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



Touchweight, speed of depressing piano and dynamics

Do you find that some pianos seem easier to play and use less force to depress the keys? I find a article discuss about this phenomenon. The writer says it is all about touchweight and piano action.   He gives a very detailed explanation about this topic. Please have a look:


And this is further study of touchweight. We usually have the myth that we use different degree of force on pressing the piano keys to give dynamic change. However, from Thomas Mak’s Alexander Technique book What Every Pianist Needs to Know About the Body, he says  “The very important thing that the pianist needs to know is that it is not the pressure applied to the keys that determines the volume of the sound, but the speed with which they are depressed. This may be surprising to some pianists, but it is the truth.”

This idea is odd and abstract. So at first I would ask my students just use their hands knocking  at the piano cover or any wooden surface. Knock slowly and accelerate the speed gradually. Let them listen to the change of volume of knocking sound with the change of knocking speed. Only after they can manage it we move to piano playing. This time we play only on one piano key, also starting from very slow finger action and accelerate.



Mark, Thomas C, Roberta Gary, Thom Miles, and Barbara Conable. What Every Pianist Needs to Know About the Body: A Manual for Players of Keyboard Instruments : Piano, Organ, Digital Keyboard, Harpsichord, Clavichord. Chicago: GIA Publications, 2003.


Copyright © 2016 Alice Ho — All Rights Reserved








Problem of holding breath in piano playing

breathing source: https://pixabay.com/zh/%E5%A5%B3%E5%AD%90-%E5%B9%B8%E7%A6%8F-%E6%97%A5%E5%87%BA-%E4%BE%A7%E5%BD%B1-%E8%BF%9E%E8%A1%A3%E8%A3%99-%E6%B5%B7%E6%BB%A9-%E8%87%AA%E7%94%B1-%E5%91%BC%E5%90%B8-%E6%AC%A2%E4%B9%90-570883/

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 — All Rights Reserved

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