October 2019

What You Need To Know About Piano Lessons? – By Karen Lau

What is the best age to learn the piano? This is a frequently asked question by parents. In my opinion, the best age to start learning is when a child is four or five years old. The following section will cover topics such as trial piano lessons, the benefits of learning the piano, types of piano lessons, the importance of practicing, and other commonly asked questions. For a four or five-year-old, the trial lesson is most likely to be their very first piano lesson. The student, as well as their parents, would surely be nervous. What exactly is the trial about? The trial lesson provides an elaborate understanding of basic music concepts, including musicianship (loud/soft, long/short, high/low), rhythm, ear-training, and score reading. It provides an opportunity for the student to explore the piano firsthand and gives the parents a clear idea about the piano lessons that are to follow. What are the benefits of learning the piano? First, it helps with coordination. To play the piano, one needs to use both their hands and feet. This is a good way to train students’ coordination. Second, it involves information processing. When musicians read the notes from the score, the information is sent to the brain and then transformed into beautiful music. Third, it enables communication. Music is a universal language—people from different parts of the world speak the same language when it comes to music. It is consistent all around the world. Music can serve as a channel to communicate with others and as an outlet for one’s emotions, whether it’s happiness, sadness, fear, or anger. Fourth, it boosts determination and perseverance. In the piano learning process, students encounter difficulties, hardships, and criticism. The student would learn to overcome hurdles with courage, determination, and perseverance instead of growing up in a ‘greenhouse’ and getting hit with problems. Practicing is a key component of learning to play the piano. Without practice, there’s no way for students to improve, which leads to them feeling frustrated. For a beginner, the ideal practice time would be for 10–15 minutes, 3–4 times a week. For advanced students, a practice session of at least one hour per day is recommended. However, young children may not fully understand what they learned in class. Getting help from their parents while practicing at home would help them learn and improve at a rapid pace. In addition to such practice sessions, students also gain valuable lessons from stage performances. At Aureus, each teacher tries to organize a studio recital 2–3 times per year. Students are advised to perform as many recitals as they can. Performing on stage is the best teacher; one can learn so much from the stage. Students may be nervous to perform in front of others; however, I believe that one learns the most when under pressure. It is also a good way to motivate students to practice! Some parents wonder how they can help their children practice if they aren’t familiar with music at all. My solution is to invite the parents to observe the lesson and get to know what it involves. At the end of the class, despite having just shared the child’s progress with the parents, I spend a few minutes to teach them and make sure they understood the basic music concepts. This enables them to help the child practicing at home. There are various genres of music; the common ones are classical, pop, and jazz. It takes different skills and approaches to play different music styles. Students who explore multiple genres gain new experiences and perspectives for comprehending music. Another method to learn music is by watching concert performances. Many internationally acclaimed artists who visit Singapore to perform in recitals on a regular basis. The government also encourages students to attend concerts by offering student discounts on tickets. Apart from attending music concerts, I also recommend watching dance and drama performances as they are all interrelated. In order to work towards a set goal, the grade-based exam is a suitable tool to serve this purpose. The most commonly administered grade-based exam is one organized by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM). The exam board originated in the UK, and it delivers numerous music exams in different countries every year. The exam is categorized into two main sections: grade 1–8 and diploma level exams. The practical exam for grades 1–8 includes piano playing, scales, sight-reading, and aural components, while the diploma levels focus more on performances. Besides the practical exam, students have to take a theory exam as well if they wish to proceed to a higher level. For the grade 6–8 practical exam application, ABRSM requests applicants to provide their grade 5 theory exam result. If students are not interested in the exams, they may consider participating in competitions. Both national and international competitions are available in Singapore. They provide great opportunities to perform in front of others! Why do we need to learn music theory? Getting the theory knowledge gives students a strong foundation of piano playing. They are actually complementing each other. It is better to learn the theory in a systemic way as it is beneficial for the playing part as well. The progress of theory learning is relatively faster than learning the piano, the timeline of preparation of the grade 5 written exam is mostly six to eight months. Apart from taking exams and competitions, can my children not doing exam at all? Some parents refrain from letting their child take exams if their academic workload is already overwhelming. This is totally fine, too. However, not taking exams doesn’t mean that the student shouldn’t practice. If students want to improve their piano skills, they will have to spend time on playing it. No pain, no gain. What type of piano should I buy? Can we wait for a few months to see whether the child likes playing the piano before deciding to get one? Parents ask these questions often. If lack of space is an issue, I suggest getting a digital piano for a new beginner. It is suitable for young learners to practice on for a few months or up to one year. If the parents need to figure out whether the child will continue to learn the instrument, I suggest renting a piano instead of buying one in the beginning stage. I strongly recommend having a piano to practice on at home, starting from the first lesson. As I mentioned earlier, there is no way for the child to improve without practice. Aureus is currently offering promotions for piano rentals; please visit our website or talk to the staff for more information. Can I know more about the costs of learning piano? The costs of learning the piano include piano lesson fees, instrument costs, exam fees, piano books’ costs, etc. At Aureus, all the teachers have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree in music, and hence, the teaching quality is high. We offer a competitive rate for piano lessons: $235 monthly for 30-min lessons, $349 monthly for 45-min lessons, and $469 monthly for 60-min lessons. An upright piano usually costs a few thousand dollars. Aureus offers a piano rental service; more details can be found on the website. The exam fees range from $210 to $550 for practical grade 1–8 exams, and the grade 5 theory exam is about $170. I am an adult, would it be too late to learn the piano? It is never too late to learn an instrument! Some people think that instrument playing is for children, and that is not the case. All lessons are tailor-made for those who are interested in taking music class. Adults usually have a clear goal when they start the lessons, some want to learn something new and challenging, some wish to learn chord progressions and be able to accompany themselves for singing broadway songs, and some just hope to learn an instrument for fun. No matter what is the purpose lying behind, everyone is welcome to join the music world! How much time should we invest in piano learning? How much time does it take for a child start playing advanced and interesting pieces? These are some other commonly asked questions. Learning to play the piano is a life-long process. There is always room for improvement. It takes a great leap for a total beginner to proceed to a higher level as it means going from zero to one. Please be patient. It usually takes one to one and a half years to cover all the basic music concepts. Narrating it using piano books such as the Faber Piano Books series usually takes about one year for books A to C and book 1, provided the student practices a few times per week. For advanced students, there are three diploma levels in total. It generally takes about two years to prepare for each exam; however, if the student practices regularly, it is possible to shorten the preparation time. Some string students work with a pianist for their exam. This is a form of chamber music. What is chamber music? It is music composed for a small group of instruments. Playing solo music is fun but collaborating with other musicians is a whole other experience. Stepping into the world of chamber music feels like unlocking the door of a secret garden. I always encourage my students to work with singers and instrumentalists as they can learn a lot from one another. During rehearsals, they can explore and create music together. Even though there may be disagreements between them, they will learn how to address the conflicts and problems along the way. Some other questions parents may have are related to expectations and results. My child works hard so why is the result not as good as I expected? How do other children spend lesser time on music but tend to play better? The answer is that every child is unique and special, and they absorb knowledge and improve at their own pace. It is dangerous to compare your child to others. The learning process matters more than the result. While the students certainly have to try their best for all the performances and exams, the outcome cannot be controlled. As long as your child did their best, you should be proud of them. If my child is only three years old, can I still enroll her in the music class? This is another question frequently asked by parents. At Aureus, we provide Music Exploration (ME) classes for children from 2.5 to 4.5 years of age. These are one-on-one lessons which include various teaching methods—Dalcroze, Kodaly, Suzuki, and Orff. The mixed teaching approaches make the ME an outstanding music program. In ME class, children don’t just learn to sing or play an instrument. They also learn from movement and exploration activities which play important roles in understanding the concepts of pitch, notation, rhythm, etc., and the parents will be able to see the results within a few weeks’ time. The ME course is a great way for young children to start their music journey. They would get to explore different kinds of instruments and then choose their favorite one to start learning music seriously. At the end of the course, children are able to understand basic music concepts, and we hope to see their love and knowledge of music grow. I hope you obtained some fundamental knowledge about piano learning from this article. Music-making is a tough but fulfilling journey. My goal as a piano teacher is to enable my students to find their own and unique strengths in music and help them develop and enhance their natural abilities through a solid technical foundation. It is always satisfying to see my students steadily make progress and improve.

Aureus Academy