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I can't remember exactly when I began taking piano lessons but I distinctly remember being surrounded by music during my childhood years. My father was an avid violinist who had a great passion for the instrument. My mom taught piano to children at home and conducted adult choir at our church. I was brought up exposed to many types of music.
So it is not too surprising that I don't know when I began my piano training. I was like many toddlers, just barely tall enough to touch the piano keys and enjoy patting on the keyboard. Eventually I was able to sit long enough for a 15-minute lesson from my mom. I was very fortunate to have a patient piano teacher mom to continue our lessons through my elementary years. By age 9, the mother-piano teacher-daughter relationship began to deteriorate. I was finally sent to a highly acclaimed teacher, who was not as forgiving when I didn't practice daily. This is when I began to take my piano training seriously.
I was born in the city of Taipei in Taiwan but I was brought up in the southern towns of Cha-Yi and Tainan, where life was much simpler and children were 'allowed' to be children. I was not pressured to compete nor expected to perform beyond my abilities. It was a very nurturing environment that simply provided a love of the piano and an appreciation of classical music.
After I arrived in Madison, Wisconsin in 1973, I was introduced to auditions with the Wisconsin Music Teachers Association and began to see new opportunities. My family relocated to Princeton in 1975, and soon I began my piano training under Frances Clark, founder of the Frances Clark Library and The New School for Music Study in Kingston, New Jersey. I continued to participate in the New Jersey Music Teachers Association programs and attended National Music Teachers Association conferences annually with my mom. All the while, Ms. Clark was preparing for my continual study in music for college. However, the decision was made for me to seek another path, which was a huge disappointment for Ms. Clark. Even though I had discontinued formal piano training during college, piano is still very much part of my everyday life, something that I'll treasure for the rest of my life.
After my first daughter was born, there was no doubt that she would also undertake piano training. While she was too young for private lessons, I introduced her to Kindermusik. To this day, I still believe that Kindermusik paved her way to a better understanding of music. Once she was of school age, she enrolled at The New School as a third generation pianist there. I knew the New School would provide an excellent foundation for my daughter because of its methodology, which is presented in the Music Tree series. While my mom was studying the pedagogy with Frances Clark, I was often called upon as a 'test case'. I felt confident that this method would build a solid foundation for my daughter. And it did.
Once the basic foundation was established, we decided to seek a private piano teacher. My mom, who graduated from Westminster Choir College, soon put me in touch with a highly reputable piano teacher in Princeton. This teacher was fully booked at the time so she recommended her colleague whom she believed would be suitable for my daughter. Even though the teacher came highly recommended, there was simply no chemistry between the teacher and my daughter, and so the year ended with little progress. The following five years was like a roller coaster ride. Perhaps it is because of my family's own tribulations that I feel a need to share my experiences and knowledge with others.
I am frequently reminded by my older daughter that her sister gets away with everything. Maybe I'm guilty because I gave my second daughter an option to choose her instrument. Or maybe because I was not mentally prepared to look for another piano teacher. So instead, I taught her some basics at home and it was fun for both of us. I did, however, enroll her in Suzuki Piano for a couple of months and discovered some inequities (from my perspective) with the program. So when my younger daughter chose to play the violin in first grade, she already knew how to read music and that helped her excel beautifully. After attending many of her older sister's piano recitals, the younger one also decided to play the piano, and made a commitment to practice. By this time I had heard many students represented by many local piano teachers perform. I began to see the difference between teachers whose interests were in the quantity of the repertoire and teachers whose focus was on the quality of playing. We finally settled with a teacher who exhibited all the qualities we expected.
Practice is, and always will be, a struggle in our busy schedule. Schoolwork still comes before practice and any other activities. Even if my children spend only 15 minutes on scales and arpeggios on those late school nights, I'm satisfied. I notice a big difference when my girls haven't touched the keys in a couple of days - their fingers become sluggish and start to lose some dexterity.
My children are participants in auditions, examinations, and competitions. I don't put unrealistic expectations on them, but I want them to reach their full potential. I don't expect them to become virtuosos or have no life outside of piano. I resented those days when I had to practice piano while my friends went to movies. I didn't think spending two hours on a Saturday night with friends would forever damage my chance of becoming a great pianist, especially if the goal was not to become a professional pianist. I feel that with a quality piano education, a child will preserve the knowledge and can continue to enjoy music for a lifetime.
It wasn't until I had children of my own that I began to appreciate my mom's perseverance through my difficult and rebellious teenage years, keeping me up with my piano playing. I have never enjoyed playing the piano more than now, I just wish I had more time for it! So my last piece of advice is to not let your child quit without some serious discussion. I've heard many adults wishing they were forced to continue playing when they were younger. If parents can be prepared to face this battle, especially during the middle school years, our children will acquire a valuable gift that they will appreciate over a lifetime.
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