A blog on piano teaching, practicing, performance and competition

The benefits of starting music lessons early, I mean, when they are 2!! August 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Melody Ouyang @ 6:35 pm

Your child doesn’t have to learn how to read before they take music lessons.

One may ask, Can children from infancy through kindergarten really grasp the concept of music theory and principles?

Why expose a child to music at such an early age when there’s so much time?

If you’ve ever been around young children, you’ve probably noticed how they tend to try to skip rather than walk, dance rather than stroll, or sing when they’re trying to drown out your instructions.  The best argument for early childhood music education lies in the fact that toddler/preschoolers/kindergartners, for the most part, are naturally receptive to the nuances of pitch and rhythm. Research has shown that very young children can develop an awareness of pitch and musical concepts.  If left untapped–this natural feeling for music may never be developed.

As early as 1962, Dr. Lee Salk demonstrated that the fetus is aware of the mother’s heartbeat.  Lullabies and tunes crooned to infants have been a centuries-old method of soothing babies to sleep.  Then this carries over to soothe younger babies and toddlers, and that they use the power of inner music whenever they wish to comfort themselves.  In addition, children at this age are also less conscious of our “standard judgment” of “proper performance,” fine and gross motor skills can be improved through improvisational dancing, experiential singing, and playing the instruments.  Vocal and speech development can also improve through singing.  Furthermore, we all understand that it is earlier for infants/toddlers/preschoolers to learn a second language then children who have started elementary school.  Learning music concepts and reading music is very similar to learning another language, therefore it is best to have them experience music when they are at an age that is the most receptive.

The most important benefit, is the proven positive effect music has on brain development.  This has been thoroughly researched and documented and is most crucial during the first 6 years, when the most important brain development takes place.  According to Nancy Mayer, an early childhood brain development specialist, claims that based on numerous researches musical training is linked to the development of higher brain functions.  That the early years of life are crucial to the development of vital connections within brain tissues which leads to later success in learning.  A recent study of 78 preschoolers founded that learning to play the piano enhances the abstract-reasoning skills needed for learning math and science.  Gordon Shaw, Ph.D., professor of physics at the University of California at Irvine has further states that “music lessons at a young age may help train a child’s brain for certain higher cognitive functions later.”

Imagine…if parents would expose their children to classical music at a young age, what the possibilities would be for these children at an older age!  No one is guaranteeing that they’ll all become performers, but the youngsters who have had this exposure have an advantage in academic abilities, self-esteen, and probably improved attitudes in general.  Most importantly, your child will be able to understand and enjoy music for a lifetime!

So now we have learned the benefits of starting music lessons early, what kind of program should you be looking for?  We all know that there’s no way to sit a 2-year-old down to start them on music theory!!  Please read my article on “Things you want to look for in preschool/toddler/kindergarten music classes” and “The main differences between Harmony Road Program’s “Toddler Tunes” and “Music in Me” versus other toddler/preschool music programs.”  Hopefully these articles would help answer your questions.


Ah! Music Competitions!!! August 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Melody Ouyang @ 2:43 am

Participation in music competition is an important part of any music education.  I had my fair share of competition experiences starting age 5 to about 25.  I was fortunate enough to win a lot of them, including The Juilliard School’s Concerto Competition, Young Concert Artist Competition, and Corpus Christi Music Competition, to name a few.  However, like everyone else, there are times I questions the results of the competitions.  “Is that a problem of my own judgment?”  That would be a question that anyone in music competitions would ask.  Well, the truth is, music is very subjective and there is no right or wrong.  Once the competitors reach a certain standard, it becomes a matter of preference, or taste, of the judges that will determine the outcome.

As tough as the nature of the competitions are, there is one benefit of music competitions that stays constant: the students learn how to perfect a piece of music to the best of his/her ability, and to learn to be able to perform the piece in front of a judge or an audience under pressure is an integral part of any instrumental studies.

Since it is hard to predict the outcome of music competitions, it is important to educate parents how to prepare their child before entering music competitions.  Here are some tips:

  • Explain to your child the differences between winning a sports match and a music competition.  In most sports, the player/team that scores the most “points” win.  On the other hand, since music is a form of art, it is hard to judge “right” or “wrong.” You don’t necessarily score more by playing more notes correctly.  The judges are looking at the performance as a “whole,” which includes musicality, rhythm/notes, pedal, balance, just to name a few. It is a matter of very subjective musical taste.
  • Stress that the learning experience of the music competition is more important than actually winning.  Explain that learning a piece well to the best of his/her ability and to be able to perform well is part of music education.  Winning is, of course, very gratifying.  But a good musician is more about sharing music with others.
  • Try to relax on the day of competition.  Parents are usually more nervous than the students during the competitions.  Your child will sense this nervous energy.  Do not criticize the child for not performing as well as he/she usually does. Rather, tell them that you understand that he/she did the best he/she could, and that is all that matters to the child, the parents, and the teacher.
  • Suggest your teacher not to assign only the competition music for a long period of time.  The child may get tired of the piece and lose interest.  Doing so also hinders progress.
  • Practice the whole routine as often as possible at home, from walking to the piano, bowing, adjusting the seat, and bow again at the end of playing.  Always give positive feedbacks first, then gently make suggestions.
  • Play for others as often as possible so the child is comfortable playing in front of an audience of any size. Start with the child’s best friends!
  • Record the performances.  Students usually know exactly what they can improve from watching themselves play.  Also, ask your child to comment on his/her own playing.

In conclusion, we should do our best to make music competitions a positive experience.  We want to encourage our children to use it as a vehicle in learning to play the instrument better, and to perfect a piece of music to the best of the child’s ability.  One of the best comments I’ve received from another teacher was that she noticed my students seem to be more confident at the competitions and was not as upset when they did not receive first place.  To me, this is more important than my students taking all the top prizes.


One of My Performances in Dallas, TX August 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Melody Ouyang @ 3:07 am

One of My Favorite Video Clips! August 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Melody Ouyang @ 10:46 pm

My Website! August 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Melody Ouyang @ 3:16 am

After 12 hours of work…I designed my own website and it’s finally, well, almost done!

Come and pay me a visit! or


What are the Criteria that One should look for in a piano teacher, especially for beginners? August 9, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Melody Ouyang @ 3:53 am

1.  This teacher should be university or conservatory trained.  One has to know how to play the instrument well in order to know how to teach it.

2. You want to start with the most qualified teacher, especially for beginners. It is very important for beginners to establish a solid foundation in terms of technique and musicianship. We have many students that transfer to us because they were frustrated with playing more difficult pieces.  The consequences of their poor technique (incorrect hand position, for example) did not show up until they’ve advanced to the more difficult music.  But by then, it becomes very difficult to change these bad habits.

3. The teacher ideally should have both performance and pedagogical (teaching) background.  Only the teacher with performance background would understand what it takes to play the instrument well; and only the teacher with pedagogical training would know how to teach beginners, especially young children.

4.  The environment of the studio also plays a key role in music education.  Since young children have shorter attention span, the lessons should be taught in an environment that is free from distractions and noises.

5. The teacher should be flexible and understands the needs and goals of each student. The teaching method and attitude is very different between a student whose goal is to become a concert performer and a student who wants to play an instrument for fun and recreation.

6. Your teacher should offer performance opportunities, such as recitals, festivals and competitions.  Being able to play in front of an audience is an integral part of music studies for every instrument.

7. Your teacher should teach all aspect of music, including theory and musicianship.  Music is not just playing the notes correctly from the sheet music; it is a form of art.  It takes a person with artistry to understand and to teach the total musicianship.

8. As a rule of thumb, price should not be the most important factor in choosing a piano teacher.  A teacher with the above qualification probably would not be the least expensive in the area.


Mom….I don’t want to practice piano…. August 4, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Melody Ouyang @ 3:30 pm

“Mom (or dad)….I don’t want to practice piano today….”
I am sure all parents who have kids taking music instrument lessons get this at some point!!!  I often get the following questions from my students and parents: Did you have problem practicing when you were growing up?  Or how do I get my kids to practice?

Good news and bad news.  The good news is that you are not alone and it is very normal for children to not want to practice occasionally.  Practicing is such an integral part of learning any instrument.  The bad news is that there is no way around it. Consistency is the key! There’s a saying among musicians, “you don’t have to practice everyday, only the days you eat.”  However, Here are a couple tips to keep your child engaged:

1. Instead of setting a time limit, set a goal that is not time oriented.  For example, instead of asking your child to practice 30 minutes per day, you would say, “Today’s goal is getting these two lines correct.”  As long as your child can play that section correctly with all the markings on the music, and instill the expressiveness of the music, he/she is done for the day.  If your child practices this way, he/she will be focusing more on perfecting the piece instead of looking at the clock.   We are teaching the value of “making things right no matter how long and how hard it takes.”   Another trick for those who knows how to follow the metronome is to start with a very slow tempo, and slowly, one click at a time, bring the tempo up.  By using these techniques, most students are able to get things right under the time you usually set because they are so focused and practicing becomes a “getting it right” game for them.

2. Create the musical culture and environment for your family.  Find friends who also have children playing an instrument, have them practice when you bring your child to their house. Casually point out that other children are practicing as well.  By doing so, you are showing them that their peers are doing the same thing and he/she is not doing this alone.  This is positive peer pressure!

3.  Make practicing piano a part of their daily routine.  It usually works best if your child can practice at the same time every day, either after dinner or before bedtime, for example..

4. Try to put the piano in the part of your house where there are no distractions.  I have been to some houses where the child is practicing while the parent is watching TV right next to the piano!  This certainly does not allow the student to focus on practicing piano.

5. Practice the “3 times in-a-row” game.  I do this all the time with my students.  They get to go on to the next section if they can play the previous section correctly 3 times in-a-row.  They may get frustrated at times, but the feeling of being challenged keeps them going.

6. For kids with short attentions span, it may be more beneficial to divide up the work in two short practice routines.  Instead of having your child sitting in the chair for a long time with multiple goals, divide the work up into two practicing sessions.  You may choose to practice a session before dinner and one more session before going to bed.  This way, your child would not be as overwhelmed.

7.  Practice by dividing music into small sections.  Do not practice from beginning to the end all the time.  Your child has to be able to identify the problematic section of the music and focus on those spots specifically.  The length of the music does not matter in this case.  I even have my very beginner point out where the hardest part of his two liners is.  It is a very good habit.  Otherwise, the students who practice from beginning to the end of music will always stop at the same problematic spots.

8.  Reward your child for having a great lesson, not just great practices. If he/she has a great lesson, reward your child because he/she has achieve the “goal” of the week.  One has to enjoy the sweetness of success in order to want to work for it.

The goal for most music students is to enjoy the end product, a learned piece of music and the feeling of achievement of performing a piece that is well learned.  The feeling of being able to immerse oneself in a piece of music and instrument is exhilarating.  It does take dedication and practice, for musician of all levels, to achieve that goal. I hope that the above tips will help your student on their musical journey.



The main differences between Harmony Road program’s “Toddler Tunes” & “Music in Me” vs. other toddler/preschool music programs August 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Melody Ouyang @ 10:33 pm

Harmony Road’s “Toddler Tunes” and “Music in Me” are quite different from all the other toddler/preschool/kindergarten programs.   We do everything the other programs do–but so much more.  Here are a list of the main differences:

1. The requirements of certification–Harmony Road’s teachers have to go through extensive training and be good all around musicians with previous performance and technical/theory knowledge.  Other teachers may not have this broad based training.  Many of the teachers in Kindermusik and Musikgarten are instrumentalists or singers with little orno keyboard background, and there is a segement that may be only able to do some rhythm and singing and storytelling–as daycare workers.  A friend of mine took a MusikGarten training seminar–2 of them were music teachers, the other 20 were daycare workers, many with no musical skills, some barely knows how to read music.

2. All the Music Materials are written to convey and to promote an understanding of specific music concepts.  So Children learn music concepts through fun and games, singing and movement without knowing that they are actually learning something.  Other programs are fun but the students don’t necessary learn music concepts.

3. Harmony Road introduces keyboard skills and keyboard geography on top of introducing rhythmic instruments.  Other programs only introduces rhythmic instruments.

4. Music Reading–Harmony Road employs active physical movement, directional pitchsinging, and construcion/tactile activities to help the students develop an understanding of basic note reading concepts.  In other programs, music reading concepts may not be developed.

5. In Harmony Road Program, many of our music and activities are layering for later experiences with singing and keyboard playing.  Students of all ages are most confident when learning experiences go from familiar to unfamiliar.  Other music programs provides musical experiences with different music at each age.

6. The music in all our CDs are performed by children, which keeps the students excited to listen while the other programs music are sung mostly by adults.


I have finally found you, Harmony Road!! July 2, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Melody Ouyang @ 10:53 pm

I was brought up with both traditional private lessons and group lessons when I was young.  I started traditional lessons when I was 3 1/2 with my mom, then had both type of lessons from age of 5 all the way till 11 years old.  The group lessons I had was at a Yamaha group lessons facility.  I remembered how much fun I had when I was a Yamaha kid, and most of the music concept the Yamaha courses taught me were proved to be useful through my music career.

Starting a music school has always been a dream for me.  And for years I have been searching for a group lesson curriculum (why group? please see my other posts on “Music Wonderland” on group lessons) that is “good enough” to put my name on.  The Yamaha curriculum is not one of my choices since the franchise now dictates the use of electone, an instrument that is similar to an organ that has two separate sets of keyboard.    And obviously, no one uses electone in the real world, so why teach it?!?!  Just a few months ago, I came across a curriculum named “Harmony Road,” and decided to send myself to Portland, Oregon for training seminars taught by the creator of the program, Jan Keyser.

Harmony Road has proven to be a great choice.  It is a very solid, research based, age appropriate program.  There are different courses very appropriately design for students from toddlers 18 month to adults.  The program takes an holistic approach to teach all aspects of music, including note reading, rhythm, melody, phrasing, harmony, improvisation, and composition.  Students who have gone through Harmony Road truly understand music, and the concepts of music become so internalized, they read and feel music with ease.  It is truly amazing to see that instead of becoming a slave to the practice rooms, it is music that drives the students’ interest.  I mean, honestly, how many people really get to become a concert pianist??  To my opinion, Harmony Road does go a little bit slower in pace, however, I guarantee that the graduates from the program are equipped to be able to LOVE music, read music sufficiently, and able to accompany any music they would like.  It might sound easy, but to a musician, or anyone who has gone through music training, that means A LOT!!

It is surprising to learn that there is not a school that runs the Harmony Road program here in the Dallas area yet, since there are already close to 200 locations in the U.S. along that are conducting this program, and in the recent years, the program has became a global recognized curriculum.  I realized that it is mainly the space ( you have to have a space large enough to put 10-15 keyboards per room), and the investment on the large quantity of keyboard and rhythm instruments that prevent music studios to include the program.  I feel fortunate to be able to introduce Harmony Road and to share the joy of music in my future music school.


Metronome or no metronome June 29, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Melody Ouyang @ 9:41 pm

I have parents and students asking me all the time, especially beginners, if they should be using a metronome.  My answer is, always, yes, the student has to learn how to follow the metronome while the music is still simple.  A lot of students are not expose to playing with metronome, therefore, when their piece becomes more complex, they have a hard time following.   However, metronome should not be use to replace student’s feel for rhythm.  For those who are beginners and early intermediate students who use the metronome all the time while practicing, you are running a risk of relying on metronome rather than developing a sense or a feel of rhythm internally.  I have had transferred students relying on metronome so much, when you shut down the metronome, the students plays without a sense of pulse or rhythm completely!

For intermediate and advance students, because of the complexity of the pieces you are playing, one shouldn’t be using the metronome through out the piece.  However, you should check tempi of all sections in the same piece of music to make sure that you are keeping the same tempo throughout the piece (unless there are tempo change indications by the composer, or to serve certain interpretation needs.)

Metronome is also a great tool for practicing.  I have always use metronome when I try to perfect a certain section in music that is especially technically challenging.  I start with a very slow tempo, usually slower than the tempo that I am already handling well, then increase one click every few times of repetition and slowly bring it up to tempo.  This way, when your teacher ask you to practice slowly and increase the tempo slowly, you will know exactly what to do and to follow.  I have tried this method over and over, and it never fails.  You will learn how to play slow and fast and all the in between tempo of the same section, your fingers will develop great muscle memory, which will make your performance most secure even if you are too nervous to remember anything!!