General Music Teaching

Yamaha Piano Challenge 2012

After a hiatus of almost two years I’m back in the judge’s chair—this time for the Yamaha Piano Challenge 2012. Mrs. Fong asked me to judge the Finals together with fellow judges Razif, Soo See, and Mei Ling. The format was different compared to Piano Idol, with categories ranging from YPC1 (Beginners) to YPC12 (Advanced) and there were winners for each category. All in I think there were around 60+ contestants, and there were two sessions—one in the afternoon and another in the early evening. We had an early dinner around 5 pm. I brought my Canon EOS 550D along with the Speedlite 580EX II so here are some pictures.

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(Above) The stage is set at the Penang PAC (Performing Arts Center). That’s the Yamaha GB-1 baby grand piano together with the Digital Music banner. This is a smallish hall which can accommodate approximately 300 people, but it has great acoustics. The piano sound seems to bloom on its own accord. This would be a great place for solo concerts. I took this picture handheld, resting my elbows on the judges’ table, taking a deep breath before pressing the shutter.

(Below) Vincent was one of the guest stars of the day. He played Franz Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 in A flat major and Chopin’s Black Key etude, Op. 10 No. 5.

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(Above) Adriana was the other guest star. She performed Chopin’s Etude Op. 25 No. 1 and Debussy’s Prelude from Pour le Piano. Both these talented pianists are my students and I’m extremely proud of them. They each won the Piano Idol in the past.

(Below) A candid view of the junior contestants in the afternoon session with their certificates of participation.

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(Above) For the Senior session the piano was moved to a different angle but the sound was still great. A slow shutter speed emphasizes the dexterity of this contestant.

(Below) A cross-section of some of the winners in the Senior category.

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(Above) Here I am, posing with Vincent after the whole show was over. The Speedlite 580EX II is fantastic; this was taken using direct flash and yet it handled the lighting conditions extremely well, exposing both of us just right.

(Below) I could recognize some budding talents today. Here I’m posing with Yeu May, the Level 8 winner. She played a scintillating Chopin waltz—I’d love to have this 15 year-old for a student.

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I have to commend Mr. and Mrs. Fong for organizing these competitions. They really foster and encourage the upcoming musical talents in our midst. I’m looking forward to more in the future.

Music Teaching

Student Spotlight: Tan Bao Xiu


Following on the mini interview with Annabelle, here’s Bao Xiu’s version of it. I first met Bao Xiu when she was auditioning for the first Piano Idol. Since then I have seen this reticent young lady mature in her piano playing; she’s yet another very obedient student. It’s really students like her that make my piano teaching life less stressful (and believe me, as far as I’m concerned piano teaching can be stressful) So on with the interview.

When did you start learning piano with Mr. Yeoh? How old were you then?
Ummmm…I don’t really remember so clearly…. It was sometime in early 2010 I think, when I was…14?

What certifications have you achieved in your piano so far?
Eh, if you count the Yamaha piano exams that’d be quite a lot of certs….but for ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) exams I’ve done theory till grade 6, and I just took the practical grade 8….but since I haven’t gotten the results for that yet, I guess it doesn’t count? (Ed note: Bao Xiu scored a Merit for her Grade 8 piano exam taken in July 2011)

How do you find Mr. Yeoh’s teaching?
Hmmm. Honestly, (and I really am being honest here), he’s quite an awesome teacher. He’s got lots of stories to tell, about basically anything. But—he can be very strict sometimes…. I wouldn’t actually use the word mean though, cause even though he gives me intimidating tasks (like lots of sight reading), it actually does help me quite a bit.

Have you enjoyed your piano lessons so far?
Well yes, except for times when he starts playing some piece on the piano straight from memory like it’s the easiest thing in the world….then I feel pretty disgusted by his amazing piano playing skills (ESPECIALLY when he’s sight reading something!)

What would you have liked Mr. Yeoh to focus more on? Less on?
I don’t really know…. I guess he keeps a good balance of everything. And he knows exactly what a student’s strengths and weaknesses are….so….yeah.

Has Mr. Yeoh made you more interested and motivated to learn piano, or less?
Uh, honestly, I’ve never really liked playing piano that much, it’s like, a natural thing….but after learning with him I’ve definitely built more confidence in my playing 🙂

Any other comments, complaints, etc. will be welcome here.
Hmmm. I don’t know what else to say 😛 Oh yeah, he’s a technology geek too. So I would conclude by saying he’s a high-tech piano teacher/storyteller! 😀

Bao Xiu’s interests and hobbies include dancing, drawing, reading novels, and photoshopping.

Thank you for your time in doing this interview, Bao Xiu. I’m sure you’ll do very well in your recent Grade 8 piano exam.

Music Teaching

Student Spotlight: Vincent Ong

Here’s a vid of my student Vincent Ong playing his own composition, Flight of the Gargoyles at the recent Yamaha Junior Original Concert earlier this year. Vincent was the junior winner in the first Piano Idol competition held here in Penang way back in October 2008. Thanks for the vid, Sue!

Ed Note: Due to copyright restrictions I’m afraid that the above video has been marked as private by the owner. My apologies.


Music Teaching

Student spotlight: Adriana Chiew

Another of my advanced students, Adriana Chiew performing on the Yamaha Clavinova.

Adriana won the second Piano Idol competition held in 2009. Since then I have seen her progressing very well in her piano playing. Of course it helps to have a strict teacher like me, yes? Here she is, playing Chopin’s Mazurka in F Op. 68 No. 3. She’s one student that will go very far (and that’s a promise)

Music Teaching

So you wanna be a piano teacher? (Part 2)

Another issue potential piano teachers face is whether they intend to teach in a music school, privately, or both. I’ll try to present my thoughts in this post.

Teaching in a music school certainly has its merits. The biggest plus point is that you don’t have to source for students yourself, the school does it for you. And if you’re into group teaching, you can quickly see an increase in your student intake. All you have to do is turn up and teach.

What about the disadvantages of teaching in a music school? The biggest shortcoming is that you don’t receive 100% of the students’ fees. This is understandable because the school needs a proportion for administration costs, utilities, etc. So let’s say you charge $100 for a beginning student for private teaching; you might find that you are paid only half of that at the school (meaning that you have to teach two students instead of one to get the same fee) That means you have to work harder if you intend to teach full-time in a music school.

You are also obliged to abide and follow the regulations of the music school you’re teaching in. Fair enough, but depending on how it goes, you might find yourself teaching students that don’t get along with you, students who don’t show up and don’t inform you, etc. The school might insist that you teach them anyway because they can’t find another teacher who has time to do so.

Teaching privately on the other hand, is a challenge when you’re first starting out. At this stage you can’t pick and choose students yet. When I first started out decades ago, I made a slight error in always trying to get advanced students because of higher fees—don’t do this. Get students of any level you can find. Beginning students are actually good, because if you teach them well, chances are they will stick with you as they progress. That will build up your student intake gradually.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of teaching privately is that you get to keep 100% of the fees. You’re also your own boss, so you make your own decisions about lesson schedules, replacement lessons, holidays, etc. And need I say that it’s much more comfortable teaching at home, as opposed to being in a tiny room in a music school?

Or you could opt to do both, like what I’ve been doing. I’ve gotten to the point where I know the school administrator very well, so any problems I have can be discussed and ironed out in the open. And because I’m involved with the school I get to participate in such interesting activities such as the Piano Idol competition, which I’ve been judging for the past two years.

So there you have it. You have to make up your own mind, but it’s always possible to test the waters first in the field of piano teaching. Good luck!