How Skiing Helped Me Become a Better (Music) Learner

How Skiing Helped Me Become a Better LearnerLast month my friend and I said we’d go skiing this winter. We live beside beautiful mountains and we don’t even ski once a year–it’s ridiculous.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that I follow through on decisions, regardless of how questionable.

That’s how I found myself getting up at 4:30am on a Saturday for the opening day of a huge mountain that I planned to tumble down. Alright, I was a little cocky. Everyone told me that, being “athletic,” downhill skiing would be fairly simple to pick up.

Here is how a risky sport like skiing helps you pick up skills quickly, in music and other areas.

Continue Reading

Add a Comment

Behind-the-Scenes of a 350-Person Hackathon

LUMOHACKSLUMOHACKS was everything I wanted it to be, and more.

674 people applied and we chose 350 people to create something that improves a cancer patient’s life, in 24 hours.

350 people. 12 3D printers. 5 workshops. World-class speakers from medicine & tech.

That was last week, and now I am sick. I am sniffing and coughing and I sound like a frog but I’m waiting for my next meeting to begin, so I will share some behind-the-scenes moments of a 350-person event.


Everyone is fresh on the first day. People who bus or fly in arrive while we are setting up. We tell them to go explore Vancouver.

My logistics coordinator let our day-of volunteers choose roles and no one chooses to show up at 8am on a Saturday, so please assign volunteer roles if you are ever recruiting.

The core team runs around sweating our fresh butts off because no day-of volunteers showed up that morning. And honey, I did not invite world-class speakers to fly into my event to make them wait while I move a table.


Continue Reading


The Best Way to Take a Mini-Vacation Right Now

Why We Shouldn't Make PlansFor the last two weeks of August, I tried to relax. Vancouver’s breezy summer is wonderful, and every island hotel in the vicinity is booked. So I settled for a vacation in the city. It rains nonstop in the fall, but in the summer, it’s perfect.

At first I was worried I’d end up watching Netflix if I didn’t plan activities but then I realized that summer is laid back, and events will unfold themselves with the right people.

I read that people with perfect lives don’t go on vacation because what a vacation is, is an escape from normal life, and if your normal life is great then you’d stay.

Now I realize: the kind of life I like is stressful. It’s making plans for tomorrow. Knowing what’s happening six months down the road but not planning it until the very last minute. It drives me nuts but it means I don’t have to plan.

And if I thought for a second that this kind of “normal” could last me years on end, then I would be batshit crazy.

People ask where I get my drive and motivation, and I say “discipline” but it’s deeper than thatI think we should all learn to manage our limited energy and attention and create lifestyles where we thrive.

We have a limited amount of energy everydaywe use so much energy when we work.

When we take a break, we are giving our minds a quick refresherthis is like a mini vacation. The time you sit at the piano, go to the gym, or jog around the neighbourhood, or do anything for yourself, is time for your mind and body to reset and return to equilibrium for the day.

During a lumohacks meeting, we are laughing at an inside joke:

“Excuse me,” a guy at a table across the room says. “Can you not laugh so loud when it’s unnecessary?”

“Okay,” I say. But it’s low and lasts five seconds.

“Sass master,” Marinah says.

Later, the same guy asks to borrow my laptop charger; I should’ve asked for $4 per minute (basically a green tea latte–once your minute is up, goodbye).

“Stop laughing so loud when it’s unecessary?” We laugh loudly at this.

And I think how important it is to laugh at ourselves especially when we are having a hard time.

Otherwise, we might get bogged down and forget what we love about what we do.

Continue Reading

Add a Comment

Can We Practice Smarter, Not Harder?

How to Practice Smarter, Not HarderI squatted the bar today.

A guy came up and presented a stool to me, and told me to pretend to sit on it when I squat.

Last week when I started feeling my muscles again, I was so grateful.

I can’t tell if my form is right and sometimes it feels like I might as well be casting spells with a rainstick. I watch lifting videos.

My friends will read this and tell me I could have asked them. But they would have to be there, and I guess I could say, “Am I doing this right? It feels wrong.”

Thinking back to the last time I had dedicated mentors, my music theory teachers said I could call anytime with questions. I never did call, but I liked having mentors who were so invested in my success.

Most of us don’t need to work harder; we are working hard already. Instead, we need to work smarter.

Practicing music is like going to the gym: the key is consistency and growing to love the process, and somewhere along the way, you will learn about yourself.


Continue Reading

One Comment

How to Get Stronger Fingers Today

How to Get Stronger FingersLearning an instrument isn’t easy, but it’s refreshing.

I don’t recall the exact moment when staying up to decode Chopsticks on the piano turned into an obsession with playing faster, stronger, louder. There is something magical about not knowing where you’ll end up.

This question comes from a reader who only learned to play with his right hand:

I have just started to learn how to play the piano by way of using a keyboard. I took an eight-week recreational piano course from April 1st to May 20th; we met on Fridays only. I now feel lost and frustrated, as my goal is to learn how to play by reading sheet music and by ear as well. I can only play with my right hand and I am trying to learn how to play well with the right, left, and then both hands. I want to learn how to play well enough to be a well-rounded piano/keyboard player, and to play gospel piano for my baptist church.

Now that I have my own keyboard at home, will you please tell me what I should be practicing in order to learn how to become a great and well-rounded, two-handed player that can play everything from Gospel to Rock & Roll?


Hi Greg,

One thing I tell all of my students: consistency is key! Even twenty minutes of practice, everyday, does wonders. Ten, if you’re pushing it.

We will tackle this from two angles: technique and ear training. At any point, a pianist should be excelling in both of these areas. Technique is about the quality of sound you’re producing and how practiced your fingers are. Ear training is about processing the music you hear and how well you’re able to play it back.

If you want to play others’ music, you’ll need to learn to read sheet music. There is no way around it other than practicing naming the notes (remember how you learned how to read English?). You can practice naming notes from both clefs on paper, or get an app that does that; here’s a quick guide.

During your practice session, you will want to warm up with finger exercises. Many people skip this and it’s one of the biggest roadblocks to stronger fingers.

Train your fingers to be able to play stronger and more evenly. When you do finger exercises, lift your fingers high and press to the bottom of the key, while keeping your wrists loose.

If one hand is significantly stronger than the other, you want to do two exercises focussing on the weaker hand for every one you do on the stronger hand. For example, your 4-5 fingers are likely the weakest on your non-dominant hand, so you might do two sets of those for every one on the dominant.

Continue Reading


8 Fast Classical Piano Pieces

8 Fast Classical Piano PiecesWe love the classics because they’re timeless.

Summer is a great time for fun and relaxation. Why not revisit the classics?

Maybe it’s time that I picked up Hanon again!

And redo my nails. If you’ve ever tried to play Liszt with long nails, it’s like you’ve got rulers taped to the ends of your fingers.

In Malaysia, Em and I got our nails done at a nice spa. I didn’t particularly know what to expect.

The lady starts cutting the skin around my nails with these tiny, surgical-like scissors. I thought, “Okay. It will make my nails look cleaner.”

Then my nails start bleeding and it hurts, so I ask her to stop.

“Are you scared?” she says.

I think about it. “Yes,” I say. If you’re drawing blood, you are venturing into surgery territory, and I’m pretty sure you don’t have an MDI spent too many hours training my fingers to let you play Operation on them.

Anyways, I inspect my nails when she’s done and she didn’t paint the sides of my nails. I ask why, and she says it looks nicer if you have small nails. Why did you cut the sides of my finger then (which made the nail wider)? I make her paint the sides.

Now my cuticles are uneven, but no one is touching them anymore. Some of the skin is still ripped.

Have you ever gotten your nails done?

8 Fast Classical Piano Pieces

Nonetheless, we love fast, impressive pieces, and these favour short nails.

My friend Matthew and I put together 8 fast, impressive classical piano pieces.

These are great for performances or advanced/long-term projects!

Continue Reading

Add a Comment

When You Want to Be a Trendsetter

Grace LamIt’s summer and I have wanderlust again. I’m sick of real life!

I wanted to see the National-Geographic authenticity of Asia, and that was what I got.

Our waiter at the Ritz started speaking German to my friend until he realized that I’d rather he refill our bowl of nuts. But I didn’t take many photos of the classy lounges, because they were too Westernized.

Westernized, my ass!

It’s Westernized everywhere. I am Westernized I insisted on organic breakfast cereal for the first few months.

But I’m concerned that I’m not interesting when I’m not travelling anymore. Last time I tried to tell a story about my team organizing a hackathon here, my editor cut it out.

My friends who are travelling in Asia, are asking where I stayed in Hong Kong. It was a Westernized condo with Western-sized bedrooms (not the typical closet-size in HK).

This is a ghetto building in Central — I took a photo because graffiti culture isn’t common in HK and I love it.

How to Live a Hollywood Movie-esque Life

What Travelling in Asia Does to You: Culture ShockI showed you all the ghetto Asian spaces I encountered (like Nat Geo, you know?) but there was a lot I didn’t share that was basically Western culture. I was oscillating between being homesick and being sick of Western culture ruining the authentic Asian experience.

Okay, I think I’m just missing travel. Here’s how to stay in-the-loop with pop culture when you’re outside the loop and continue to be a cool musician that everyone is envious of.

Continue Reading

Add a Comment