Piano safari: remedy for sight reading difficulties

Happy Chinese New Year! In Chinese society we use an animal to represent each year. This year is the year of dog. And I take this opportunity to introduce you a piano method system that also use animals as concepts: piano safari.
Piano safari is an innovative and progressive piano method system. It consists of 3 levels covering from total beginner to around abrsm grade 3. I am impressed by their emphasis of the importance of “sound before symbol” pedagogy concept. This is reflected by the extensive use of pattern pieces since lesson one. Pattern pieces are those music with lots of repeated patterns and are learnt by rote. They are challenging yet much more musically mature. My students like them very much because pieces in low grades especial in pre-grade are too childish and dull. Pattern pieces help students to be focus on music itself, develop keyboard geography sense, hearing sense, musical sense, memory skill, and as a result sight reading skill indirectly and surprisingly.

Piano safari also includes pre-staff notation like other popular piano methods such as Alfred piano methods. It introduces black-keys only and white-keys only pieces progressively. And for 5-line staff reading, they use intervallic reading approach around treble G and bass F notes. Specific note identification is left in level 2. Moreover sight reading cards sets are available for each level.

Another impressing feature of piano safari is that they use animals to symbolize piano techniques, named animal techniques. I also use pattern pieces to cope with technical difficulties such as hand shape and hands together issue.  It is a big topic so let me discuss it in due course.

I start using piano safari since last summer. At first I heard this system in Facebook piano pedagogy discussion groups. Later I attended a piano pedagogy seminar last summer. The speaker just asked us if we had heard this method. I teach in Hong Kong but it is pity that so far this method is not available here. So I order books on their official webpage directly.

Piano safari method system is somehow unconventional when it compares with mainstream score reading-centered approach. I feel satisfied with this innovative method system. I teach in music centre and need to come across with transfer students frequently. Some are indeed sight reading dyslexia but most of them simply because they are used to play by ear. In low grade as the music is simple this kind of piano learning is fine. However, I find students under this kind of piano learning usually have very chaotic and weird sight reading mindset. So gradually they will struggle with learning new pieces from the score when the pieces get more complex. And some even do not care if they have played correct notes from the score. By this way students lose their patience and interest in piano playing very easily. I use this method system mainly as remedy for transfer students with sight reading difficulties so as to reset a more systematic sight reading mindset and hope they can regain their music interest.

Demonstration videos, teaching guides and more information can be found on piano safari official webpage https://pianosafari.com/

Copyright © 2018 Alice Ho — All Rights Reserved



Quotes: gift

With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow nor an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to Choose.

―Wayne Dyer

Quotes: Beethoven and Mozart


(If Beethoven gives us the courage to fight, then Mozart gives us the infinite confidence.)

―傅雷, <傅雷音樂講堂>內 《独一无二的艺术家莫扎特》(一九五六年莫扎特誕辰200週年文章)


Some thoughts on music notation

Last week in a piano lesson, I explained to one of my students that the direction of stem of music notes changes with their location in lines and space of music notation. She asked me why she should obey that rule. Aha, that’s a good question. When we learn the instrument, we must also learn how to read the score. We are asked to memorize pitch names, different type of note duration and other notation rules in 5-line staff music notation system. We just have to obey and memorize them hardly.

In these few years I come across with students with dyslexia. What we think simple tasks are actually difficult for them. Through teaching them piano I know more about the hidden design of music notation. For example, one of my student have spatial problem. She feels messy with right/left and up/down concepts. For example we read and play notes of the notation from left to right. And the pitches of piano gets higher also from left to right. When the notes go with piano the same direction, for example ascending scale, she can manage to play. But when the notes are presented not in the same direction as the piano, for example, a few ascending notes follows by descending notes,  she will get stuck. The situation even gets worse when both hands also need to play notes in different directions.

Hope this year I can spend more time to investigate more on this topic.

By the way, today is the first day of Chinese New Year. Wish you all stay healthy and happy in this rooster year 🙂 .

Copyright © 2017 Alice Ho — All Rights Reserved







Amy Beach: Scottish Legend, Op. 54, no. 1

Amy Beach: Scottish Legend, Op. 54, no. 1

When I learnt dotted rhythm around Grade 2 -3, I came across the dotted quaver. And most of the time the dotted quaver follows by a semiquaver and forms a rhythmic pattern like this:


I keep wondering why this pair of notes do not appear in retrograde, i.e. a semiquaver follows by a dotted quaver. Later I know that this pair of notes has a specific name: Scotch snap.


From Wiki, Scotch snap is a prominent feature of a kind of dance tune Strathspey. You can watch Strathspey in the following clip:


It is interesting to find a piano piece from upcoming ABRSM grade 7 piano exam syllabus with a “Scottish” title while composed by an American female composer Amy Beach. From the program note in the score (This is published as album At the Piano with Women Composers by Alfred.) it states that Scotch snap and the lowered-seventh scale step (C-natural in measures 8, 16 and 36) show Scottish influences.

This piece is full of chordal passages, whatever in the beautiful, expressive outer sections and animated middle section. This may be challenging for small hands but luckily the composer marked some fingering and altogether with editor’s pedal marking can help overcoming the problem. I only have around one-octave hand span for my right and left hand and enjoy playing this piece very much.

I search  Spotify and find some recordings of this piece. I like the following recording. This is performed by pianist Joanne Polk. She has recorded the complete piano works of American composer Amy Beach (1867–1944) on the Arabesque Recordings label. The following recording is from her first recording in the Amy Beach series, by the still waters, which received the 1998 INDIE award for best solo recording.



I also find this grandious transcription as symphonic band in Spotify. I always like this kind of transcription of piano solo piece into other orchestration. This gives a fresh perspective in enjoying the same musical work.

Postlude: I highly recommend you to obtain the original score from album At the Piano with Women Composers by Alfred. I find the score of Scottish Legend is available freely in imslp but no fingering is included. And the pedal marking by the editor is more precise in Alfred edition.  Moreover the album includes beautifully tunes from less known female composers. I especially like the final piece in the album: Nocturne in Bb major by Maria Szymanowska. This gives me lots of inspiration in playing Chopin’s music.

Copyright © 2016 Alice Ho — All Rights Reserved