Etudes for Piano Teachers

Front Cover

Etudes for Piano Teachers

Reflections on the Teacher’s Art

Stewart Gordon

My recent reading.
For teachers ourselves, we are both teaching and learning. A teacher should never stop learning and thinking. This book inspires me to reflect more on what teaching is. Music education is all about psychology : how to motivate students; how to solve their problems; what to do if students have stage fright, etc. When teachers nowadays nearly neglect the importance of psychological conditioning, I have to form my own philosophy. Reading this book,  I start to realise that the role of teachers is not just to produce individuals who are capable to play something technically and musically but also grow them into all-rounded human being.  My goal next year is to nurture next generation to be good psychologists and have positive mindset.

“Making music has the potential to help our children utilize, develop, and strengthen several aspects of intelligence. Through studying an instrument, listening to music, and singing, they can tune up their minds and get excited about learning. This is likely to translate into getting better grades in subjects as diverse as language arts and mathematics.” (Turner, 2004)

Topic of the Week-The Meaning of Key Signatures


The above is an interesting finding of which are your favourite keys according to your horoscope. (Just for fun but you can still find them out.)

A key signature is a musical notation which is a set of sharp or flats symbols placed together on the staff. It’s a common misconception for students : The more the sharps or flats in the key signature, the more difficult to play the piece. What students care about is the numbers of sharps or flats but not the key itself. The importance of a key is to let people know the intended tone colours and emotions of the compostition. You may have your own interpretation of emotions to different keys but in general the keys relate to most people, e.g. major keys relate to happiness and pleasure while minor keys are more like depression and lament.

The following artcle is about affective key characteristic and it’s from Christian Schubart’s Ideen zu einer Aesthetik der Tonkunst (1806).

C major: Completely pure. Its character is: innocence, simplicity, naivety, children’s talk
C minor: Declaration of love and at the same time the lament of unhappy love. All languishing, longing, sighing of the love-sick soul lies in this key
Db major: A leering key, degenerating into grief and rapture. It cannot laugh, but it can smile; it cannot howl, but it can at least grimace its crying.–Consequently only unusual characters and feelings can be brought out in this key
D major: The key of triumph, of Hallelujahs, of war-cries, of victory-rejoicing. Thus, the inviting symphonies, the marches, holiday songs and heaven-rejoicing choruses are set in this key
D minor: Melancholy womanliness, the spleen and humors brood
D# minor: Feelings of the anxiety of the soul’s deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depression, of the most gloomy condition of the soul. Every fear, every hesitation of the shuddering heart, breathes out of horrible D# minor. If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key
Eb major: The key of love, of devotion, of intimate conversation with God
E major: Noisy shouts of joy, laughing pleasure and not yet complete, full delight lies in E Major
F major: Complaisance and calm
F minor: Deep depression, funereal lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave
F# major: Triumph over difficulty, free sigh of relief uttered when hurdles are surmounted; echo of a soul which has fiercely struggled and finally conquered lies in all uses of this key
F# minor: A gloomy key: it tugs at passion as a dog biting a dress. Resentment and discontent are its language
G major: Everything rustic, idyllic and lyrical, every calm and satisfied passion, every tender gratitude for true friendship and faithful love,–in a word every gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart is correctly expressed by this key
G minor: Discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme; bad-tempered gnashing of teeth; in a word: resentment and dislike
Ab major: Key of the grave. Death, grave, putrefaction, judgment, eternity lie in its radius
Ab minor: Grumbler, heart squeezed until it suffocates; wailing lament, difficult struggle; in a word, the color of this key is everything struggling with difficulty
A major: This key includes declarations of innocent love, satisfaction with one’s state of affairs; hope of seeing one’s beloved again when parting; youthful cheerfulness and trust in God
A minor: Pious womanliness and tenderness of character
Bb major: Cheerful love, clear conscience, hope aspiration for a better world
A quaint creature, often dressed in the garment of night. It is somewhat surly and very seldom takes on a pleasant countenance. Mocking God and the world; discontented with itself and with everything; preparation for suicide sounds in this key
Bb minor: A quaint creature, often dressed in the garment of night. It is somewhat surly and very seldom takes on a pleasant countenance. Mocking God and the world; discontented with itself and with everything; preparation for suicide sounds in this key.
B major: Strongly colored, announcing wild passions, composed from the most glaring colors. Anger, rage, jealousy, fury, despair and every burden of the heart lies in its sphere
B minor: This is as it were the key of patience, of calm awaiting one’s fate and of submission to divine dispensation

Translated by Rita Steblin in A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. UMI Research Press (1983).

Another version of emotions of the keys is in Chinese. But in fact the colours of keys stated here are not that scientific and I should have another post about the colours of keys later. Different composers seemed to have various associations of colours to the keys.









到老師教室上課,學生有責任把所有用品帶齊和準時到達老師的教室,在孩子的成長過程中培養責任感,守時觀念是百利而無一害。 這種能力無疑是在現實世界中非常重要的。


Eight Reasons why Students should Take Piano Lessons at Teacher’s Place

Recently, I receive a lot of calls and emails asking me to provide home-visiting lessons. It is  understandable because some parents are busy working nowadays and they feel uncomfortable to transport the child to teacher’s place. However, the teaching quality is much more difference with such so-called “convenience”. In fact, this is not my practice and this article is for me to explain why it’s better to have piano lesson at Teacher’s Place.

1. Teachers cannot control the quality and maintenance on the instrument at student’s home.
In most cases, the instrument at teacher’s place is much more pleasant. Like an example,
my teaching place includes a well-maintained(including humanity control)  and frequently-tuned(four times annually) grand piano and an upright piano.

2. Large quantity of teaching materials cannot be transported.
Students sometimes need additional materials to enhance their learning. All these can only happen at teacher’s place while these materials cannot be transported from time to time to student’s home. For my place, there is a music library that students can borrow books from, professional recording devices, CDs for demonstration, etc.

3. Teaching environment can be controlled in teacher’s place.
At student’s home, teachers takes no control of the teaching environment. I heard from my friends (luckily I didn’t have such experiences before) that some parents play mahjong and siblings watch TV during lesson time. All the distractions will be eliminated at teacher’s place.

4. Children tend to focus more at teacher’s place.
Attention span is the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted. Children pay less attention when the teaching environment is so familiar and controllable. They can go anywhere and do a different kind of activity without your consent so the attention span is actually shortened. A person may restore attention by taking a rest and this is actually reducing lesson time (and of course wasting money).

5. Better Teaching Quality.
Without travel time, the teacher can have more time to think about and plan for the upcoming lesson which leads to obvious difference in teaching quality.

6. Easier to arrange ensemble playing.
Ensemble playing is a beneficial learning process which enhancing one’s musically, rhythm and pulse. Ensemble playing lessons can be arranged at teacher’s place.

7. Fostering students’ responsibility towards management.
Since students are responsible to bring all lesson materials and arrive on time for lesson, this management ability is undoubtedly very important in the real world. Nurturing a sense of responsibility is more than advantageous in children’s growth process.

8. Lessons can be scheduled more easily according to the teacher’s schedule.
Without the time travelling from home to home, the teaching schedule can be more efficient. And there will be more slots for students to choose from.

Topic of the week- Sight Reading Tips

Many students have difficulties in sight reading. To an extent, the reason why they don’t have such ability is contributed to 1) Lack of Sight reading practice. 2) Never Look Ahead, 3) Mixed up the playing with Performance and Sight-reading.
For the first reason, this is perhaps one of the biggest reasons for why students can’t perform well in sight-reading. If you can spend time to play a lot of unfamiliar music, the case will be definitely changed. ( so if you don’t have an idea of what to play, an experience teacher can help you make a systematic plan.)
Secondly, looking ahead is very important technique in sight-reading. Students tend to focus on the notes that they are playing without having a whole picture.
Lastly, there should be huge differences between performance practice and sight-reading.
Performance Practice
1. No mistake is allowed so you should practice until all things are correct.
2. Listen to the sound and look at your hands while playing.
3. All details marked in the music should be noticed. ( articulation & dynamic)
4. Plan your fingerings and follow it from time to time.
5. Do not omit anything. ( notes/ performance direction.)

Sight-reading Practice
1. Mistakes are allowed. Just keep it on and do not stop.
2. Always look ahead and never look at your hands.
3. Having a whole picture is more important than strictly following all details in the music.
4. Try to get the most notes and keep a steady pulse.
5. Omitting elements in the music is allowed so no panic.