Over the years, music classes are becoming more popular amongst many Singaporeans. Apart from the many tuition and supplementary classes that parents signed up for their children, picking up a musical instrument and attending music classes are also sought after. This is probably due to emphasis of holistic education, as parents strive to expose their children to many aspects of learning, not restraining to academic studies and sports.
Costs (to talk about piano lesson fees, piano costs, exam fees, etc)
To begin with, music education is no cheap pleasure! A decent conditioned piano instrument already costs in thousands of dollars, and we have yet to include the cost of weekly lessons, and graded exam fees. The cost of weekly lessons depends on the fees that teachers command. It will vary with the following circumstances – musical qualifications, training and experience of the teacher. It is logically expected that a teacher who had 10 years of experience in teaching piano lessons of all grades, who holds a master’s degree in music from a world-renown institution or college-university will command a certain fee. It is especially so if the teacher also specializes in music teaching.
The fees of the piano lessons also vary in its setting of how the classes are conducted. Private lessons conducted at home usually cost the most, in comparison to one-to-one lessons conducted at the teacher’s studio or in a music school. The fees become more affordable in a group setting. However, group learning could only be feasible up to a certain level. As the student progresses, they will eventually need to convert into one-to-one lessons, as the lessons will be customized according to the student’s ability and reception. The fees will also increase as the student moves on to higher grades. It is essential to note that apart from these numbers appearing in its costs, the student needs to invest the intangibles such as the time needed to invest into practicing the instrument, and parents have to spend an effort to chaperone their child.
Types of piano lesson
As the piano is a very versatile instrument, boasting a wide range of tonal pitch through its arsenal of eighty-eight black and white keys, there are simply too many things the piano can achieve. The genres of music that the piano could play are diverse, they range from classical, jazz, Broadway theatre and pop music. Piano could be performed as a solo instrument, it could also be performed as an accompaniment to a group of other instruments or to a singer; the piano could also take centre-stage to be accompanied by a full-sized orchestra when performing a classical piano concerto.
What will my kid learn during a typical piano lesson? (theory, oral, practical, plus performance on stage)
A piano lesson usually lasts for 30 or 45 minutes, depending on the level of the student. As one advances to a higher level, a lesson could take up to an hour. This is because the music gets lengthier, which means that there is more content to cover within the lesson, and other musical complexities. Music lessons are not a mere session of playing the instrument, but it encompasses the entire package of musical training, they are
- Theory: Student will be taught how to read notes on a music score. Like all languages, music as a language requires the learner to be able to not only make sounds by playing the instrument, but to also write music. Apart from notational writing, student will learn the governing “mechanics” behind the structure of music, in which a sensible understanding of such concepts allows the student to learn many music pieces quickly. At times, the student will be exposed to learning foreign languages such as Italian, German and French, which are frequently and traditionally used especially in the classical music genre to describe musical terms and directions.
- Aural: As the word suggests, “aural” refers to the sense of hearing. It is of utmost importance for musicians to have a sensitive ear. After all, music is made to listen. One may argue that if that is the case, how Beethoven could compose many great works such as his famous ninth symphony, known to many as the “Ode to Joy”, even after his deafness. To understand this, we must not forget that Beethoven was before hearing properly in his training years as a young aspiring composer. This means, through his foundational years he had already developed a strong sense of hearing and understanding to the timbre, the limits and the capabilities that an instrument could achieve. Therefore, even when he was 60% deaf at age 31 and completely deaf 15 years later at age 46, his critically trained musical ear enabled him to compose many more symphonies, sonatas and chamber works; his mastery to sounds inspired him to constantly create an ever-evolving sound spectrum during his time until his death.Progressive Aural training will be expected during lessons where students will be trained to hear and distinguish dynamic contrasts, tonality and many more.
- Practical: With the combination of knowledge from Theory and Aural, student will be applying these concepts to the actual playing of the instrument. The teacher will also guide the student to acquire the necessary techniques in a progressive manner. Famous Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff, said that “technical proficiency should be one of the first acquisitions of the student who would become a fine pianist”, and that “it is at first made a matter of paramount importance.”
- Performance on stage: What makes a music performance truly outstanding is not only because of the performer’s technical prowess and mastery to the instrument, it is also because of that extra “spark” that is so uniquely personal, that it is an intimate and innate production. It is therefore expected that the teacher will discuss with the student elements such as characterisation in playing and historical background of the music or composer to promote deep music understanding beyond the notes. With these information, the student could then digest and inspirationally translate something truly personal into the performance.
Benefits of learning piano
Although it takes an effort to picking up learning to play the piano. However, it comes with the following benefits
- Prevention to loss of brain processing, hearing and memory loss.
The ability to process auditory signals tends to weaken as one ages. Participants of a recent study shows that people who plays music throughout their lives tends to slow down, or even reverse the decline of brain processing, the loss of hearing and memory loss.
- Boost in math and counting skills competence
Studies conducted at the Center for the Study of Human Development at Brown University by Martin F. Gardiner shown that musical training in specific increments toward a greater difficulty boosts the math and counting skills.
- Concentration, Discipline and Patience
It takes one to have full dedication to mastering to play the piano, the process requires concentration, discipline and patience. Scientists studying the brains found that the discipline musicians have when playing music is equivalent to a full-scale brain workout. Playing music allows us to strengthen and exercise other multiple areas of brain, which includes the ability to concentrate, focus and apply the knowledge acquired. One may begin to realise that playing the piano triggers an increased amount of patience, discipline and focus in other aspects of one’s life as well.
- Boosts self-esteem
Learning to play the piano and experiencing the anxiety and excitement after mastering a piece of music does promote a sense of achievement, and certainly boosting one’s confidence.
- Improves Rhythm and Coordination
Rhythm is an essential ingredient to all music. Studies have also shown the positive effects on reading skills, especially amongst children. According to an academic journal – “Psychology of Music” by Joseph M. Piro and Camila Ortiz, it is mentioned that “Children exposed to a multi-year program of music tuition involving training in increasingly complex rhythmic, tonal, and practical skills display superior cognitive performance in reading skills compared with their non-musically trained peers.”
- Exercising new language skills
Like all languages around the world, its purpose is to communicate. In a performance, the musician communicates to its audience through sounds played from an instrument. A study by Dr Charles Limb has shown that musicians use their brains linguistically when they perform, it is as though they were responding conversationally and grammatically.
- Strengthening of hand muscles and hand-eye coordination
It is essential for one to develop hand-eye coordination when learning to play the piano. A study has shown that there are alterations in the cortical mapping of pianists to cope with the increased finger speeds. For children and even adults who have reduced motor skills, learning the piano could potentially challenge these brain connections to motor movements and could also strengthen coordination.
- Expands cultural knowledge
Music exists in every different corners of the world. The diversity of sounds, styles, rhythms and instruments encompasses the vast heritage and culture. As the piano has a huge range, learning it is one way where we can expand our cultural knowledge. Especially for children, this sort of exposure encourages early open-mindedness and cultural diversity.
- Reduces stress and anxiety
It certainly is a pleasure when one could play his favourite tune on the piano. It could be especially satisfying when one brings smiles and applause from his audience through his performance. A study has shown that practicing the piano could help treat depression and alleviate stress in elderly adults. Despite the demographics being elderly adults, it is encouraging for all ages to know that learning the piano could serve as a holistic and natural treatment for depression and mood disorders.
Grade 1 – 8; what you need to know.
The graded exams are conducted by various examination boards. Currently in Singapore, the music exam boards are mainly from the United Kingdom (UK), they are conducted by
- Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM)
- Trinity Guildhall
- London College of Music
The exams do not only range from Grade 1 to 8, but it could go up to as high as the Diploma level. It is a popular trend that many parents in Singapore would like their children to take piano exams. There are many who took these music exams, the enrolments are figuring in thousands each year.
The purpose of Piano exams
As mentioned from the prospectus of the various examination boards listed above, the purpose of the exams is meant to provide a reliable measurement of personal progress and standard against the internationally recognised benchmarks. Through the different levels of grading, students could not only use them to gauge their current standards, but also to use them as targets and milestones to achieve a long term goal standard in a progressive manner. The exposure and performance opportunities from the exams could also help students to grow. With a passing mark of 66% for the graded exams, the examiner will award marks not just based on the accuracy of hitting the right notes from the pieces of music, but also to technical competence, musical understanding and communication through the music.
Components of the exam
There are four components in the graded practical exam:
There will be a prescribed list of the music repertoire, carefully vetted and chosen based on its musical and technical difficulties suited for the relevant grades, which usually are printed in the syllabus booklet. Student has to pick three pieces from the lists, to prepare and perform them during the exam.
There are a selection of specified sets of scales and/or technical exercises to be prepared and tested during the exam. It is essential for the students to learn and practice all of the prescribed scales, as the examiner will pick a selection of them in a random manner.
The student is expected to play a piece of music that is entirely foreign and new to him after a thirty second preparation. The difficulty of such pieces given to the candidate is carefully selected from a prescribed selection based on the student’s grading. Graded specimen sight reading books are available for students to practice on, which allows student to have a feel of and identify what kinds of difficulty is to be expected during the exam.
A group of tests are used to assess the student’s listening skills and musical understanding. The tests will allow the examiner to assess the following aspects of musicianship – rhythmic, melodic and other musical skills. Graded specimen aural tests books are also available for students to practice.
Frequently asked questions
What age should my kids learn piano?
There is no one absolute age for a child to start learning piano, as every child is different. However, most children are ready between ages 4 to 9 years old.
Is piano hard to learn? How quickly can you learn piano?
To begin with, the piano is a difficult instrument to learn and master. It is an instrument that requires a good sense of coordination of the ten fingers from both hands, and also the foot as it is at times needed to press the sustaining right pedal. Sometimes, a pianist needs to use both feet to press the left and right pedals accordingly to create a different quality of sound. The importance of coordination is especially so when one plays a series of rapid notes, or when one hand plays multiple notes of a chord. How quickly one picks up to be able to play highly depends on the individual reception as everyone is different. There is no absolute timeline to how quickly one could learn. However, with dedication, patience and consistent efforts invested in practice, one will be able to pick it up. After all, practice makes perfect!
What type of piano should I buy? (for beginners, and for advance level etc)
Buying a piano could be an important decision as piano are expensively priced. If you are not familiar with pianos, it is difficult to know where to begin with. Whether should you buy a digital piano, or an acoustic piano; should you buy new or used pianos; what are the brands of pianos? These would probably be the questions that will arise before actually buying one.
Digital pianos are electronic instruments that replicate the acoustic piano experience by using sound samples aided by advanced technology. Modern-day digital pianos also attempt to replicate the touch of the heavier keys of an acoustic piano. The advantages of the digital piano are that it does not require tuning, it is portable, the sounds and played through the in-built speakers with adjustable volume or headphones, and to play a variety of tones not restricting to just piano. In general, digital pianos cost less than the acoustic pianos.
An acoustic instrument is one that produces its sound through mechanical action. These instruments are made out of natural materials such as wood, wool, iron and felt. They do not require electricity. There are two types of acoustic pianos:
Upright pianos position its soundboard and strings vertically. With this construction design, it saves space. Upright pianos are available in different heights – this meant that with the taller upright piano, it will provide a greater tonal range and volume due to its vibrations from the longer strings.
The sight of grand pianos is probably the most recognisable due to its shape and graceful design. To have a grand piano at your home requires space as it is horizontally shaped. It is designed in such a way so as to cater for a balanced keyboard, providing the best feel and response from the keys. With the lid open, the grand piano could easily fill the house, or even a concert hall with music.
How do I motivate my child to play the piano?
There are many ways to motivate your child to playing the piano. You could show your child how the piano could actually play out his or her favourite tune. You could also help your child develop a love for music by taking them to concerts or shows, play music at home or during a car journey, this could help discover what they like. It is also important to teach your child to appreciate music and all it has to offer, and that playing an instrument is a special privilege, an opportunity that is not necessarily available to anyone. Help them understand and discover that music can enhance their lives.
Should my child take graded piano exams every year?
It is not essential for the student to take exams every year. Similarly, it is not necessary that a student must start with Grade 1 in order to proceed to higher grades. The student may begin in any grade which best suits their ability, and it is also viable to skip grades depending on the student’s progress. However, it is important to invest efforts to develop technical and musical skills through lessons so that a student is well-prepared for the exams.
What is the difference between ABRSM and Trinity Guildhall?
The ABRSM consists of the following internationally reputable music colleges from the UK, they are the Royal College of Music (RCM), the Royal Academy of Music (RAM), the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM), and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS).
The Trinity Guildhall examination are conducted by Trinity College London. They have slightly different requirements in their various grading exams but they reflect the same examination standard.