Piano • Teacher Feature

December 2021

Chat With Our Teachers: Teacher Mildred

In today’s teacher chat, we are happy to be featuring another talented and passionate musician! Teacher Mildred is a skilful pianist and experienced music educator currently teaching at our Forum branch. An all-rounder on the piano, Teacher Mildred is a classical music enthusiast who can swiftly rock up a vibe with some pop tunes in the blink of an eye! We had a little chat with her about her journey as a pianist, where she shared her wisdom on music learning and playing the piano.

When did your musical journey begin?
I picked up the piano when I was 5 years old.

Was there a reason why you chose the piano?
I got interested in the instrument when I saw my older sister playing it when we were younger.

What do you enjoy the most about playing the piano?
I really enjoy playing the piano because I feel like it is a great tool for me to express my feelings. Each time I play the piano feels different, and depending on the mood, the song that I play can have a variety of sounds as well. Even though the composer may have written it with a specific intention, it is up to us as musicians to interpret the piece however we see fit. It’s a truly beautiful thing to be able to express my heart and soul through running my fingers over a row of black and white keys.

What do you think is the most difficult part about playing the piano?
In my opinion, the most difficult part about playing the piano is producing a variety of expressive and communicative sounds. Issues with technique, fingering, and texture can all be solved through proper training and logic. On the other hand, creating a beautiful sound is something very abstract. Even if you explain what it means with the most precise musical terminology, people may still be unable to visualise it. You need to discover on your own how a beautiful sound is made and what a beautiful sound is.

What are some of the challenges you face as a musician and how do you overcome them?
One of the challenges is staying motivated to practice. As motivation won’t knock on your door every day, I will usually set my own goals and work towards them each day. In addition, attending live concerts can be soothing, inspiring and even therapeutic.

The other challenge is playing a piece that requires more than a stretch. I’m always wishing my fingers were just a little bit longer! To overcome this issue, I will stretch my fingers before I play and do some warm up exercises with larger intervals, such as octaves, ninths, and tenths.

What is your practice routine like?
I will work on my technique for about 5-10 minutes daily. Well, it all depends how much free time I have. After working on my technique, I will move on to my repertoire for about 15-30 minutes. Lastly, if I have some remaining free time, I will do some music arrangements or improvisations for fun.

Do you have any practice tips or advice for students?
Playing through all your music from start to end is not the same as practising. You might simply be ingraining old mistakes into your muscle memory, and this can inhibit your progress. Hence, when learning and perfecting a piece, aim to perfect smaller sections first before grouping them together into longer sections.

Most importantly, always remember to be patient and stay positive. We as humans tend to expect to see quick results. Many students have given up because they felt that they were not improving fast enough. If this is how you are feeling, ask yourself whether you are spending enough time outside of your music lessons learning, practising, and growing as a musician. Music takes time, patience and commitment to achieve solid results. There might be some obstacles in life and at times you might feel discouraged. But hey, life is not always easy. Don’t give up, great things take time.

What are some pieces you like to get your students to learn?
Well, it depends on the capability and aptitude of the student. For the amateurs, I will let them try short classical pieces like Fur Elise, Minuet in G, Swan Lake, etc. Whereas for those at a more advanced level, I’ll let them play more challenging classical pieces such as Nocturnes, Sonatinas, Sonatas or Preludes and Fugues, etc.

Do you have a favourite composer or artist? Why do you look up to them or enjoy their works?
It’s hard to pick a favourite, but at the top of my list is J.S. Bach. To be frank, I didn’t appreciate Baroque music when I was young. But now, it’s the opposite. It is really fun to play Bach’s compositions. He is a mathematical genius and also a prodigy in capturing emotions. His greatest works are intricate, powerful and deep. Although they are challenging, once you master his pieces, they just keep giving.

Do you have a favourite piece to play?
A favourite piece? This will be hard to choose… I will name a few of my favourite pieces that I currently enjoy playing. They are Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, Bach’s Partitas and Chopin’s Nocturnes.

If you had the time and opportunity, is there another instrument you would like to pick up?
I would love to pick up the saxophone. The atmosphere created with a saxophone is just awesome, relaxed and romantic. It always creates the best ambiance, no matter where it is being played.

Do you personally enjoy playing pop or classical music more?
Aside from playing classical music, I enjoy playing pop more these days. Variety is the spice of life. I don’t have to choose one over the other. After a day of classical music, it’s nice to relax with something completely different.

Watch how Teacher Mildred rocks the stage with a stunning performance of Dance Monkey by Tones and I!

What are the challenges a student might face for these different genres?
Pop music is rhythmically much more complex than classical music. Students, especially beginners, trying to sight-read or learn arrangements of pop music may find them rhythmically too complicated to read (in notation), which can be quite frustrating. Besides, students might find it confusing when they come across the chord symbols in pop music scores.

On the other hand, classical music can be complex in other ways like meter, rhythm, melody, form and texture. Students may have difficulties understanding a classical piece as it tends to be a deeper, more sustained experience that requires heavy attention. This means that students need to have sufficient foundation or skills. There are themes in each piece and they may involve various techniques like counterpoint and polyrhythms, etc. Basically, some pieces can have multiple melodies representing different instruments that all come together to make a beautiful sound in the bigger picture.

Touched by Teacher Mildred’s passion and the intricacies of the piano and thinking about learning it yourself? Take lessons from the best musicians and discover all the wonders of music at Aureus Academy! We offer all aspiring musicians a free trial lesson where you can have all your questions answered by highly-qualified professionals!

Alex Sarabi