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: Regina See


All my 20+ years of teaching I’ve encountered students whom I fondly regard as “classics,” and then there’s Regina See. She’s one of my students in Digital Music here in Penang, and started learning with me about two years ago. I decided to conduct a mini-interview with her, emailing some questions to her and then asking her to append her replies. Here it is, heaven help me.

When did you start learning piano with Mr. Yeoh? How old were you then? I started learning piano with Mr Yeoh when I was in form 1, that was in 2009. I was 13.

What certifications have you achieved in your piano so far? Um. Passes? Distinctions and Merits; this proves how AWESOME I am!

How do you find Mr. Yeoh’s teaching? Hmm… *thinks hard* Boring. Boring, boring. Nah, just kidding. It’s quite fun actually. He’s like a friend. I can tease him oh and I always win whenever we argue. So yeah. I feel big and awesome whenever I’m with him.

Have you enjoyed your piano lessons so far? Yeah, I always look forward to the piano classes.

What would you have liked Mr. Yeoh to focus more on? Less on? FOCUS MORE ON PIECES. Oh my god. Less on scales, muahaha!

Has Mr. Yeoh made you more interested and motivated to play the piano, or less? Um. He doesn’t really affect me that much? I play whenever I feel like it. Not when Mr Yeoh starts smacking me and putting the metronome up close to my ear.

Any other comments, complaints, etc. will be welcome here. He drags and threatens me all the time. I should call Child Services one day and then we’ll see who’ll be the last one standing. Just kidding, Mr Yeoh is an AWESOME piano teacher. As the saying goes: awesome student, awesome teacher. Trust me, it’s not the other way around.

What other activities do you enjoy besides piano playing? I like horse riding and Mathematics.

I could regard Regina as a classic but I won’t because she’s always moaning about how tough school life is and what a drag it is for her to practice all those countless scales and arpeggios. Well young lady, you’d better roll up your sleeves and get movin’, otherwise I’ll sm… oopsie. Don’t want her to call Child Services, do we?

Notwithstanding that fact above, I’ll say that Regina is the only student who wants to do a high five with me, to tell me that my skin color is so fair, to complain about how mean I can be to her (you know this is totally untrue, young lady), to promise me (umpteen times) that she’ll do her scales next week, etc. etc. You get my point.

It’s been a challenging but great experience to teach this cooperative student (a little praise there) and she does work hard, I grant her that. And oh yes, before I sign off…her favorite word (as if you can’t tell from the interview) is “awesome.” I think it’s an excellent attitude for her to have. And Regina, you will keep practicing, won’t you, wink wink?

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!

Music Teaching

So you wanna be a piano teacher?

I made up my mind about becoming a piano teacher almost 37 years ago. Allow me to highlight my own personal pros and cons.


  1. Piano teaching can be a very fulfilling vocation, especially when you see students gradually improving over the course of time under your guidance. Many of my ex-students have gone on to become piano teachers themselves.
  2. You are your own boss. You set and maintain your own teaching schedules, your rates, your rules, etc. Best of all, you can do this in the comfort of your own home. And if you plan your teaching schedules carefully, you can have lots of me time for yourself and/or your family.
  3. You learn how to interact with people. I’m talking about students and parents here, of course. No doubt experience is the best teacher, but you have to indulge yourself in it, you can’t be shy. Learning people skills, knowing when and how to talk and listen, makes you a better person and teacher. Buy some self-motivational books and motivate yourself first before you motivate others.
  4. This is a good career for those of us who would rather work at home. Many mothers do this so that they can be close to their children at the same time.
  5. Piano teaching can also be a supplementary source of income if you already have a primary job. Some of my ex-students teach on a part-time basis (for example after office hours) and that means more money in the kitty.


  1. Piano teaching is a career where your monthly salary is always in a state of flux. Like it or not, students come and go. You will have good periods and not-so-good periods. It comes with the territory.
  2. Piano teaching can be stressful. Believe me, this is the absolute truth. Teaching someone to play the piano well and expecting them to do their fair share of practice involves a lot of patience, determination, and wit. It will be a testing time for you!
  3. Like every other job, you get what you put in. I hate to say the obvious but if you don’t correct the bad habits that students may have, you’re not doing your job right. Piano teaching isn’t about just sitting beside the student and barking out orders, you have to get involved, to demonstrate, to show them how you want it done. And if you have no idea at all, then you shouldn’t be teaching in the first place!
  4. There is also a tendency for people to judge your quality of teaching on the number of students you have. While this is true to a point, it makes no sense whatsoever for you to offer discount rates and have students (mediocre or otherwise) flocking to you. It’s also downright unethical. After so many years of teaching I’ve arrived at the point where I can pick and choose my students; if you’re just starting off you might be able to do this.

You might also want to get a book like like James Bastien’s How To Teach Piano Successfully. It’s a book I’ve read and periodically dip into. Another book which appears interesting is David Newsam’s Making Money Teaching Music. The link will also show you the many other books on piano teaching, it’s worth getting a book or two.

You can also join a forum like Piano World (of which I’m a member) Registration is free and there are over 47,000 members sharing a wealth of information and advice. It’s a great place for piano fans.

General Music Teaching

Beginnings, Part 2

In retrospect it amazes me that I chose my piano teaching career so early on in my life—I had already made my mind up about teaching piano when the idea of continuing my further studies in the UK was brought up by my parents. They asked me whether I really wanted to pursue it, and gave me some time to think about it. I have to admit part of me was itchin’ to get away from Penang, perhaps my rebellious side. However, I was pondering a lot over it. Although I was just 17 at that time, I had enough insight and maturity to realize that this was a big decision I had to make. And I went for it. Fortunately a few of my parents’ friends gave me sage advice about what to expect when I went over to the UK.

So I spent a few years in the UK and then four more in the US (read more about it here) When I came back in the summer of ‘84 I was raring to start teaching. I didn’t have a set agenda, but I guess a few folk were doing the “publicity” for me, and I was very grateful for that. Pretty soon I had my first motley batch of students—big ones, small ones, and everything in between. Experience is the best teacher, as the saying goes…and that’s something that one has to be patient with, you can’t gain experience in a few weeks or months.

My father had an old Wagner upright piano in the house so I used that. After playing all those wonderful Steinway grands in the US, this piano with yellowish keys felt like a total let-down, but I had to take what I had, at least in the beginning. Several years would pass before I was able to purchase my new Young Chang upright piano. Besides, the Yamaha Clavinova was still in its infancy in those days, so no thoughts of a digital piano flashed through my mind yet. I bought myself a metronome, brushed up on the piano-teaching books I’d brought home, and then there was nowhere else to go except to get my toes (or rather fingers) wet.

A good piece of advice I had from an uncle of mine (who also taught piano) was that when first starting out you can’t be too picky. In other words, I’d get good students as well as the not-so-good ones. I’d get beginners as well as advanced students. You also need to focus on getting the experience first, instead of monetary gains. I was guilty of this at the start, because fees for advanced students were naturally higher than for beginners. But as my uncle reminded me, the best experience I could ever obtain would be to teach students when they were at the beginner level, and then nurture them onwards. If I gave them good quality teaching there was a good chance they would stick with me as their musical needs grew.

A suggestion to those just starting out in the field would be this—get as much advice as you can from experienced piano teachers. Don’t be shy or too proud to ask. Do what you will with the advice they give you, and remember you can change or modify it to suit your own teaching. There is no one correct method, you have to go with whatever works best for yourself and your students.


Greetings, Bonjour, Hola, Guten Tag, Geia sou, Buon giorno, Selamat Datang!

Of course that's me!

Yes sir, if that mug shot of me looks familiar, it’s because I run another blog here. I’ve been toying with creating another blog just for chatting about my musical perambulations, specifically my 37 years of piano teaching (don’t yawn, I’ll forgive you if you do, but do bear with me) and also my cocktail piano playing excursions. I’ll delve into a little bit of history about how I ended up in this mess (!) but this sure beats writing about it in a plain old boring diary…I am aiming for world domination (don’t send the Fantastic 4 over yet)

I’d also like to get some formalities out of the way first. Namely:

  • These anecdotes, ramblings, thoughts, etc. etc. are entirely my own—no stealing or plagiarizing OK? Or if you really feel the kleptomaniac arising from within yourself, I am partial to Starbucks lattes, Domino’s Pizza, and Burger King whoppers. And anything that has chicken in it.
  • Aside from that world domination phase I mentioned earlier, rest assured that I’m not a selfless egocentric #@!$ musician. This is just how I do things in my piano teaching and cocktail playing. Everybody else has his or her own way, so there! Don’t come blaming me if you flare up, twist an ankle, contract warts, or turn into a flesh-devouring zombie after reading my posts. I absolve myself of all blame.
  • I welcome and relish comments from you, my faithful followers and readers. But let’s be nice OK? I don’t want this to be like Human Torch and The Thing arguing. If so, I’m gonna retreat into my shell…
  • If you feel like guest-posting in my humble blog to speak about anything related to what I say, feel free to drop me a line. Ask and it shall be given (well it depends on my mood sometimes)
  • Last but not least if you don’t agree or like what I say in a post, please…please drop me a comment and tell me nicely. I’m not infallible—see the humility I’m displaying right now? Or if it drives your insanity levels up, get some java, rest yourself and visit my other blog. It’s good over there too. Trust me.
  • I’d like to thank each and every one of you for visiting this humble blog of mine. ‘Tis no easy task writing and creating a new blog (at least not for me) but boy, when the juices flow, it sure is fun! Happy reading!