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.


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.

Topic of the Week-Motivation

Like hunger, it is essential for every individual to eat for survival. And this is the same for learning music instrument. However, driving students to practice more requires to set an intrinsic need for them so that a child can be capable to take a control over their achievement. Therefore, it’s important to set challenge according to the student’s ability. Students feel a sense of joy and confidence after achieving every goal and motivation will continue to grow. By providing directions and rewarding them, children and even adults possess the skills to exhibit their confidence to do so.

Does every goal motivate students?
The answer is NO. If the musical task is not set according to the student’s ability, the student cannot achieve it. This will drain a student’s confidence so realistic goals can create motivation for students. Some of the goals can be passing a particular exam or having musical experiences in participating in music competitions.

Does entering exam or competition always do good more than harm?
No. It is true that while preparing for an exam or competition, students tend to work harder and practice more with demanding music with a tangible goal like awarding any certificates, ratings or passing of “grades”. However, it will be quite disgraceful for students if they receive harsh criticism or a fail mark in exams or competitions (This always happens on the students entering a wrong grade or choosing a piece too difficult for themselves). The grade and repertoire should be chosen based on the student’s musical ability so we should always set goals within the limits of the student. The students will get more confidence if they receive good results in an exam. This is actually a source of extrinsic motivation.

How to Choose a Great Teacher?

Parents around Hong Kong usually find a teacher by “qualifications ” and fee. In fact, fees and qualifications are just some concerns while teachers have to take care of individual pupils. Enthusiasm and a methodical mind are crucial to make pupil successful.

And needless to say, instrumental skill is important in teaching. You may imagine how a teacher can teach something which he/she doesn’t know to pupils? Some Parents have misconceptions over the years and keep thinking of whether the teacher is teaching with “love and patience “.

Topic of the Week-10 worst things to do before your exam

As exam day nears, your confidence should soar as you prepare to showcase your achievements and gain recognition for all of that hard work.

Don’t spoil the months of preparation, self-discipline, sweat and tears when you’re almost at the finish line!

You too can prevent exam self-sabotage by avoiding these 10 common mistakes many students make before entering the exam room.


1. Practise like it’s going out of style… the week before the exam.

Sometimes when an exam or concert is looming large, we panic and resort to an extreme practice regime as a source of last-minute, confidence-boosting performance assurance. Remember that your body is a delicate piece of machinery and that suddenly increasing the number of hours spent playing or singing every day is more likely to result in injury and fatigue than super-human musical ability. Instead of shredding your strength in an extreme instrumental all-nighter, try short, targeted practice sessions that focus on problem areas and include plenty of breaks for the muscles and the mind. By suddenly ramping up your practice routine just before the exam you’re actually telling yourself that you don’t know the music well enough. Instead of surrendering to exam panic, step away from your instrument and remind yourself that you do know the music and you know it well. Use a bit of self-talk to ward off doubt and to keep yourself calm.

2. I am so nervous.

If I had a coin for every time this was groaned in an exam warm-up area, I could buy Mozart’s original pianoforte. Nerves are a part of every performance – they show you that you care! The trick is to direct all of that nervous energy to heightening your focus and creating an electric atmosphere for your performance – use the adrenaline that is suddenly pumping through your system! So next time you find yourself saying ‘I’m so nervous’, feel blessed, put on your superman cape, and let nerves be your secret for success!

3. Red Bull gives you wings.

Or so the energy drink company claims. Wings are handy when you’re late, stuck in traffic, or headed to Neverland, but  not so much in the exam room. What do we mean? Caffeine and similar stimulants alter your body chemistry and can leave you feeling jittery and unfocused, particularly when combined with performance adrenaline. They’re also used as a pick-me-up when you haven’t had enough sleep the night before. Give yourself the best chance by making sure you arrive at the exam room well rested, and rely on examination nerves to give you that extra buzz rather than a can of chemicals!

4. Is that Liszt next door?

For many, warming up before an exam is a crucial part of the process and for some it’s the opportunity to focus on some last minute trouble spots or to calm the nerves with a steady run-through of the technical work. Multiply this by 10 candidates and the result is a cacophony of sound with a running competition for the loudest, fastest, and most impressive playing. Refrain from comparing yourself to others and showing off your inner Franz Liszt by instead trying some slow practice or finding a quiet place to focus. Don’t waste your precious energy trying to impress the candidate in the practice room next door – save it for the examiners.

5. Nothing really matters.

The only thing more tragic than Freddy Mercury singing these lyrics in Bohemian Rhapsody is a performer muttering them before taking to the stage. Performing in front of others can be terrifying and sometimes we prepare ourselves for disaster by assuring ourselves that there’s no significance to what we’re doing and therefore no consequences in failure. Think of your exam as a celebration of the hard work you’ve put in over the last months and years. Instead of wallowing in self-doubt, fist-pump the sky in front-row fervor to Freddy singing ‘We will, we will, rock you!’

6. Section III am.

More likely than not, you didn’t learn to play your instrument in a fortnight or your repertoire over a long weekend so the chance are, superpowers aside, you cannot learn sight-reading, aural skills and general knowledge overnight. Start preparing for the Section III requirements well in advance of your exam. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself staring at unfamiliar concepts, challenging musical passages, three empty coffee mugs and strands of your own hair that you’ve pulled out at 3am the night before the exam. Instead, aim to be staring at the back of your relaxed and well-prepared eyelids. Try using apractice diary to prompt early and thorough preparation.

7. Next top musician.

We’ve all seen performers get on stage donning elegant evening wear accompanied by stilettos or suffocating bowties. Fascinating amounts of onstage skin, maneuvering of high heels over piano pedals or impressive sweat stains are all distractions that take away from our experience of the music. Showcase your red carpet repertoire with a classy and comfortable outfit that you’re familiar with and that allows you to play with ease. Academy dresses come and go but academic dress endures on the musical stage! See more on Academic dress.

8. VIP club.

When it’s time to head to the exam facility, be your own bouncer when it comes to inviting others along. Give yourself momentary celebrity status by bringing only your closest supporters. Exams can be emotional and generally pretty intense. Rather than dragging that girl/guy you’re trying to impress, friends, neighbours or pets to the exam site, give yourself the space to focus on the task at hand – have your fans waiting for you in the limo to celebrate your achievements at the exclusive afterparty.

9. Tear down that wall.

Ok, so you’re about to go into the exam room. Yes, it can be scary and unnerving. However, remember that this is a performance. You’re performingmusic! You’re not there just to get the notes right. Tell the examiner a story with the music that you play. Express your musical personality with every note, even the scales and arpeggios. Bring some magic into that room! And don’t give up if you make a few mistakes. Sometimes a few wrong notes can help you to relax and break the tension – you’re human after all. Concentrate on playing expressively and bringing meaning to every sound that you make. It may be a small room in a strange building with an unfamiliar examiner in the corner but don’t be afraid. Enter confidently, don’t get distracted and don’t let small things put you off. Remember that the examiner really wants to hear what you have to say. Take a couple of deep breaths and then fill up that room with your charisma, personality and style.

10. Could-a should-a would-a.

The main thing to remember in doing an exam is that YOU did it. Nobody else did. That’s an achievement. And it doesn’t matter if you get an A, B or C. You did the best that you could on the day. Be proud of yourself and give yourself a big pat on the back. Yes, you could have performed that tricky bit better, yes you slowed down towards the end, yes you forgot what key the piece goes into in the middle. These things happen. By doing an exam and putting yourself through the whole process, you’re learning valuable lessons. And… it will be so much easier the next time around!


Topic of the Week- Top 10 Practice Tips

1. Use a metronome

The metronome. That pest that lives on your music stand, taunts you while you play and usually gets left out of your instrument case. If you think you’re ready to go with your exam pieces, try playing each of your pieces with the metronome at half speed. Typically when I play pieces at half speed I find strange mistakes, glitches or hesitations in my playing. Sometimes taking it at a slower pace can expose issues you didn’t even know were there. The metronome is also useful when practising technical work. Many students aren’t aware that their scales and arpeggios are not rhythmically secure. There may be a tendency to rush on the way down and to drag on the way up. Being able to present technical work at an even and consistent tempo is very important. So practise with the metronome!


2. Record yourself

I find recording myself one of the best ways to get into a ‘performance mindset’. Also, listening to yourself play helps you hear issues you may not even be aware of while you’re playing your instrument. Problems with intonation, tempo and articulation become abundantly clear when you hear yourself being played back. Sometimes what you hear can be really encouraging too – in those moments where you might not have been aware you were playing so well!


3. Skip the easy stuff

Let’s face it, we LOVE the easy parts. I love to hear myself fly through the passages I have down pat, only to slam on the brakes when it comes to a new or difficult section. Don’t waste time practising what you can already play well. Go right to the problem sections at the start of your practice time and sort them out first. Just playing the easy parts may be fun but it is not productive. Tackle the hard stuff first!


4. Take breaks, lots of breaks

This may seem obvious but how easily we forget. Practising can be physically demanding and often it’s easy to just keep going until you begin to physically tire. But practice also involves a lot of brain work and often we compromise our practice by not giving our brains time to absorb what we have accomplished physically. We’ve all become frustrated by particular sections of the works we’re practising that just don’t work. It’s very important to have regular breaks to refresh the mind. I remember one of my teachers saying that I should be having a break from practice every half hour! Go for a walk, have a snack, a cup of tea, or anything to let your brain rest from all that concentration. You’ll soon see that taking regular breaks makes a real difference to the effectiveness of your practice.


5. Practise without your instrument

Similar to number 4, more and more evidence supports the effectiveness of mental practice. Especially effective when you’re unable to access your instrument or need a physical break, try mentally practising by closing your eyes and in detail imagining playing your piece, note by note, phrase by phrase. Try repeating tricky passages, slow them down and really imagine the experience of performing the piece. One piano teacher I know suggested playing pieces on the piano lid, or on a coffee table to sharpen up mental focus. Some professional musicians can even learn entire pieces away from their instrument. Practise on your daily commute or in a quiet space of time in your day, you’ll see improvement!


6. Use a mirror

Playing any instrument requires a great deal of physicality. Our bodies often look for the easiest positions to hold, generally those that use the least energy but are not often the best for playing. I find practising in front of a mirror helps me check my stance, my hand positions and other key indicators that can prevent fatigue and injury over long periods of time. Singing teachers, for example, often recommend singing in front of a mirror to check posture and relaxation, tongue position, unnecessary movement etc.


7. Memorising

Memorisation is a valuable skill and being able to play through a piece from memory gives you freedom and confidence in performance. The printed score can be a crutch and can hamper expression. Memorisation can also be very useful for confronting nerves: with the score gone there is no safety net, you have to get the notes right. Proving to yourself that you can play the piece without the score is definitely confidence boosting. When you are memorising music try to play through the piece in your head away from your instrument. If you’ve really properly memorised a piece you should be able to sit down with a piece of manuscript paper (or a software program like Sibelius) and write it out. Don’t just rely on finger memory because this is what tends to fail when you are under the pressure of a performance. Know the notes as well as the fingerings.


8. Play as much as you can

If you are doing an AMEB exam don’t just learn your list and extra list pieces. Study as many pieces as you can – even if you don’t learn every piece up to an exam standard of performance. This will increase your musical awareness and improve your sight-reading.


9. Make music with other musicians whenever you can

Get involved making music with other players whenever you can. If you are a pianist, play for a singer or with someone learning an orchestral instrument. If you are a string or wind player there are so many wonderful duets, trios and quartets you can play. Join a choir. You will learn ensemble skills, how to phrase and breathe with other players and singers, and gain a knowledge of how your part fits into the whole. Again, musical awareness and sight-reading can be developed significantly by making music with others.


10. Perform as much as you can

Everyone gets nervous performing. However, the more you do it the more your confidence develops. Over time, performing begins to feel like a very natural thing to do. Play to your family and friends. Grandparents are good because they never get tired of listening to you play! Look for opportunities to perform at school, in eisteddfods and competitions. Doing an exam can be daunting if you have very limited performance experience. And an exam should really be like a performance. Don’t just play to your teacher. The more you play for other people the more confident you will be when exam time comes around.

Reference :

Topic of the Week-十個學琴絕對不會進步的禁忌

Well said! Students must read this.

1. 不練琴


2. 用不對的方法


3. 不會舉一反三


4. 怪樂器不夠好


5. 找錯老師


6. 只練曲子


7. 沒有良好的基礎


8. 大部分的時間都在準備比賽跟考試曲


9. 曲子只學一部分


10. 不聽音樂


Credit to十個學琴絕對不會進步的禁忌.html