Sunday, September 21, 2008

Suzuki Method for Young Children

The information below is what I have derived based on the information which I can find about the "Suzuki Method" which is a method that is used to expose a young children to music, and developing the talent in each child. This method is "invented" by Suzuki based on his observation on how young children learn their mother tongue. And using the same concept, the "Suzuki method" has been developed.

Many young children now are using the "Suzuki method" to expose them to music. This method is used for children who are below 5 years old, when their attention span is still very short, and it is almost impossible to make the young child sit beside the piano for anything more than 15 mins. Older kids (those who are above 5 years old) will usually start to use the traditional method (which is reading scores) to learn an instrument when their attention span is substantially longer.

My personal view is that we can always expose a young child to music through the "Suzuki method" from 3 or 4 years old until they are 6 years old, before moving them to the traditional method, where it will involve taking the graded exams, reading scores and writing scores.

Suzuki Method works on the fact that children learns through copying the actions of the adults, listening and repetition. Hence, the focus is on playing the music which the children are always hearing, play music by ear, let the child learn how to play an instrument by showing how the adult does it. This is the same way how a child learn to walk and talk before able to read and write.

When a child learns to speak, the following factors are at work:
# Listening

# Motivation
# Repetition
# Step-by-step mastery
# Memory
# Vocabulary
# Parental Involvement
# Love

Encourage the child to keep perfecting the song with emotion and expression, and after they have mastered a piece, slowly move on to another one by one. The main thing is to ensure that the learning is fun.

Although there is no statistics to show that children who underwent the "Suzuki method" will turn out to be musicians when they grow up, but they will typically be able to appreciate and music when they grow up even if it means playing for leisure only.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Major Scales

Major Scales (12 of them altogether)
C Major: no flats no sharps
G Major: 1 sharp (F#)
D Major: 2 sharps (F#, C#)
A Major: 3 sharps (F#, C#, G#)
E Major: 4 sharps (F#, C#, G#, D#) = 8 flats
B Major: 5 sharps (F#, C#, G#, D#, A#) = 7 flats
Gb Major: 6 flats (Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb) = 6 sharps
Db Major: 5 flats (Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb) = 7 sharps
Ab Major: 4 flats (Bb, Eb, Ab, Db) = 8 sharps
Eb Major: 3 flats (Bb, Eb, Ab)
Bb Major: 2 flats (Bb, Eb)
F Major: 1 flat (Bb)
Note: All major scales has the pattern of TTSTTTS

Please practice the scales with both hands. This is useful to train the flexibility, strength and fingerings. Try to repeat the scales in pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff (which are of different loudness). Also, play the scales like you are playing a phrase. In a legato method.

Moving up with more and more # keys
To move from C major (no # & b) to G major (F#), it is moving 7 semitones up, or 5 steps up (like C D E F G) along the scale.
Similarly to move from G major (F#) to D major (F# C#), it is moving 7 semitones up, or 5 steps up (like G, A, B, C, D)
Similarly to move from D major (F# C#) to A major (F# C# G#), it is moving 7 semitones up, or 5 steps up (like D, E, F#, G, A)
Similarly to move from A major (F# C# G#) to E major (F# C# G# D#), it is moving 7 semitones up, or 5 steps up (like A, B, C#, D, E)
and so on...

Moving down with more and more b keys
To move from C major (no # & b) to F major (Bb) it is moving 7 semitones down, or 5 steps down (like C B A G F) along the scale.
Similarly to move from F major (Bb) to Bb major (Bb Eb) it is moving 7 semitones down, or 5 steps down (like F E D C Bb) along the scale.
Similarly to move from Bb major (Bb Eb) to Eb major (Bb Eb Ab) it is moving 7 semitones down, or 5 steps down (like Bb A G F Eb) along the scale.
and so on...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Views on Piano Learning

Many parents in Singapore wanted their kids to learn a lot of things, hoping that they will develop all rounded skills. And learning piano is a common thing that almost all parents who can afford this "luxury" will want their kids learn the piano. Sometimes, this is also due to peer pressure and comparison, like if who and who is learning, and by not wanting to lose to whose and whose kid, I want my child to learn as well. And there will be endless pressure on the kids to clear the piano exams as young as they can, with the highest marks possible. As there will always be comparison with their cousins, sibling and friends on who is doing better than who. Hence, some children who learn piano are very exam focussed, and they will practice the exam pieces over and over again, doing just want is needed to clear the exams. And finally when they have met the expectations of their parents of completing Grade 8 exams (for example), some will just stop playing the piano completely. Which saddens me a lot. And at the end of it, so what if you have attained the Grade 8 qualifications?

In Singapore, what are the jobs that piano playing can go into? I think most people will go into piano teaching, some might go into selling pianos, some might go into becoming a piano technicians, some who are able to compose songs may turn famous on their works, some better ones might become part of the concert team to perform internationally, and some might work in hotels to play the pianos. So come to think of it, there is opportunities for people who are musically inclined and want to pursue this area of interest. No longer like in the past, where learning music is considered as useless. As more and more Singaporeans starts to learn piano, the market is created for more musicians to be groomed and developed.

However, I feel that piano learning should be based on interest. While it is good to expose to the children to music, but there are some who are just not as musically inclined, so they hate going to piano lessons. I think under this kind of situations, we should not force the child too much. In fact, I realised that finding a piano teacher who can connect with the kid is very important, to ensure that the teacher can help to keep the child's interest in music. So it is important to find a teacher who is good (with sufficient qualifications) and have a flair for teaching. It is essential for kids to build a strong music foundation and listening skills in order to excel in this field. Sometimes, I also feel that it might be beneficial to change teachers at different point of their piano learning journey as different teachers may have ways of explaining the same thing, which can help the child to understand and derive their own ways of understanding it.

Also, I feel that we should not put too much pressure on the child when he/she is young to do the graded exams, which might kill their interest totally. Instead, work on building their skills, their music theory and interests are more important, and when they are older, slowly exposing them to exams when they are ready. At the end of it, music should be something which you enjoy and appreciates and not a paperchase kind of qualifications. I guessed all of us are already doing paperchase academically, so why add another one to it?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Things to ask for when buying pianos

These are the list of things which you can effectively ask for when you shop for pianos, when bargaining for the lower price or some throw in:-

1. Heater rod
2. Adjustable seat with storage
3. Pedal socks (3)
4. Piano cover
5. Cleaning liquid for wood finish and keys
6. Cleaning cloth
7. Guarantee (parts and labour) for 10 years and more ?
8. Buy back opportunity?
9. Pay by installments?
10. Free 2 years tunings (default is 1 year 2 times)

Piano Brands

The Piano Book - Larry Fine

Here is a link which I found on the web by The Piano Book by Larry Fine:-

This is the grouping of the different piano brands based on their track record and their performance based on feedback (I think). However, please use it as a guide only. At the end of it, pianos are all hand made one, so it is very much dependent on the skill of the technician who had assemble the pianos. So what is important is you like the sound and the piano is good enough for your use.

Piano Shopping - Things I Learnt

I have went to a few places for Piano shopping, and learnt a lot of things on pianos. Hence would like to share here:-

To recondition my dear Schubert?
I have the old Schubert, which I actually wanted to replace because after many years of playing, the action of the piano keys are not as responsive. Effectively, all the keys are still working, as in the keys will bounce back when they are pressed, but if I want to hit the same key at fast repetition, it has a limit as the key needs time to bounce back. Also, when I hit the same key too fast for some of the keys. I can hear the knocking sounds. I suppose it is the normal wear and tear of all pianos. My old Schubert is about 35 years old now. And I had wanted to recondition it, to see if I can extend the lifespan of it. However, most people advise me against it, as they says that the money spent on the reconditioning could be better spent on a new decent piano. Of what I remembered, to recondition a piano, it will need about $1k to $2k about 8 years ago. With the inflation that had happened over the years, I suppose now would already be more than that. So, if I do a calculation, it would be better off buying a new piano. Recondition is usually meant for pianos which are of very good make, and only need to change certain parts. Or when the piano has sentimental value. As for my Schubert, yes, I love it, but I am still a more practical person.

To dispose my dear Schubert?
If I were to buy a new piano, then I will need to find out ways to dispose a piano. According to the advice from the Piano Forumers, the normal way is to sell to the Karang Guni in Singapore, who hopefully will recycle the piano, since it is made of wood. However, because my piano is not in that bad a condition. Effectively, I can still play and enjoy it, so when I get a new piano, I am hoping to donate or to give it free to anyone who is keen in learning piano, but is unable to afford the cost of buying one. Or maybe, keep it and let my nieces, nephews and kids play with it for fun.

Digital Pianos vs Acoustic Pianos?
Digital pianos are electronics, where the sounds are usually pre-recorded using sampling method so as to produce the different loudness when the keys are pressed with different strengths. However, it is still digital in action, meaning to say, the dynamics which can be produced by a digital is limited compared to an acoustic piano. For the study of classical music, it is necessary to use acoustic pianos to be able to practice and learn how to control the keys to give the feeling and dynamics needed to express the piece. Some piano teachers might even not want to teach students who are using digital pianos.

Also, digital pianos are electronics which have a lifespan of say, how many times can a key be pressed before it is spoilt (like all the electrical applicances which we have at home), and the lifespan of a digital piano is definitely shorter than that of a acoustic piano, typically based on the warranty period. Once the chips are burnt, no sound means no sound. Not like acoustic pianos, because it is mechanical parts, hence it can still have sound even after many many years. So, if I am talking about normal performance, I am comparing 8 years with 30 years.

However, digital pianos have the advantage that it does not require any tuning, regulating, voicing and yearly maintenance like an acoustic piano. Also, because it is digital, it can be linked to the computer to upload and download music, translate what has been played into scores and even replay what had been played. And for the money you spend on a high-end digital piano, usually can only get you a low-end acoustic piano.

Personally, I am looking for a decent but not too expensive piano that my family and I can enjoy for many years, and good enough for my kids to take exams if they are interested, or just to play for leisure. Even if they do not play, I can still play for fun. So, judging from the lifespan, budget and my needs, I prefer acoustic pianos.

New vs Second Hand?
New pianos usually comes with warranty (for parts and labour) for quite a long period (about 10 years) from the manufacturer.

As for second hand pianos, if you are buying a reconditioned piano, where the parts has been replaced, then you will need a technician whom you can trust to go down with you to examine the piano. How well these are reconditioned depends on the parts that are used, and also the technical expertise of the person whom reconditioned these pianos. However, there are not that many piano reconditioning technicans in Singapore given that Singapore is still a pretty small country (in land area size), so I would personally not choose second hand reconditioned pianos.

As for second hand imported pianos, these pianos are sold and used in some other countries for 10, 20 and even 30 years. But because the weather in the foreign countries are very good, and hence ther parts are still relatively ok despite the long years of usage. However, these pianos are usually not built for the humidity and temperature in Singapore, and hence, the piano might not be able to settle in well in Singapore, and might degrade very rapidly. Hence, I personally would not choose these pianos.

However, if you are able to find a second hand piano which is preferably less than 10 years old, and had been through moderate use (not like people who are in the higher grade, had been practising on the piano), those pianos usually have very damaged hammers, so not very good buy. But for those who bought a piano, but their kids give up playing after a few years. Then ok, these are ok pianos to buy. But there again, please engage a technician to help you look through it, test all the keys, the pedals before committing. Usually these pianos still have warranty coverage as well.

So, for me, I am either open to new pianos or used pianos less than 10 years old made for Singapore use. I was also told that sometimes it is better to buy a second hand better make piano than a new worse make piano.

Difference between Grand Pianos and Upright Pianos
The difference between Grand pianos and Upright pianos is the action of the hammers. Grand pianos allows the hammers to fall into its rest position when no keys are pressed with gravity, and therefore has much lesser moving parts compared to upright pianos. In pianos, the lesser the number of moving parts, the better it is because for every error in the moving parts, the pianos keys would be affected. As for upright pianos, they are usually separated into different category like spinet, console, studio and professional. These categories are separated by the difference in height. Basically, the taller the upright piano, the better it is because, the strings are longer for vibration, they have a larger soundboard and thereby a louder sound, and the action of the hammer has less moving parts.

Another obvious difference, is that grand piano looks really magnificant in one's home. So, it is really a nice piece of furniture. So personally, of coz I love to have a grand piano, but they are much more expensive than uprights. So, sigh, my budget does not allow that. But if I come across a good one, why not?