and a more well rounded education / richer experience of life
1) I have a young son and am contemplating starting him on the journey to learn to play a musical instrument. I am not very musical myself but I have read and heard a lot about the benefits of a musical education. Your comments please.
According to recent neuroscientists' research, music education do indeed confer many benefits to brain development. Please have a listen to the above recent presentation in Canberra on this specific topic. Anita Collins has done a superb job on this. I would only just add that your child will become a person with beautiful sense and acquire many important life skills along the way in addition to mixing with like minded peers. Please also refer to "Why music" and "Did you know" pages for more information. Also the recent post "scientific studies prove music lessons were the best thing your parents ever did for you" is an excellent read. See "Scientific studies prove music lessons were the best thing your parents did for you".
When you play a musical instrument, you are doing a number of very different things simultaneously. On the one hand you draw on a group of cognitive skills: thinking, controlling, analysing and reading. In musical terms this is about measuring pulse and rhythm, reading and recognising pitch and controlling physical coordination and fine motor skills. On the other hand you call on more instinctive and emotional abilities relating to imagination, perception, creative understanding and musical meaning. Rarely is such a wide range of skills and abilities present in one activity but when you play an instrument, they are all brought together at the same time. The amazing thing about making music is that it forges vital connections between all these different types of skill and activity. Mental and physical activities are integrated. Creating these connections is especially valuable during the childhood and teenage years of growth, education and personal development. It will help shape who you become along the way. The key to unlocking these benefits is PROGRESSION. Simply taking part in musical activity - just 'having a go' - is perfectly worthwhile but it does not have the same powerful effects. That is why we strongly recommend formal structured lessons with properly qualified and well experienced teacher. Needless to say, being actively engaged in making music by playing an instrument produces far more benefits than merely passively listening to music. It is literally a FULL brain workout.
Please refer to the “Why piano?” page to read the many amazing benefits of piano playing and the high level of manual dexterity involved. Also piano is polyphonic i.e. not only does it produces beautiful sound accompanying other instruments, piano also makes a dynamic solo instrument. Boring and uncool? Try playing rock and jazz music on the sexy and fun keytar!!!
P.S. I have mature guitar player students who wish they have learnt piano when they were younger but I have yet to hear of the reverse case.
4) I love the piano but feel that classical music is inflexible, dated, technically difficult and sometimes boring. Your comments on this please.Besides classical music there are many other pathways like music for leisure and musicianship where you learn composition, improvisation, aural training etc. Only those who really want to, need to pursue the classical music pathway.
5) What advice would you give to someone wanting to begin the piano journey?
There is nothing easy about learning to play the piano and in order to get so much back from it, you have to give a lot in return. COMMITMENT is required to finish the race, as with any other endeavours in life worthy of pursuit. The cliche' that "if you think education is expensive, try ignorance" is also applicable to music.
Playing the piano, once mastered, is one of the most gratifying ways you can enrich your life as it is an expression of your passion, your creativity and your individuality. Besides bringing joy and meaning to daily living, along the way you develop valuable life skills like commitment, discipline, focus, independent learning, reflection, risk taking, teamwork, creativity and self expression. Music also does wonders for your self esteem and confidence on top of numerous benefits on brain development and cognitive improvement. Also recent studies from Northwestern University, USA have shown that many of the benefits of early musical training last well beyond the childhood years – keeping hearing and the brain sharp and improve coordination in the older adults. But a 2004 study posted by Schellenberg in the Journal of Psychological Science suggests that profound changes will only be experienced if the participants undertake music lessons for at least 36 months – the time required for the neural pathway hardwiring to become permanent.
So music education is an INVESTMENT in your child. There may be no guaranteed outcomes as with a PURCHASE but there are steps you can take (e.g. proper coaching, strong parental support) to increase the chance of a successful outcome. THE DECISION THEN IS WHETHER YOU ARE WILLING TO INVEST A FEW YEARS AND GIVE YOUR CHILD A PRECIOUS GIFT WHICH WILL LAST A LIFETIME.
6) What is the best age for children to begin piano lessons?
Every child is different and for this reason there is no "perfect" age. In most cases, I advise piano lessons once a child's fine motor skill has been developed (so that he is able to control moving each finger independently) and once he is able to sit for at least 15 minutes at the piano. Some children can begin individual lessons at around age 4 or 5 but it is best to bring them to me for an assessment. The important thing to remember is that there are many years ahead of them and beginning lessons too early can result in frustration for the children (and the parents).
7) My child and I have constant battles about piano practice…..so much so that I am thinking seriously of stopping this misery by terminating his piano lessons. (He seems indifferent either way). I’m in a dilemma as I am convinced that the piano lessons are good for him but I am tired. Any advice?
I truly and deeply empathize with you. Like you, I myself have a son doing piano. Please see questions (8) to (12) below which attempt to offer some tips to get over this difficult phase. It is also good to step back sometimes and remember that this is an investment and a very VALUABLE gift to him (just like a good education) and it is for the long haul. If, after everything you have done (including your own expectation and commitment), it still does not work then maybe you should just let it go ………..and come back another time. You have done your best and you should rest easy with that. Music should never be the reason for ruining your relationship with your child. Having said that, I will just end with a quote and 3 video clips……
"In all my life (I am in my fifty’s), I have yet to meet an adult who regrets persevering and mastering the piano. On the other hand I have come across many adults who regret not persevering and giving up or who lament about the lack of opportunity for formal piano training earlier on. Some of them (now retired or successful professionals) have tried to re-live their dreams by going back to formal piano lessons again to make up for lost time or opportunity!!" Unknown
Watch the video clips together with your child, have a serious chat with him about it and then let it rest.
8) Any advice to parents to help their children stay on track?
Research shows that in the early stages, parental support is the single most important aspect of student motivation and success. It is generally unrealistic to expect a 6 or 7 years old to be very organized, disciplined or focused when it comes to daily practice. This is very much the same with studying, doing homework or even serious sports.
Having said that, it must also be stressed that it is important to teach your kids to love playing by associating playing with pleasure, fun and joy. What is learnt in pleasure is not easily forgotten. Sow the seed for a love of music as early as possible; cultivate the joy of playing in pre-schoolers; nurture the budding players and deepen the roots of more advanced players. Zealously protect the joy of playing as real talent/intelligence is always built and blossom on a base of enjoyment. Be aware that when we try to force the process too much too early, we are in danger of shutting down the young learner's intrinsic interest thereby thwarting our own good intentions. I know that sometimes it can be difficult to draw the line! Besides each child is different and the line shifts as the child makes progress!!
Always remember that fun, fantasy and exploration is the world of the young beginners. Fun motivates play and play is the child's "magic formula" for learning. So the keys to connect with them are activities which allow for creativity, playfulness, imagination, laughter, adventure and lots of musical fun.
Enlist technology to engage your child and to enhance and expand his experience of music. Tap into the child's natural curiosity about technology to stimulate music making and learning about music. Use backing tracks and MIDI accompaniment files to improve practice, record own performance for review to enhance performance, use electronic keyboard for creative music making to mix and balance styles, rhythm, instruments and notation software to write and transpose music.
For very young beginners, it would be very helpful if an adult (preferably the parents) can sit with them through the practice sessions and help them concentrate. Use these times to bond with your children and create memories that your children will cherish. They will pay rich dividends for many years into the future. Remember that the more they play, the better they get at it; the better they get at it, the more they like it; the more they like it, the more they will do it.
Don't lose heart if there seems to be not too much progress initially. It is very important to bear in mind that it will take some time (about 36 months) before the re-wiring in the brain becomes more permanent for any lasting improvement to become visible and reflected in the student's ability. This phenomenon is known as "neuroplasticity". Besides you cannot always tell immediately what effect your efforts will have and sometimes the lesson is not fully learned until time has done its part in seasoning the message.
9) I am not a musician myself so how can I support my child in his musical endeavours?
There are many practical things you can do - you can help to get your child started and develop a routine, keep practice record, praise, listen, show interest, ask questions and be encouraging, offer suggestions if it just sounds wrong, attend the concerts he is playing in, bring him to concerts, make sure that he has a decent instrument to work with and generally make music accessible to him. You don't need to be a musician to do any of these things! Please also sign in and refer to the "Why Bless Music Studio?" page for some more ideas.
10) My child would like to learn piano again (he has done it before). He loves music but hates the practice. Any advice?
The key is to let the child choose the songs he loves and let him play those songs first. Hopefully he will try to master his passion pieces (through practice) and then once he gains mastery and confidence, the motivation and virtuous cycle stated in point (7) above will kick in (see video clip below where the parent now has to ask his once practise-resistant kid NOT to practise so many hours so he can get his homework done!). Teachers can only show and guide the students but they cannot make students great musicians. The students themselves have to want to and care enough to do their part. Remember that while motivation gets you started, it is the habit that will keep you going. Music is also subconscious and the more you practise, the less you think about it and the better you get (very much like driving).
To conclude, if you want to acquire the skill of playing a musical instrument, even knowing about the techniques of playing is not enough - just like swimming you have to practise over and over to really master it. Dr Shinichi Suzuki puts it this way, “Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus 10,000 times is skill.” Also talent without persistence and hard work remains just ...... potential. Have a listen to the excellent video clip below by Benjamin Zander on the amazing progressive impact of practice and formal lessons on the way the same music piece is played.
11) How can I help to sustain my child's motivation as my reward system does not seem to be working any more?
There are 3 levels of motivations – intrinsic, external and internal.
a) Intrinsic motivation
When a task is fun and interesting, trying hard feels effortless because the motivation comes from the enjoyableness of the task itself. Therefore whenever we can, it is a good idea to muster this most POWERFUL intrinsic motivation by turning have-to-do learning tasks into fun-to-do activities. But intrinsic motivation will only take our kids so far. Sometimes learning is just plain hard work and motivation needs to come from something beyond the task.
b) External motivation
Using rewards to inspire motivation only works temporarily and has its drawbacks. Rewards imply that the task is optional. Kids may decide “It’s not worth it!” and give both the task and the reward a pass. They may also try to work the system by arguing about the criteria or doing the bare minimum just to get the reward. Rewards can also undermine intrinsic motivation when they imply to the children, “This is not something you would choose to do on your own! You’re only doing it for the reward.” Therefore use rewards judiciously and only sparingly ….for "just getting-over-the-hump" situations. As for using punishment as an external motivation I would strongly advise against it because the child would hate the activity and stop it the moment he can.
c) Internal motivation
This comes from who they are and what they value - motivation they can muster even when the task is not pleasant and when we are not around to prod them on. There are three essential needs that underlie internal motivation: competence, autonomy and connection. By addressing these needs, we can help children develop internal motivation.
Mastery is tremendously motivating. That is why we stress formal structured lessons and extensive hands holding in the beginning (think learning how to swim or drive). Emphasize and praise effort rather than just results or innate abilities. Always remember to point to and celebrate progress. Seeing their own progress helps kids feel capable. Break down big tasks into smaller steps so your child can see movement toward the goal.
Nobody likes to feel controlled. Sometimes children are unmotivated because they feel they are being forced to do something. Obviously, we cannot give kids total freedom to do only what they want to do but we can minimize resistance by allowing some independence. Progressively give a rationale that makes sense to your child, get him to understand the importance of the task at hand for his future, offer choices and encourage him to come up with a plan to get things done.
Relationships are an important source of motivation. Kids generally want to please their parents. Children never outgrow their wish for their parents to be proud of them. Empathize and acknowledge your child’s feelings/struggle, find social support and role models to inspire your child to try hard. Inspiration is better than motivation because when your child is inspired he will work long hours and be 100% present and yet has endless amounts of energy.
No one is 100 percent motivated with all tasks at all times. We all have off days and tasks we’d rather avoid. And children are not supposed to show adult level productivity. It takes practice and maturity to learn to muster internal motivation for less-than-fun tasks. In the meantime, we need to be patient and have reasonable expectations that reflect what our children can typically do now and just a bit beyond that. And we need to keep in mind that warmth and encouragement are more motivating to kids than criticism. Do have a listen to the wonderful video below by Robert Estrin about how to keep your kids engaged in music lessons as well.
12) Any tips on piano practice?
Effective practice is the key to improvement/progress. Try to aim for focus practice with refinement goals rather than mindless playing with repetition (perfecting your mistakes!). The key principles behind effective learning and good practice habits are persistence, regularity, length of practice sessions and concentration.
Practically for young students this means:-
a) Parents are encouraged to take an active role during home practising
b) Try to do a little each day instead of saving it all up for the weekend! Better still if you can set a fixed time each day at a fixed space for the practice and get into the ROUTINE. Remember that you play at the level you practise!!
c) While set length of time for practice each day is good for discipline, don't get too hung up on it. Instead of adhering rigidly to the mandatory 30 minutes of meagre, unmotivated effort, it may be more rewarding and even enjoyable to try to reach daily musical goals. Concentrating on musical goals also help the kids to focus and practice more efficiently.
d) Master little chunks by dividing your practice time into sections to focus on specific tasks
e) Practising the correct technique is a great way to develop an excellent sound
f) Let your child play any music he wants in his free time. The fact that he is working on a classical piece does not mean that he cannot play his favourite pop or jazz piece.
g) Always try to finish your practice on a positive note by playing a piece that gives you enjoyment
h) Have fun and celebrate milestones of achievements
Please also sign in and refer to the "Why Bless Music Studio?" page for additional tips for more advanced students
13) Do you prepare students for music exams? Are the music exams useful?
We do prepare interested students for professional exams (AMEB, ABRSM, Trinity Guildhall) up to Diploma level. We all know that music exams have their purpose and can have a positive effect on a child’s progress but they need to be used carefully. Too much focus on exams can backfire as it turns music making into a chore and something to be dreaded. Students who are fed strictly a diet of exams material to the exclusion of everything else and whose sole focus and repertoire experience are exams related suffer musical malnutrition, become bored and often give up. Therefore exams should first and foremost be for the benefit of the child. Putting a child through the exam process solely for the gratification of the parent is counter-productive.
So with regards to exams I would advise to avoid:-
a) entering a child in an exam against his will
b) plunging a child directly from one exam into another without a break as this will lead to burnout, loss of motivation & even dropout
c) entering a child for the wrong grade as failure can be very demoralizing and damaging
If any conflict with your child over learning music begins to outweigh the enjoyment, something is wrong. Lastly always be mindful that the primary aim of music lessons should be more than just passing exams.
Our ultimate goal is to produce INDEPENDENT musicians with an all round understanding of all aspects of music BUT we can acquiesce if you insist on just getting the exam certificates. JUST BE MINDFUL THOUGH THAT THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BEING ABLE TO PLAY JUST THE EXAM PIECES AND BEING ABLE TO PLAY AT THE LEVEL BEING EXAMINED GENERALLY.
14) I want to try out my child on piano but I have a dilemma. I am not willing to invest in a piano until my child has a few lessons and displays interest. Is buying a keyboard in the beginning (for him to practice on) the way to go? Your advice please.We have a solution to your dilemma. Please sign in to read the solution in "Why Bless Music Studio?" page and see Question 16 below as well.
15) I am a retiree and I have always wanted to play the piano. Is it too late for me to take up piano lessons now?
The short answer is yes if your aim is to become a world class concert pianist and no if you just want to play piano for leisure and entertainment. Moreover if you have a child learning to play piano, you will definitely be a great source of inspiration to the child!! See video clip below as well.
16) What should students look out for in a piano teacher?
Properly taught/qualified teacher and solid teaching experience as learning the correct technique is critical. That is why I go to great length to make sure the students build a firm technical foundation on which their own technique can grow and flourish. The students must be taught the right way to play right from the start because the way they begin will dictate the way they will continue. Moreover once firm solid foundation is laid, the students will not "forget" how to play even after a period of layoff. Not unlike driving or swimming, they will get rusty no doubt but should be able to be back on track again with some refresher lessons. (To use another analogy, I teach the students how to read a map and not just memorize a route). Remember also that incorrect techniques once accustomed to takes a long time to unlearn and is difficult to correct ............just like bad habits. That is why in my opinion, self learning through online tutorial is not sufficient for serious learners. Please sign in and watch the video clip in "Why Bless Music Studio" page too. Also students should be aware that should they want to use the music pathway to gain entry into top Public schools or secure a scholarship at prestigious Private schools, the qualifications of their music teachers matter as the schools do ask for them.
For adult students, the most important consideration is a teacher who you are comfortable with and who can give you inspiration, guidance and accountability.
17) What would you say are the main strengths of Bless Music Studio?
I spent considerable amount of time and money to become properly qualified and trained. Music is my passion and my mission is to cultivate children to become persons of beautiful sense and to bring joy to people’s lives through the wonderful gift of good music. I firmly believe that a good music education opens many doors and has many life enhancing/enriching benefits.
Teaching music has always been my full time work. My extensive teaching experience covers all age groups and levels (from beginner to Diploma) in many cultures and in many different countries (Asia, London and Australia) and I am multi-lingual. I teach different genres like Classical, Baroque, Pop, Romantic, Contemporary and Christian and also prepare students for professional examinations like AMEB, ABRSM, Trinity Guildhall.
We take great pride in offering quality music education in a consistent STABLE teaching environment. From feedback from our students who come from other music schools, we understand that frequent teacher turnover/change is very disruptive to the child’s learning progress as different teachers have different styles, personalities and expectations. Also staying with the SAME teacher all the way from Beginner level to Diploma level enables the teacher to know the students' musical abilities/potential much more intimately and hence able to guide them more effectively.
We strive also to impart a wholesome music education (technical, aural, sight reading, creative, theoretical, performance, composition and improvisation) not just purely performance. Our ultimate aim is to produce all round INDEPENDENT musicians who love music and can play not only examination pieces from memory but can also sight read, play by ear, improvise and even compose. Please also sign in and refer to the "Why Bless Music Studio?" page for more information.
18) What is your profile?
Please sign in and refer to the "Why Bless Music Studio?" page.
19) What is your approach to teaching piano? Can parents sit in on the lessons? Can parents video tape the teaching sessions?
Please sign in and refer to the "Why Bless Music Studio?" page.
20) What is your fee like? Do you do home visits?
Please sign in and refer to the "Why Bless Music Studio?" page.
21) Any testimonials?
Please sign in and refer to the "Why Bless Music Studio?" page.
22) Do we buy a piano or a keyboard?
In the early stages a keyboard (preferably with weighed and touch sensitive keys) is fine. However, when a pupil is clearly enjoying the piano and making some progress it is strongly advised to get an acoustic piano with the full range of keys. By the time a pupil is working towards Grade 3 level, there are fundamental issues of piano technique that can only be properly practised on an acoustic instrument. Any student working beyond Grade 3 must have an acoustic piano in order to develop the finger strength, physical freedom and control required by more advanced repertoire.
However it is not necessary to buy the most expensive piano either – sometimes it is worth working through a reasonable beginner then moving on to a intermediate quality then to a professional quality depending on a child’s age, speed of learning and what their goals are.
23) How do we go about selecting a piano to buy?
Yes but I normally only take violin students who have prior music experience with another instrument preferably the piano. Please refer to “What about violin?” page for further clarification
26) Is it advisable to start my child on 2 instruments (piano & violin) at the same time?
Personally I would advise against it as it maybe too demanding on the child. Start with piano first and after 2 years take up violin. The knowledge of reading and interpreting music already gained by that time will come in handy for the second instrument. Please refer to "What about violin?" page also for more information.