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WANT FAST RESULTS? HERE ARE 20 PRACTICE TRICKS IN YOUR MUSIC LEARNING (Part 4 of 4) 

#16: Practice Enough – Perfect Repetitions to Ensure Success

“But I could play just now!” Being able to play correctly just once or twice doesn’t mean that you already know it or have already mastered it – It just means you are able to get that right RANDOMLY right now. I always tell my students that they need to make sure they can play that at least 10 consecutive times WITHOUT MISTAKE before you can consider a pass. If you make a mistake at the 9th time, sorry, next set starts counting from number 1 and not number 10! :)

#17: Don’t Get Bored, Try Different Practice Methods

For more fun during practise, try out the following ideas:

  • Practice different sections of a difficult piece on the different chair in the house
  • Set a timer to see how many correct sets can you get within 10 mins
  • With every correct repetition, you get to put 1 LEGO brick to your masterpiece/colour a portion of your de-stress adult colouring book
  • Track correct repetitions on a chart and see how stickers can you collect on your DIY keyboard playing progress chart
  • Draw a line of boxes on a piece of paper, see how fast you can get to the finishing line with each right set played
  • Put 10 $1 coins on your music stand. With each correct line played, you get to use your $1 coin to reward yourself

#18: Listen to Others But Don’t Forget to Listen to Yourself too!

A common mistake that my students make is to stare at their music sheet or keys on the keyboard and they forget to listen to how they sound. Yes, I know its hard to multitask – read the musical notes/chords, play the right notes, change your pedal at the right timing, count, listen and follow the drums, and even sing along that they miss out on listening to how their keyboard playing sounds to the audience. Are you playing too heavily, did you change pedal at the wrong time, were your notes played smoothly, did you give dynamics appropriately –> these are what your audience will hear from your keyboard when you play. I recommend my students to do a simple recording of their playing on their mobiles and do a replay to listen to how they sound so that they can fine tune their master piece! Remember they what you play is what others hear from you and In Music, ALMOST RIGHT IS NOT RIGHT!

#19: Never Put Mistakes Aside

Practising for just 10-15min or even just 5 min a day, is better than squeezing everything into a 2 hr practice session on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Our brain and muscle memory would have already forgotten what you did 5 days ago! Who can remember what did you eat for breakfast and lunch yesterday unless it was a special day like Birthdays or Anniversaries? Same for your music practice – when you sit down at your keyboard during the weekend, you have already forgotten 90% of what your teacher told you during the last lesson! Be DISCIPLINE to work and improve on your mistakes on a daily basis :)

#20: Don’t Procrastinate! Just Do It NOW!!

Self explanatory – What are you waiting for?? Happy practising!!! Have fun!

WANT FAST RESULTS? HERE ARE 20 PRACTICE TRICKS IN YOUR MUSIC LEARNING (Part 3 of 4) 

#11: Don’t Skip the Hard Parts

You put in time, playing through the fun and confident parts again and again, gratifying the ego because everything sounds really good and practice is a breeze. But remember that nothing new gets learns in those practice sessions!

#12: Don’t Play Straight through the Whole Piece

Many of my students love to play through the whole song at once because it makes them feel that they have accomplished much by playing through the whole piece again and again. There’s a BIG difference between PLAYING and PRACTICING! Playing without stopping is play; practicing is improving! When you feel that certain portions of the song is not that smooth, you should pause and just work on that few measures instead of playing through the whole piece over and over and always making the same mistakes! My students would know that I always remind them to set a goal for their practice session, eg. today: play bars 1 to 4 ten consecutive times without mistakes, tomorrow: revise bars 1 to 4 and practice bars 5 to 8 and make sure you can play them ten consecutive times without mistakes before you join up bars 1 to 8 and play as a whole section!! I believe you got my practice concept :)

#13: Take Small Bites (Drill on the Tough Parts in Small Sections)

The above practice set is just an example. who says you need to practice 4 measures at a time? For really tough parts, feel free to practice note by note, then 2-note by 2-note and so on so forth with correct articulation (note, tempo, dynamics). Start slow and build up on speed as you get more confident with these few tough notes! For instance, subdivide a 7-note run into 3+4 or 4+3 or even 2+2+2+1!

#14: Chew Slowwwly Even when it’s Meant to be a Fast Song

Would you rather play slow and sound really great or play it fast but sound like a huge mess of musical notes? If you play too fast without getting the techniques of a song right, while you can fool some people some of the time, you have to agree with me that you can’t fool every one (especially the music professionals) all the time! If you practice too fast, most of the time you are focusing on the next new note to play rather than listening to yourself. Let me remind you that your audience are listening without having to chase the tempo of the song or figure out what’s the next note!! They are listening and can definitely tell the difference between a better keyboardist and a just so-so keyboardist playing the same song. Remember to chew slowwwwly and work on your techniques before training on the speed.

#15: Gradually Pick Up Speed when You are Already Familiar & Confident on the Hard Parts of the Song

Work with a metronome and pick up speed by 5 beats or maximum of 10 beats each time. If you can play a minimum of 5 consecutive times on that hard part, it means you are now CONSISTENT in your playing instead of just getting those parts correct RANDOMLY. One of the songs I teach my students is Yu Jian by Stephanie Sun. The original tempo of the song is 92 but we start working from 60 to 65 to 70 to 75 to 80 to 85 to 92! This method really works because even my 65 year old retired student can now play the full song with intro, interlude and even singing along! What a great achievement for yourself and encouragement to your teacher!

Lavender Fields Grand Piano Qiaolin's Studio Keyboard Lessons Singapore

Lavender Fields Grand Piano Qiaolin’s Studio Keyboard Lessons Singapore

4 KILLER REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD PLAY A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT

If you’re a music lover, you already know that turning on the tunes makes stress vanish into thin air, pump up your energy level during your exercise, bring back old memories, put a baby to sleep and much more. Even if you’re not a music freak, here are some reasons why you may want to become one.

1. Music Increases Memory Power

According to an article from The Telegraph online magazine, “New research suggests that regularly playing an instrument changes the shape and power of the brain and may be used in therapy to improve cognitive skills.”  Over the years, there’s growing evidence that musicians have organisationally and functionally different brains compared to non-musicians and playing music definitely prevents dementia.

2.  Music is a Stress Reliever & It Fosters Self-expression

Music therapy has been effective in treating children & teens with autism as well as people with depression, and other disorders. Music is an art – just like an artist can paint his/her emotions onto a canvas, so can a musician play a piece with his/her emotion of the day. The same chord progression can be a happy one, a sad one, a confused one etc depending on the fill ins you put. There is no right or wrong expression because when you are the solo keyboardist, that’s your song!

3. Teaches you Self-Discipline

Playing an instrument is very challenging but one of the important qualities that musicians learn is discipline. Practicing often and working on the hard parts of music and seeking to improve your skills requires lots & lots of self-discipline & self-control away from other distractions of the world (like your phone & online games & latest korean dramas). Just met a musician who wowed you? That’s 10 years of hardwork when no one was watching and listening to him. 俗语说: 台上一分钟、台下十年功!

4. Creates a Sense of Achievement

Overcoming musical challenges can give you an enormous sense of pride about yourself. When you first start learning how to play the keyboard/piano, it seems just getting the right notes on your right hand alone is an amazing accomplishment. As you take up more music lessons on the keyboard/piano, it becomes a more & more rewarding experience, as you watch yourself play with both hands & getting the right chords, hitting the running notes, keeping tempo & playing appropriate fill in accompaniment that fits the melody line as you sing along.

WANT FAST RESULTS? HERE ARE 20 PRACTICE TRICKS IN YOUR MUSIC LEARNING (Part 2 of 4)

#6: Appreciate your own Progress

There will be times we feel like throwing our instruments out of the window but learn to be patient with yourself because even rome was not built in one day. Don’t waste energy feeling frustrated instead of learning. Don’t waste time beating yourself up or banging your head on the piano: just slowly and patiently concentrate on small parts of the piece you are struggling with. Even a small improvement is worth a clap for yourself. Learning is supposed to be fun although it can be tough.

#7: Practice with Concentration & Focus

I always tell my students that if you can drive a car, you can play the keyboard! There are so many things to watch out for during driving just like playing an instrument – how can you think about the notes, rhythm, dynamics, singing along & even using the foot pedal, all at the same time? Well the good news is: You can do it! Focus & don’t be overwhelmed.

– Break up your practice sessions. Even a few minutes’ break can help clear the cobweb: walk around the house, grab a sip of coffee, shake up your tired hands abit – it work wonders.

– Its hard to unlearn mistakes & bad habits, so try not to make them the first time – that’s why I don’t encourage my students to go ahead of me & I will only assign you to work on something you can cope with during today’s lesson. It may be a challenge but follow my instructions and highlighted areas (See #8) and you will get there by next week’s lesson :)

#8: Specially Mark All Mistakes on your Music Sheet/Chord Sheet

Never practice without a pencil.

To mark mistakes:

– For better retention, the student, not the teacher should mark the mistakes. (My students forgive me for not spoon-feeding you as you progress to a higher level, now you know why. Its for your own good!)

– Don’t just circle the mistake but specifically mark what you did wrong. Write in the number of beats, add a sharp or flat before the note, circle the connection, put an arrow up or down when you are confused which octave to move to.

– The 1st time the mistake is made, circle it, practice for 5 min and try to get it. The 2nd time, circle it in red. The 3rd time, draw a pair of specs before the mistake. The 4th time, draw prison bars? The 5th time, draw hangman!

– During school days, I love to write notes using coloured pens. You can do that too – just do anything that can easily draw your attention to the markings.

– Don’t circle everything and mark everything! If you mark every F# in a G major song, and write DF#A for every D chord on your song sheet, you will never learn.

– At the next practice session, first revise the marked sections. Practise them before putting the whole song together.

– If you don’t want to ruin your song sheet, you may use post it arrow stickers for the trouble spots.

–  When it’s close to performance time, make several copies of the music. Mark in only that week’s mistakes. the other portions should be almost perfect by now. And talking about performance, you just need to learn how to cope with stage fright. *Shiver, shiver* How about putting a life-size Winnie the Pooh and other soft toys in front of u whenever you practice to pretend that you have live audience in your mini music concert.

#9: Practise the Notes Before & After the Mistake 

“I stopped and fixed the wrong note. Why do I still get it wrong when I start from the beginning?”

If 14th bar of the song is where you had circled out and fixed it. You have to practice bar 13 to bar 14 until there is a consistency (say 5 consecutive times without mistake) before starting from the beginning of the song. But to me, this is not good enough – we are still bound to make mistakes right after the wrong note we have just fixed. These parts just can’t seem to connect smoothly and musically.

Drilling on the connection points are just as important as fixing the wrong note. After you are done with bars 13 & 14, I will suggest you to try to put bars 13, 14 & 15 together before playing it as a whole song.

#10: Don’t Practice Everything Every Day

Most working adults do not have such a luxury of time. But what I want to say here is that, even if you have, you should not do it! Rather, just focus on working on one to two objectives for that practice session. We are just looking for trouble and delaying our own earning process if we spread ourselves too thin, by trying to work through everything every day in a limited amount of time. It will just be a comforting note to oneself  that “I practiced all songs daily”, the important question here is: “did i improve in this area and that area or did I just play through the song “blindly” and completed the to-do list of 2hrs piano practice for today?”

Think you get what I mean… Stay tuned for Part 3 & 4! (Coming Soon)

WANT FAST RESULTS? HERE ARE 20 PRACTICE TRICKS IN YOUR MUSIC LEARNING (Part 1 of 4)

You can get more done in LESS TIME, if you practice RIGHT!

#1: Cultivate a Daily (or at least alternate days) Practice Routine

All successful musicians have a standard routine for practice, just like an athlete who has a training routine. Having a practice routine makes it easier to get started and it helps you cover everything in over a period of practice sessions.

#2: Establish a TimeTable for your Practice Session

Just like a student knowing what time is the English lesson & what time is the Math lesson, you need to know what are you going to practice over the week. For Eg, Monday: C & G major scales and first 2 lines of the new song. Tuesday: Revision on yesterday’s practice, work on D & A major scales and 3rd & 4th line of the new song.

Try to pick up the instrument every day (or at least every other day) even if you plan on only 10mins of practice. Practicing every day gets you into the habit, cramming everything into weekend is not as effective. Make practicing part of your daily life like brushing your teeth.

Having a timetable lets you know what you have accomplished and where are you heading.

#3: Study a New Piece First Before Playing It on Your Instrument (the keyboard for me!)

Discover as much about the piece as you can before you start so that you will not waste time on undoing mistakes when you play it. Take your music to bed & read it like a your bedtime story book before you start to practice the new piece the next day. It has to go through your brain before it reaches your fingers. Between the music sheet and the instrument is your brain: the music has to go through your eyes, through your brain, into your fingers and out through the keyboard/piano. Aren’t you amazed at what we can achieve?

#4: Hitting the Right Notes at the Right Tempo is NOT ENOUGH

Music is beauty with emotions and feelings. Remember to listen to how you sound to your audience. Know of someone who speaks with a monotone and without expressions? You wouldn’t want your songs to sound like that – just technically right but lack of feel. Too shy to play before an audience? Why not record your own practice and listen to how you sound?

#5: Enjoy Practicing

Think of it as playing your instrument instead of practicing. Learning a new piece can be as stimulating as playing candy crush! It can be a break from homework or housework and a chance to do something for yourself. Didn’t you pick up keyboard so that you can have a musical hobby? Then why are you procrastinating to play it? Think of it as something fun and how satisfied you will feel once you can play this new song well. It is not a chore but its your passion in pursuing your dream to be a musician!

PLAY BY EAR (EAR TRAINING) & MUSIC THEORY

It is indeed every musician’s dream to play any song on your instrument for the first time without any music sheets/chord sheets. However, for many people, learning to play by ear is not an overnight process. It takes regular practice and lots & lots of motivation & self discipline. Most teachers would also agree with me that hard work is not good enough! We do not need to be gifted but we definitely need to be practising the right way in order to get our musical dream into a reality. I would say that the first step to playing by ear is to have a strong music theory foundation. For those of you who think that music theory is boring and not necessary, a change of mindset get you further in your music life! Music theory is like the vocabulary & 成语 to beautify your “composition writing”, meaning they are the “bullets” in your music playing. The more ‘words’ you know, the more fanciful your “story” can be! By knowing more notes and more enhanced chords, yes! even the weirdest ones like, the more you will be able to recognise them just by hearing it on the radio! How can you know which note is being played when you don’t even know that this possibility exist? I will write new music posts every week, from music theory to chord progressions, to ear training notes, etc.. do come back every few days to be updated on our notes on music playing especially on playing on the keyboard!

Here are just some of the benefits that have motivated musicians and my students to improve their play by ear & music theory skills:

– stronger ability to improvise music & express themselves freely on the keyboard
– ability to play songs quickly after hearing them
– freedom to express the music you hear in your minds even if thats a different version from the original mp3
– better ability to anticipate chord changes & remember music
– ability to learn songs & play without music sheet/chord sheet
– bigger musical vocabulary and range of expressions to suit the mood
– better understanding of how music works & move out of your typical ‘box’ & usual style of playing songs