Game for extending attention and memory span

This is an era of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Thanks the rise of smart phone, we like reading whatsapp messages and facebook, and even watching clips anytime and anywhere, such as crossing the road! And how about kids? Well, I find that they are more impulsive than us! I used to teach piano to early age students. But as I teach them over years, they gradually turn into teenagers. So I miss teaching early age students for certain years. Recently after the graduation of my old students, new generation of students starts. I start to teach several piano beginners. They are around 5-7 year old. They tend to get bored easily when doing some activities such as reading which are static and need higher degree of concentration. And the situation is worse than my old generation students.

Piano playing involve the integration of physical and mental coordination of our body. Some of my pre-grade students feel chaotic when they read two staves simultaneously.

Yesterday, during the piano lesson one of them teach me the following game:

The game starts with saying

"Yesterday I ate/drink ......"


This game involves at least two persons.

We take turns to say what we ate (or pretend to eat ūüôā ) yesterday, but each¬†one¬†have to repeat what all other say before adding your part.

There is a tricking rule that we need to involve quantifiers for what you’ve eaten. And the quantifier must start from one and grows cumulatively. Furthermore quantifiers serve as memory cues in this game.

The game runs like this :

Me: Yesterday I ate one bowl of rice.

Student: Yesterday I ate one bowl of rice and drink two bowls of soup.

Me: Yesterday I ate one bowl of rice, drink two bowls of soup and three bars of chocolate.


My little student said the quantifier reaches 20 when they play this game at school. I tried two rounds of this funny game to this little student. There are lots of fun and laughs when we imaginatively include some strange stuff within the game. Then she played score with two staves more easily than before the game.


Of course this funny game is not for you to do confession on what you really ate yesterday. Instead , I hope this can serve as dessert during piano lesson and extend students’ attention and memory span poco a poco.¬†Improved attention and memory span can in turn helps us memorizing music faster and more accurately. This game also can act as¬†preparation to the melody and rhythm memorization in ABRSM aural tests (for example aural test 4A-8A, and rhythm recall test at the end of aural test in Grade 4-7) . And the game can¬†even improve our sight reading indirectly.

Sight reading involves a process called “read ahead“. There is usually a time lag between we read the notes on the score and realize (play) the notes on the piano. The time lag depends on several factors such as how you are familiar with the piece, your musical understanding and playing technique, your familiarity with keyboard geography, and the difficulties of the piece you play. In order to compensate for the time lag we are trained to read a bit ahead¬†while we play. So overall we play the piece continuously and on time while we are reading the score.

Extended attention and memory span somehow expand our cache capacity of the brain. So we can process more information simultaneously and more fluently. In turn, this facilitates “read ahead” process in sight reading.

Hope you enjoy the game!
Copyright ¬© 2016 Alice Ho ‚ÄĒ All Rights Reserved


Problem of holding breath in piano playing

breathing source:

Usually I get extremely tired after piano practice, ¬†even though I just practise within¬†a short period of time. Moreover, I face difficulty in memorizing piano pieces. I am good at memorizing many things such as ¬†data, concepts, events and other daily stuff but except involving piano playing. I feel annoyed with¬†my situation but¬†so far I haven’t come across with people with similar case.

Traditionally piano pedagogists claim that¬†fatique in piano playing is deal to¬†improper posture and body movement during piano playing.¬†And¬†the pedagogists recommend¬†the use of visual, aural, kinetic memory, ¬†with the assistance ¬†of thorough music analysis, to improve music memory. I’ve tried the above remedies but there is¬†very little improvement for me.

In this year  I come across the sleeping disorder from my psychology self-study. Sleep apnea is a kind of sleeping disorder about stopping breath occasionally during the sleep.   The interruption of breathing during the sleep affect the sleeping quality greatly. So patients with sleep apnea feels very tired in daytime even they sleep quite a duration of time at night. I have heard some piano teachers about importance of breathing in piano playing but they often relate breathing to musical phrasing and expression. I start to think breathing in physiological way and wonder if my breathing during piano playing is related to my fatique.

Then I find two interesting webpages about breath holding. The first one says we may grow up with bad breathing habits and hold our breathing during daily life unconsciously.


I also get some hints from mindfulness meditation. The writer from the following link thinks breathing should be done unconsciously. He suggests we just focus on our nostrils to see if we hold the breath.


Afterwards I try to check my breathing while I play. I focus on my nostrils and find that I really hold my breath in some difficult passages such as quick passages of scale and arpeggios, and when I play in memory. I also find that I can play in memory better when I ensure I am breathing by focus on my nostrils.

These are just my tentative findings. Hope this can solve my problems. Please let me know if it works to you also.

Copyright ¬© 2015 Alice Ho ‚ÄĒ All Rights Reserved

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My Psychology Notes: Motivation

We all know that practice makes perfect. We have to spend lots of time and effort in piano practice in order¬†to master¬†piano playing. However practicing usually involves repetition. Repetition brings¬†bore easily. So¬†in reality we don’t like practicing. ¬†We don’t like bore so we don’t like practice also. In psychology, there are several approaches¬†to motivate¬†people. They are as follows:

Rewards as Reinforcement

We teachers like to give students verbal appraisal, stickers and candies to show our appreciation of students hardworking and achievement. Actually this approach has a¬†specific technical name, operant conditioning. The rationale of this approach is that reinforcement (rewards and punishments) can help to shape students’ behaviour (e.g. become more willing to practice).

Locus of Control

Young students like stickers and candies. But when they grow up, these kind of rewards are usually no longer attractive. So we have to find another way to motivate them.

Julian Bernard Rotter thought that besides the reinforcement, the locus of control also plays role when people want to do a certain behaviour.  Locus of control means how people feel they can control a situation affecting them. If people think they can have higher degree of control, they will engage more and are likely to do certain behaviour (Behavioral Potential). So it is a good idea to let students to be initial in the piano learning process. For example let them to choose the piano repertoire ( of course from a pool of piano repertoire with appropriate level) and design their own practice schedule.

Maslow’s triangle

Maslow’s triangle shows the hierarchy of needs. The toppest level of needs is about self-actualization. But here I am concerning the bottom parts–basic needs. Needs for food, drink and security are also important as they are the foundation of our life. So concern¬†students’ overall physical and mental state as well. If they do not feel well, let them have a rest.

Habits, Addiction and Brain System

When we talk about “habits” and “addiction”, we may think these two terms representing two entirely different concept.¬†For “addiction” we may associate something not so good, such as addicted to alcohol, cigarette, shopaholic, gambling or playing online games. But these two terms are all originated from our brain system.¬†In¬†The Power of Habit, Reporter¬†Charles Duhigg¬† reveal that based on neuroscience and psychology, habit is formed under the following pathway: cue–>routine–>reward. For example when we feel stressed¬†(cue), we may drink alcohol, take a cigarette or go shopping (action). Afterwards we feel released (reward). When we repeat this pathway and gradually this pathway will become our habit.

We may adjust this pathway to so as to encourage students to practise more. For example when they begin to feel bored during practice (cue), normally they will stop practising and do other things (action). Then they feel happy again (reward). This time when students get bored again in practice session, we teachers can provide some funny ways in practicing. For example we may record melodic line of music first. Then playback this recording while playing accompaniment on the piano.

Copyright ¬© 2015 Alice Ho ‚ÄĒ All Rights Reserved

My Psychology Notes: Primacy and Recency effect of Memory

I have been interested in observing human being for long time. Incidentally I started my self-study of psychology in my gap year since last winter. Psychology is a subject about studying cognition, emotion and behavior of human being. Categories of psychology include developmental psychology, personality, psychopathology, social psychology and cognitive psychology. Psychology also covers animals in Comparative psychology and ethology.

Memory is one of the topics I am interested in. Generally I think I have good memory in daily life. I can recognize faces easily. I can recall details from the books and other stuffs I have read before. I also have good biographical memory. But ironically¬†I don’t have a good music memory. So I feel headache each time when I need to perform with memory.

Memory¬†is a key topic in¬†cognitive psychology. What I am impressed is the concept about¬†how the serial-position playing roles in¬†our¬†memory. The psychologists find that we tend to recall the first and last items in a series best, while the middle part worst. They name this tendency as “Serial Position Effect”. Furthermore, researches reveal that we recall last items of a series better just¬†after the presentation as these items are still in our short term memory (recency effect). On the other hand we need more rehearsal to memorize the beginning items in order to convert them into our long term memory (primacy effect).

These findings give inspirations on how we can assist  music memorization, especially when I train my students to prepare for the aural test. In the aural test students are asked to sing back a short musical phrase played by the examiner.  My advice is to sing the phrase as soon as possible. When we wait we may forget the phrase easily. My another advice is that as the phrase is being played only twice in the aural test, in the first playing we may capture the general flow of the phrase and pay attention to those near the end of the phrase . Then in the second playing we can focus more on the beginning part of the phrase.

Copyright ¬© 2015 Alice Ho ‚ÄĒ All Rights Reserved

Background music & your shopping behaviour

How do you listen to music? MP3 players, youtube, spotify, or from traditional media like TV and radio. But do you know that we have many opportunities in listening to the music passively.

Last day was my day-off. I went to a shopping mall in Mongkok. It’s crowded with people. I went to a large global fashion brand store. Impulsive, rhythmic and energetic background music is broadcasted inside the store.
Then I went to a restaurant to have my lunch. Here the music is relax and much slower.

Do you have similar experience? When you pay attention to listen to, you will find that music is in everywhere.

Lots of researches are conducted to see how background music stimulate sale. They think impulsive music can drive your desire to buy more. I’m not sure if this is true. Perhaps next time when you do shopping, observe whether you are under the influence.


Copyright ¬© 2014 Alice Ho ‚ÄĒ All Rights Reserved