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.


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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.

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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!

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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.

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An Open Letter to Dads Who Are Confused (and Anyone Who Needs More Love)

I want to give a big hug to all the brave dads out there.

The love and care and effort you put in will be appreciated, and will be rewarding one day, even if you don’t see it right now.

Your kid hasn’t been alive as long as you have, and there might come a time when you guys don’t see things the same way for a long time. Maybe ever again.

But that’s okay – that’s the beauty of humanity. We think differently and lead immensely diverse lives. It would be boring if your kid was just a photocopy of someone else.

I discovered that I had become too busy to make my dad feel appreciated.

I assumed he’d always be there, right as the next opportunity would vanish in an instant. School, work, trips. You know what? It’s really the other way around.

My dad had more faith in me than I ever did. He told me to take my time, and figure out what I wanted to do. I told him I was sick of staying in one place. He told me I’d find my way once I set my mind to it, as long as I am 100% committed (this is much more credit than I gave myself). He was more focused than I could ever hope to be.

So a shoutout to all you awesome dads out there who know what’s best for your kid(s) as they’re navigating this confusing world, and who pick your kids up wherever they are. There will be a time in the future when they look back and think, ah, Daddy was right.

And, Dads with daughters are extra resilient! I know how girls can drive you nuts. My dad watched me grow wild with wanderlust. He was patient. I am the wild one in the family, after all.

Whether you’re a dad or a mom or a daughter, today, I encourage you to flip the tables–let someone know you appreciate them by doing something kind for them. It can be something as simple as writing a card or introducing them to a new friend or a phone call.

You will feel so good knowing you’ve made someone’s day. Get love by giving love.

Your relationships will become stronger and more meaningful. In fact, I encourage you to go out of your way to do one kind gesture for someone every month.

The fact that it’s not an occasion means you’re thinking of them out of the blue, making it that much more special. By the end of the year, you’ll have 12 stronger, closer relationships. We don’t know how much longer any of us will be here, so the least we can do is make others feel appreciated.

Have an amazing day!


9 Oceanside Piano Pieces

9 Oceanside Piano Pieces“Let’s go to the beach today!” I say.

My sister and I find a soccer ball at the beach and it was the most interesting thing since ice cream. It was tiny and pink and I was kicking it around barefoot.

As it gets dark, we lay on a log and spotted the brightest stars and wondered who or what was up there.

When you look back, the small things will become most significant. Beach trip on a whim, counting stars with your favourite people, singing Christmas carols at the top of your lungs.

It doesn’t hurt to kick back and relax. I’ve planned nights-out and ice cream runs, but the best evening of my summer so far was this beach trip on a whim with my sister and mother.

Be spontaneous. Dance like you’ve got no shoes on.

Here are 9 Oceanside piano pieces to remind you what it feels like to be dancing by the ocean, with your shoes off. (Or, just playing soccer.)

A big high-five to Matthew for collecting these beautifully modern piano pieces!

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The Pursuit of (Experimental) Happiness

Where I’m ’bout to go, the lights all glow
And there’s no rejection, all I see is hope
My promised land

Promised Land, by OMI

Everyone is preparing for the conventional sense of better. Starting new companies, writing the MCAT, LSAT, enrolling kids in genius-baby programs at a year old, working that new startup from the basement.

I’ve renamed it the great Canadian Dream. For the Promised Land.

There is a lot of pressure to move on, keep moving, moving, moving. My friends have always been go-getters, but I reckon that I only feel pressured now because I was truly wandering for four months of travel.

Here are a few changes I’m making these days. I’m calling this Experimental Happiness, because, frankly, I know I want to be happy but I don’t know how to turn my journey into one laced with such yet.

The Pursuit of (Experimental) Happiness
You’re not meant to please everyone.

I run into former music students once in awhile; I have nothing but fond memories of them, and we say hi and I notice how I can’t armpit-hug them anymore.

There were ways I could’ve been a better teacher and business person–but those are details. The reality is, I was the best teacher I could’ve been at that moment, given the time and resources.

You know what, though? People remember how you made them feel, rather than what you did. It made my day when a student started singing to their performance pieces. I loved that my students were so comfortable with me.

Perhaps people will never know you spent the night pacing the floor contemplating minuscule details―the way you prep a lesson, whether your eyelashes are glued on for dinner, does it matter? Years and years down the road, they will remember the care and love you put in for them and how you made them feel.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. If they’re not pleased by your efforts, then they’re not meant to be pleased.

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