How to be remembered

You probably know a song that makes you think of someone sweet or important in your life. Unless you’re tone deaf. But, if you’re tone deaf, then you wouldn’t be reading a music blog.

Well, except my dad. He was probably tone deaf, and he still read my blog.

My dad had helped plant a tree beside my grandma’s house when he was in his teens, and in recent years, it had grown taller than the house itself and the leaves had gotten a little unruly.

The last time I went to my grandma’s house, the tree was gone. It was chopped into tiny logs to heat my cousin’s house. It’s an important task, and I got to stay in her basement without freezing, because of the mighty tree.

It doesn’t affect me as much as a piece of music that would remind me of my dad.

The other day, I wanted to learn a song that my dad used to like, but after listening to it on the piano, I sat there and simply couldn’t play piano at all.

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Thank you for an amazing 2018.

Grace Lam

It’s customary to say “the year has been a [insert object that goes up and down, like rollercoaster]”.

Well, son, I don’t want to say it, but… the year has been like hormones. 

For me, there was the highest of highs, I felt like I was flying, when my dreams were coming true. It also brought me to the pits of the earth–I sunk so far down into myself that I turned inside out.

Slowly but surely, I saw more parts of the world than my little heart could handle, and I craved the mountains and oceans surrounding home again.

This year, I was good at pushing myself out of my box. I might’ve said that last year too, but this year, I went farther than I thought I would and could.

I started the year by writing about how I was moving for a job in the USA. I actually accepted the offer in Oct 2017, and now it’s Dec 2018, but honestly, I didn’t think many people would care about what went on in my life.

Then I got some encouraging comments and messages from Artiden, which led me to open up further.

I chopped off most of my hair and started paying more attention to myself. If I can only spend 90% of my days doing what I love, I’m intending to maximize this time.

My travels took me back to Asia, and Europe. I stumbled upon many curious events.

For example, I was in South Korea when they declared “peace” with North Korea (couldn’t see anything at the border besides fog). I was in Paris when they won the World Cup (man, they didn’t stop screaming until 5am everyday on the streets). I was in London when the entire city marched to protest against Trump (I was careful to display my Canadian tag on my backpack so I wouldn’t get punched “by accident”).

The time I almost went deaf. It was terrifying to see how poorly I function when deaf in one ear. I couldn’t even walk without tripping.

In a moment of bravery, I admitted to hundreds of thousands of people online, on Artiden, things that I only told two of my close friends. Things even my mother only found out last month. I thought it would be of help to someone out there.

All my Artiden friends were so supportive, and I’m so lucky to have found such an amazing group.

People have asked me to teach piano online, so out of curiosity, I picked a few students to teach over the internet. Would it work this time? I’d tried teaching online piano lessons four years ago when the lag and video quality were garbage.

But sometimes I forget that technology improves exponentially every few months. The video quality is really good.

I get to teach music students in different timezones so the schedules always work out, and the students get to return to their own lives right after the lesson, no driving in the rain nor waiting!

Bob (an Artiden community friendo) and Pan are two of the first people who asked me to teach, so thank you!

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What happens when you set a “solid” music goal

Grace Lam Piano

Armed with new sheet music, I told myself I’d learn jazz everyday up until Christmas.

I sat down to film my progress, good or cringe-worthy, and worked at it for an hour or two everyday—jazz is a whole new ballgame if you’re a classical musician.

I know that we’ve talked about not having goals because that highlights all the things we don’t have… but I’m convinced that setting a solid goal will serve you really, really well.

A solid goal is simple enough that you can name the outcome in one sentence and there are checkboxes for the achievement. It’s small enough to break down for something you can do everyday—it only takes 66 days to create a habit and consistency wins!

Instead of “I want to be a better jazz pianist,” it could be:

“I want to learn to play jazz piano music so that I can swing and groove with the beat.”

All I needed to do was play piano everyday and learn jazz this winter.

Here is a collection of me playing piano. I’m really happy about some of these, and I hope you are too!

The First Noel

It’s challenging to improvise in public, where you’re actively disturbing Sunday morning coffee drinkers. A lot of this piece is improvised, so let me know what you think!

Thank you to Monika Szucs for filming and editing the video!

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Revive your music: Finding lost arts

Lost Arts in Music

When I took my first design classes in university, we were taught to use pen and paper to sketch pages and pages of… stuff.

I’ve drawn boxes, circles, squiggles, unicorns, if you name it, I’ve probably attempted it. (I also love to draw in my free time. In fact, for a while, I drew comics for this blog!)

In an industrial design class, the professor had told us to bring markers for sketching. Industrial design, in case you didn’t know, has to do with making physical objects, so it really is a sketch-heavy class.

I forget the markers, and all I had in my pencil case was a black sharpie and a purple highlighter.

He wanted to do a visual inspection of our sketches, so I have to hand something in, even if it’s chicken scratch. I shrug and use the sharpie to outline and purple highlighter to shade. It comes out bright, like my style. 

Eventually, the professor comes around to my table and collects the sketches. 

“Sketching on paper is really a lost art,” he says. “Everyone’s moving towards digital.”

He flips through the sketches and when he gets to mine, he says, “Some of you guys are going to be fine sketch artists by the end. I can already tell.”

I kept using highlighters to sketch for the class, and to this day, I still use highlighters to sketch. I shall use highlighters until the end of time. 

I never learned how to draw hands properly, so last week, I sat down and drew hands for a few hours.

Recently, I have been going back to basics, back to the lost arts.

I went back to my very first digital piano, a Casio, and dusted off the clumps of dust bunnies and moved it upstairs. The piano has basic weighted keys and a variety of sound effects on it, so you could play the glockenspiel or xylophone if you’re bored of piano.

I wanted to jam with myself. I wanted to play different parts of a piece of music, by myself. Is that sad? I’m not sad, you are!

I loved playing with the different instrument sounds when I first got the piano.

On the first day, it hurt my back to sit at a non-piano bench. All the Alexander technique exercises went out the window. The desk was too high for a piano and my back felt broken-stiff.

In the evening, my sister sat on the chair and said, “You want it higher?” Her hand clutches the lever under the seat and SWISH the chair is 20cm taller. 

To the children and adults in the room, I’ve fiddled with the chair and it didn’t budge, but I also have a history of breaking chairs, so thank you for judging me.

I try to play on the digital piano again on the second day, and I get some useable footage.

But alas! It turns out if one part of music is 0.3 seconds off, it ruins the entire piece. For example, if you’re trying to record the left hand and right hand of a piano piece separately, they likely won’t line up exactly when you match them up. 

On the third day, I re-shoot some clips to play using both hands together.

Eventually I figure out why people wear headphones when they’re recording music: They’re listening to the other parts of the music so they can combine the parts perfectly later. DUH. It’s really useful.

I spend half a day editing (by the time I’m done editing, I’m ready to vomit sugar plums). I’m aware that some of the squares are jiggly and don’t line up, but hey, I don’t really work at pixar.

Here is what I came up with, for the Sugar Plum Fairy!

I used the audio straight from my camera (aka iphone). Are you supposed to do that? I wanted to process the audio using Audition (which thankfully I know how to use), but I would’ve had trouble syncing it with the video again.

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Christmas Music: Piano Solos I’m working on

Christmas Jazz & Piano Solos I'm working on

Holidays are right around the corner! I’m going to talk about some of the music I’m playing right now. If you come to this month’s online Music Hangout, you’ll probably hear me play some of these pieces.

To spice up my music when I’m playing Christmas music, I’m trying to use more jazz improv techniques.

Some of these techniques, like pedal tones, are simple to grasp. 

A pedal tone means continuing to play one chord’s tonic in the bass note of the left hand, regardless of what changes in the right hand, to create a suspenseful feeling in the music.

For example, the tonic for G major is G, so the left bass would play a G, and the right hand melody could shift to D major/A major/anything, but the left hand lowest bass would still be the single G.

Simple? Then you’d add an interesting rhythm to the bass G while maintaining the melody. Think of the pedal point as some double bass player.

Kent Hewitt has clear explanations on basic jazz techniques, if you’re interested

Local stores don’t have the print music that I want, and online stores wouldn’t deliver in time for Christmas. I want the good stuff. Creative, novel versions of classics, the likes of Mark Hayes or Craig Curry.

Hello brick bookstores aka Tom Lee/Long & Mcquade/Chapters, this is why people are going to Amazon! I couldn’t even find digital versions of those books. I’ve looked, for 4 days.

Pan likes to tell me, “You can have results or excuses. Not both.”

“Is that Arnold?” I say. Arnold Schwarzenegger is Pan’s favourite person in the world.

“Yes.”

I kept looking for a few days, and ended up finding interesting music by composers I’d never heard of, like Kent Hewitt. The catch is, his music is pure jazz. All the chords are suss’d or 10th’d or flat’d.

That’s why I’m now off to learn some jazz chords, to try to play some presentable jazz by Saturday. I can have excuses or results, right?

Here’s what I’m working on…

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Let’s Chat about Music! December Music Hangout

The hangout is back again! Let’s chat about music.

Dec 16 2018 Update: We talked about Music performance during this hangout! The actual hangout starts around 13:00 as I signed on early in case people got a blank screen when they came on.


  • Tips for giving a smooth music performance. What to do before, during, and after a performance. What happens when you run out of time for prep! And also, what happens when you mess up – 14:40
  • Closed Lid Technique / Mental Practice – 15:38
  • Christmas music playing! – 29:59
  • Christmas song
  • White Christmas
  • Rachmaninoff – Italian Polka (this is NOT Christmas but I played it for fun)
  • Rudolph the red nosed reindeer
  • Christmas Time

It’s a free, live online hangout with other musicians or enthusiasts in the Artiden community! It will happen on Sat Dec 15th 2018, at 11am PST.

Making Impact

You can send me music / non-music questions in advance by leaving a comment or email or sending me a message on Instagram. I would love to hear your questions about technique or learning new music! Other questions are welcome too.

During the hangout, I’ll answer some of these questions, share some of my music, then answer live community questions near the end.

Special thanks to Pan for being so cool and showing up to every hangout so far. Then becoming a moderator. What a champ!

Lastly, question for you: do you prefer the hangouts to be on Youtube, or Instagram, or some other place (like Facebook)?

I want to try doing the next hangout on Instagram because some people have told me that they don’t have a Youtube account. But the question is… who has Instagram then?

Leave me a comment below, or send me a message on instagram.

The next hangout is on Sat Dec 15th 2018, 11am PST.

You will need a Youtube / Google account to join the chat in the hangout, but anyone can watch the hangout as it happens.

The photo above was me from 2016, taken by Tracy Moromisato

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I started teaching online piano lessons.

What are online piano lessons like?

I did not teach online piano lessons for a long time because they didn’t work. I’d tried a few lessons, and I couldn’t hear the students’ playing sometimes. I was way too OCD to miss even one note. 

This was four years ago, and recently a few people urged me to try it again.

So, I did. I accepted some online piano students. I kept thinking though, how am I going to see the sheet music if I’m not beside the student? What if there’s a lot of lag again?

In preparation, I did things that no one would ever want to do.

I dropped my laptop on my piano keys.

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