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Teach music

How to Make a Change

Making a Change

I wasn’t always a pescatarian. I’ve stopped eating meat for probably seven years now, for a slew of reasons. This is something I’m not very vocal about, but people catch on and ask the following questions, without fail:


“How long have you been vegetari–er–pescatarian?”

“Do you eat eggs?”

In the past year or so, I’ve noticed that people are less surprised at my alternative diet.

If you are trying to make a social change, here are a few things I’ve noticed.

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Teaching Music Doesn’t Mean You’re Stuck in a Classroom

Grace LamSometimes I’m sitting at the piano bench, playing a familiar piece, and I expect my dad to peek his head around the door.

“Was that you, playing?” He’d say, chuckling.

I want him to peek around the door when I’m playing, just one more time. So badly.

Maybe it’s cheesy, but it feels like no time has passed. I still play the pieces he printed, and I still remember. It feels like no time has passed.

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What You Need to Start Playing Piano

Starter Piano Kit for the BeginnerThe world of piano can be confusing. There are many options and not nearly enough time to research every one.

I get a lot of questions about the best equipment for beginner pianists. Throughout the years of teaching piano, I’ve done a lot of research and experimented with different tools.

Here are the must-have tools for beginner pianists:

  • A Piano
  • Piano Finger Exercise Book
  • Piano Method Book
  • A Practice Buddy
  • A Dedicated Piano Teacher

I discuss each item below. Please note that some links are affiliate links and I may receive a commission when someone purchases from the respective site.

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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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How technology ruins learning

How technology ruins learning in the music studioThese days, we use apps to learn intervals and the names of notes during the music lesson, and print books are published to educate teachers on how to teach with tablets.

I’ve produced a technology conference or two and I believe in learning.

But I don’t believe in technology in the classroom, and here’s why.

  1. We have it for the sake of having it.

Screens are distracting.

They take away from the student-mentor interaction, when staring downwards to set up that app, not to mention that it costs attention time. Is it really beneficial to spend twice the time setting up and teaching what pen-and-paper can do it perhaps half the time? Do you really want to replace real, tactile play, with fantasy graphics on a screen?

Edouard Gentaz, a professor at University of Geneva, adds that writing individual letters by hand significantly improves subsequent recall. I am a fan of his work if not only for the fact that he advocates for the feel of pen and paper.

When you teach and learn on paper, you have a record of your thoughts. It’s fast thinking. This is why most designers work on paper before drafting ideas on the computer – fail early and fail fast, to reach success sooner.

Pen and paper is tactile and there is value to writing.

What’s wrong with traditional one-on-one learning, without a screen in your hand and connectivity to the internet? Think about what that app is doing for you–does it improve the teaching process or is it just novel?

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Advice on Cultivating Good Relationships in a New Country

Advice on Cultivating Good RelationshipsLeaving the emergency room in a cab, everyone starts speaking.

“Who was there when you got cut?”

“What did they do?”

I describe the event for the sixth time.

After washing away the blood on my shoes, I texted those friends that I cut my foot on glass, as a courtesy. Because good friends have the right to know about my personal wellbeing, or lack thereof.

I never expected two guy friends to rush down the street offering to carry me, and I didn’t need a bashed forehead in addition to a stinging foot. One person ran into two different 7-11 stores for bandages, but they only carried beer and antiseptic cream.

As I tell the story in the cab, everyone gets angry at a specific guy who stood by when I got cut. I sit by, amused, while snide comments fly around. “Everything is fine now,” I say.

“I can’t believe it.”

“You guys are here,” I say. “There’s nothing to be upset about. Except my luck.”

At this point I’m so tired that I stop using my sensibilities, and I get my phone out to text the guy they’re discussing, and also my dad. It’s daytime in Canada and he’s at work.

“Wait, you cut your foot in the middle of the night?”

Advice on Cultivating Good Relationships

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