Piano lessons with Anne Ku

Before I studied at the conservatory, I taught piano the way I've been taught. "It works so why change it," I had thought.

Now that I've taken courses on piano methodology, technique, history, and literature, I have adopted a different point of view. There is a plethora of piano teaching books out there, many different approaches, which means that the way I was taught might not have been the best or be suitable for someone else. I have gone from teacher-centred approach to student-centred.

Every student is different.

Or rather, every student is unique. Take the beginner beginner. She knows nothing about the piano. Where do you start? How do you get her comfortable at the piano? How do you build confidence? What if her legs are too short to reach the ground? How do you get her to identify middle C?

Take the student who has learned another instrument. He knows how to read notes but doesn't know where they are on the piano. His other instrument may help or hinder him, depending on how fast you take him through the lessons.

Take the adult student who, despite the responsibilities of a full-time job and family, has committed to taking piano lessons. Adult students have longer attention spans and reason well. But their hands and fingers are not as pliable as their younger equivalents, and they may easily ache from straining or sitting wrongly.

How do I teach sight reading?

Why do people accept that many pianist cannot sight read (play the right notes upon reading the score for the first time) yet can read letters and newspapers?

I use pattern recognition and relative association to get students to learn to read notes. Before they play a piece, I ask them to find out how to simplify the piece --- that is, reduce the piece to its simplest components. He may identify that there are only three notes in the right hand and that the left hand repeats itself after two bars. This builds confidence in the student, a key part of sight reading. I also stop the student during a piece and ask him to start somewhere else. This prevents them from merely recalling the piece and not really reading the piece. I like to introduce new music not in their books.

How do I teach rhythm?

Kids these days grow up to the 4/4 beat of pop music. Not surprisingly anything other than a symmetrical or even beat is difficult. A simple waltz, for example, is counted as 1, 2, 3, uh. 1, 2, 3, uh. How do you get them to drop the "uh" and count to a real 3/4 time?

I use duets for this purpose, for after all, rhythm is what keeps a duet, a duo, or any chamber music group together.

There is so much to digest in one go that sometimes it's good to just focus on one thing at a time, e.g. the rhythm. Get them to clap to the beat, dance to the waltz. Or prescribe only pieces in triple meter for awhile.

Variety is the spice of life.

Learning to play piano is about learning to press the right keys to produce the sound you want. I consider it equally important to read music and play it, to hear the music and play it (play by ear), to improvise (produce new music on the keys), to memorise (play from memory), and less important, to be able to compose and transpose (play the same passage in another key). Playing the piano is multi-tasking --- you have to get the rhythm and tempo right while playing and reading the notes. When you're just starting, you also need to make sure your posture is right.

How do you get everything right? Variety. If you only play music from a single era or written by a single composer, you would not learn enough. The love of novelty and my own curiosity and impatience at learning something new led me to develop my sight reading abilities.

No method book is complete without supplements. I complement my students' repertoire with exercises and arrangements I make for that student. I also like to compose for them.

The importance of performance

Twice a year I schedule a piano recital for my students who are also invited to play at house concerts and other events I organise. These performances are important for them to overcome stage fright as well as to have a goal to reach. They often break thorough a difficult milestone as a result.

Where do I teach?

I normally always teach from home. I have an 188 cm New York Steinway Grand from 1909 which has been carefully restored. I live within cycling distance of the central train station and five different busses stop by here. There's also free parking in front of the house. Some students find it more convenient to take lessons from me at the conservatory nearby.

Which languages do I use to teach piano?

My mother tongue is Mandarin Chinese though my English is that of a native speaker, having been educated in English since age 7. As I live in the Netherlands, I also teach in Dutch. More about me.

Anne Ku Contact: pianoles AT pianoguitar DOT com

Additional reading: On Music Education by Anne Ku


Compositions for piano by Anne Ku

Merry Go Round (for piano solo, piano and oboe or other instrument) - beginner

Opus 13 extract (piano solo) - intermediate LISTEN

Adieu to a Piano extract (piano solo) - advanced LISTEN

Three on One (6 hands, one piano) - advanced

Squeezing 8 Hands on One Piano (5 players, one piano) - intermediate


Arrangements for harp by Anne Ku

Jasmine Flower (for harp solo)

Flower Drum Song (for harp solo)

My piano learning history

When I was 8, my parents bought a brand new Yamaha console in Okinawa Japan so that my six year old sister, my mother, and I could begin taking piano lessons. We began our lessons at the same time, from Mrs Yu, now Ms Shimasato. She was the wife of a colleague of my father. I began with Beyer and Hanon, later Czerny. It was a typical Japanese approach.

My mother progressed most rapidly. I could barely speak English let alone Japanese. However, I could write Chinese. And that was how my Japanese teacher and I communicated --- through a mixture of Chinese characters (kanji) and nonverbal movements. My poor sister had to stop after several lessons because she couldn't understand.

My first public performance was playing at our neighbourhood Christmas party at age 10.5. I merely sightread Christmas carols for everyone to sing to and also extras as background music.

Just before or just after that, if my memory serves me correctly, I went to study under Miss Aurora Ventura at the Camp Kuwae Music Academy. This was a private music school organised by Professor Panganiban, who eventually became my teacher. The Filipino teachers there had full schedules.

I consider my music career starting around age 12 when I was asked to be a page turner for my school choir. The following year I became the choir accompanist.

My teenage years were filled with music-related activities in high school, such as keyboard player in stage band, accompanist of concert choir and stage choir, bell player in concert band, and pianist in various talent shows. So frequent were my piano playing that I became the defacto pianist --- if you needed a pianist or accompanist, just ask Anne.

Outside of school, I was busy with accompanying church choirs and giving private piano lessons at home. After a season with the Okinawa Choral Society, an adult choral production, in which I was the youngest member, I began to play for local church services. This eventually grew to five regular services a week plus choir rehearsals during the week. Christmas and Easter saw additional services. The position of chief organist of several churches meant that people looking for an organist for a private service such as a wedding or funeral must ask me first. In effect, I had a monopoly on music.

My piano lessons taken during high school ended with the American teacher Mrs Betsy Hermann, who lived an hour's drive away. She taught me music theory, which led me to compose my own pieces.

When my friend Christina graduated and left the island, I inherited her piano students. I counted 20 students I've taught in my teenage years.

Once I arrived at Duke University in the USA, I decided to continue taking piano lessons, though the tuition fee was outside of my full scholarship. My teacher Mr Randall Love challenged me with a larger repertoire than I was used to. In my freshman year, I was rehearsal accompanist for the musical production "Music Man." I played the piano part of Messiaen, Piston, and Schubert senior flute recital. In my senior year, I gave a solo piano recital comprising of Ravel's Sonatine, Debussy's Estampes and L'isle Joyeuse, followed by Poulenc's piano duet with my classmate David Scotchie who gave the first half of our joint programme.

For a greater part of my adult life, I played piano for fun. I composed because I needed to. I resumed taking piano lessons once I enrolled at conservatory for composition studies.

Thanks a Million from my piano student in Singapore - first student in residence - one week in June 2006

RECITALS of my students in Utrecht:
Voorspeelochtend (4 page pdf), 10 December 2006 Utrecht - a beautiful morning for 25 people, including 7 performers, homemade muffins, pound cake, and Dutch apple pie.

Second piano recital: 10 June 2007 - live recordings; 26 people with contributions of apple pie, quiche, and cookies

Interesting links

Worlds of music conference - how to teach students in a multi-cultural environment

Forthcoming links and articles

Parent's role in children's music education

Teaching sightreading - one page abstract of Bachelor Diploma in piano teaching: On sightreading, by Anne Ku 2008

Books reviewed:

Music & Dyslexia, Opening New Doors - edited by T.R. Miles & John Westcombe

The Well-Tempered Mind: Using Music to Help Children Listen and Learn by Peter Perret and Janet Fox