Category Archives: About writing/reading/playing music

Controlling dynamics in each hand independently

Some viewers have said, ” I have a problem that my left hand plays as loudly as my right hand. Could you please tell me how to control my left hand’s strength?”

Here’s one of my answers:

Bring your mom’s/your  kitchen scales next to your piano. Using your RH, press on the scales until it goes as far down as it can (maybe to 1kg or 1.5kg). Using your LH, press it down lightly…maybe to 300g. Now, at the piano, play each hand with the same amount of force and listen to how loud it sounds. To make a loud sound, you need to “push” the keys in FASTER. For softer sounds, you relax when pressing the keys. The trick is to do this at the same time in a different hand.

Then practise a simple exercise first, separate hands, then together eg. C D E F G F E D C, visualising RH pushing the keys further in than LH for EVERY NOTE. Most people can do the first note, then they forget the others. Play slowly and carefully, making every RH note much louder than LH. If you practise like this every day, you’ll soon learn how to control the tone in your hands independently.

Here’s another answer:
To train yourself to play varying dynamics, the kitchen scales will be the best aid 🙂
Sit at your piano, with the scales nearby (preferably at the same level as the keyboard) Put one hand on it as you would on the piano, then start putting varying pressure on it. Use that same degree of pressure/weight/strength on the piano and see how loud it sounds. Learn exactly how many grams you’d have to “push” to make a pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff. Then learn how to create crescendo and diminuendo while playing your fingers one after another – 1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1 (repeat), 1 3 5 3 1 3 5 3 1 (repeat) and in all kinds of patterns. Alternate just 2 fingers, accenting one and making the other softer. Then increase the number of fingers involved. Basically, you want to learn how to control each finger to produce whatever tone you need from it. 
Hanon technical exercises are good for this. They are repetitive and easy enough for you to concentrate on technique (without worrying about reading notes). Choose different dynamic patterns to practise. Eg. alternating loud and soft bars, choosing 3 dynamic levels for 3 consecutive bars (increasing then decreasing), accenting different notes of each group etc. You can use the exercises to improve your skill in articulation (legato, staccato, non-legato, slurs) as well.

English sheet music taken down

I deeply regret to have to inform you all that as of 5th August 2014, most of my sheet music for English songs have been removed due to copyright claims by the NMPA (National Music Publishers’ Association). I will still be making covers and tutorials, but only the MP3 files will be available for downloading. Sheets of other music (Kpop, Kdrama and games) are still up. And of course, I’ll keep sharing my thoughts, tips and music-related videos and anecdotes on Blog Posts!

So don’t stop dropping by, ok? 🙂 Your support and encouragement as always, are much appreciated!

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How to Simplify Arrangements – by ear

If you find any arrangement too difficult and complex for you to play smoothly, you can simplify it yourself. Here are some tips on how to do that:

1) Right Hand – only playing the melody notes in the right hand (that’s usually the top line of notes). Leave out any chord notes that you can’t read easily in time. You can add them in later when you’re better at it, if you want.

2) Left Hand – I always put chord symbols in my scores. That’s so that pianists (and guitarists or organists) can play the accompaniment that they want…without following mine.

You can play:
1. Just the single note shown in the chord (e.g. Cm – just play C note),

2. A block chord if you know the other notes ( Cm = C Eb G all at once)

3. Broken chords or arpeggios if you know how (search YouTube for “how to play arpeggios”)

3) Check out simple tutorials on YouTube for how to play the left hand accompaniment. It doesn’t need to be the song that you want to play. There aren’t that many left hand accompaniment patterns. You can learn to play them by ear 🙂

How to practise

Many viewers have asked me for advice on practising, especially how to play both hands together properly. Here’s one of my answers:

1) Firstly, don’t think that you always have to play both hands. Separate hands practice is good for learning what each hand does properly, before you try putting hands together 😛

2) To match your hands correctly, first write the counts down in the score between the 2 staves – 1+2+3+4+. Then draw lines vertically, connecting the notes where the hands play together. Now you’ll be able to keep track of where you need to play together and where each hand plays by itself. And most importantly, which notes need to be held longer while others go faster, between the counts 😛

3) Now practise very slowly, in small sections, even one bar at a time, until you can play the difficult part correctly 3 times. You want to learn the right finger and hand movements and which direction each hand moves (e.g. RH steps up, LH skips down)

4) When it moves smoothly and feels easy, go on to the next section. When the next section is polished, combine the 2 sections. Do this until you can play fluently and at a reasonable speed.

5) Don’t always start practising from the beginning of the piece. Start from the “problem areas”. Or one day, start from the 3rd page, or even the last page 🙂 This allows you to play those sections while your mind is still fresh.

Transcribing music – the simple way

Want to write some music down just for yourself, so you can play it confidently…and not forget half of it… But have no idea how to figure out the rhythm?
Here’s a quick way I use often during my students’ classes.

1) Convert the video to MP3, so you can do this offline. There are many good online converters, just Google them. (I don’t do this during class of course – this is when I transcribe at home)

2) Play the MP3 through a music app that allows you to set play speed. My Samsung music player can do that. It’s very useful!

3) Using earphones, sit at your piano/keyboard; listen to a short section of music, pause, find the melody notes on the piano. Just write down the note names on a piece of paper first. Use lower case alphabets (don’t put them too close together). Put a little dash/dot at the top of the letter to denote a higher octave.

4) Repeat until you’ve got one section written out, check for accuracy, then go on until the piece is finished. Label your sections Intro, Verse 1, Pre-chorus, Chorus, Verse 2, Chorus, Bridge, Verse 3, Chorus, Outro (where appropriate)

5) For the left hand, try to identify what the lowest note of the chords are in the music. Write that note in upper case alphabets above the melody note at which the chord enters. Very often, chords change in between melody notes, that’s why I suggested you don’t write the melody notes too close together.

6) Now play the parts together in single notes – just the melody notes and the bass line note. See how it sounds, make any corrections.

7) Lastly, if you know how to play block chords, broken chords or arpeggios, figure out the rest of the chord notes and play them in left hand. This is usually the hardest part of transcribing music – identifying the chords and arranging the accompaniment to suit the music. Your skill in this will develop as you play more and learn from other musicians. There are also tons of vids on YouTube you can learn from 🙂

8) When you’re good at this and want to make a nice score, download Musescore (it’s free and good), click Help and learn how to use it 🙂

All the best! And have fun!