Archives for category: Music

As I explained here, the basic idea of this book is to help young piano beginners (aged 4 to 6) to explore ‘sound’ through singing, listening, decoding, writing, etc.  I thought I’d share one example way of using this booklet in the lessons.

s_Creature Booklet

I took a minimalist approach for the layout of this booklet so that the learners can focus on the important information that requires their full attention.  And also this gives teachers and students some room to experiment/explore elements that make music ‘musical’, such as dynamics, articulation, tempo, phrasing, creative thinking, etc.

Page 2-3

The original idea on these two pages has been explored in a form of puzzle game, which I DIY’d.  Using two of 45cm x 45cm Velcro boards, I stuck the cutout images of these creatures, black-key houses and other features.  A teachers can ‘mess up the order’ so that a student can put them in the right order.  Multi-sensory approach such as this can help learning much more meaningful. To facilitate the memorisation of the order, I associate the images with a story, for example:

Two Black-Key House
1. Who sleeps in the kennel? A dog!

2. Elephant loves eating tree leaves, so let it sit by the tree.
3. Cats and dogs often hate each other but in this house, they’re best friends!  So, they sit  next to each other.

Three Black-Key House
1. Which ones are hopping creatures? Frog and grasshopper!

2. Frog loves swimming in the pond, so it sits by the pond.
3. Bee collects nectar for honey from the flowers, so he stays next to the flowers.
4. The smallest creatures sit inside the three black-key house.  Ant and grasshopper sits next to each other.

Creature Puzzle Board_small

As a follow-up reinforcement, I often use flashcards with images, so that the learners gradually get used to identifying a single (white) key name on the piano with the letter name. Here’re some examples:

Creature Puzzle Flashcard_small

Repeated reinforcement via visual and verbal involvement is quite important for young learners. This game exercises their brain efficiently and they usually memorise all the white key names in a couple of lessons and they can identify a single white key name on the piano without counting up from A to G!

This is one example of showing what’s provided in a couple of pages in the book (or any tutor book!) is often not enough and it usually requires supplemental work to get the most benefit.  Hence, teachers would need to use their imagination to help their young students internalise what they have just learned.

Page 8
Keyboard orientation & rhythm practice by singing rhythmic syllables. Although the fingering is suggested, it can be other finger such as 3. Notes can be played any part across the keyboard; have students decide which part of the keyboard they want to play on.  Encourage students to sing rhythmic syllables (green line: long, yellow line: short), not the creature names. Processing the images, Moving fingers, singing rhythms is a multi-tasking experience, which is a very much needed coordination skill for piano playing! Always draw students attention to a steady pulse as they sing and play.

Teacher can play the first bar followed by the student playing the second bar to see if they can keep a steady pulse throughout.  Or teacher can play a simple accompaniment to go with the meloly to help the student establish a steady pulse.  Be creative!

Creature Booklet page8_small

Page 14
Note writing. Regular practice of transcribing rhythmic notation is a good way of having the learners aware of a note value that is attached to each note.  Also it’s a good way of getting used to ‘seeing’ and ‘knowing’ the meaning of the notes before students start learning to read musical notation later on. As shown on this page, above each creature you see a note, of which value is set according to the rhythmic syllable line (long or short) written under each creature. From this page onwards, ask the student to write rhythmic notation above each creature as a regular writing practice.

Page 16
. When the learners are getting comfortable with singing and playing from the creature notation, it’s a good time to introduce another element of music, dynamics. Start with simple two contrasting loudness: forte (loud) and piano (soft or quiet). On this page shows the two identical melodic patterns. Ask to suggest a way to make an echo effect, etc.  It may be a good time to explain why we call this keyboard instrument ‘piano’!  For those who doesn’t know, try googling ‘Cristofori’s pianoforte’.

Creature Booklet page16_small

Page 21
Articulation & melodic shape recognition
. When the learners get used to singing and playing creature notation, it’s time to start introducing another element of music; articulation (slur and staccato), which can add a flavour to the sound. Slur can be explained as ‘walky’ and staccato as ‘jumpy’. Teach how to write slur and staccato sign over or under the notes.

Creature Booklet page21_smallSome pages can be played as one piece, a good example is page 20 & 21. Melodic shapes are very similar. Ask students to see if they can spot the difference and explain how different.  Using colour pencils to mark each shape as a reminder is another good idea:


Page 22
Composition/improvisation. When the learners feel comfortable learning pieces from this book, try encouraging them to create something or their own; perhaps in a ‘call & response’ style, or in a duet setting playing a counter-melody, etc. I’d like to share one example that occurred during the lesson with one of my 6 year-old students, although I didn’t’ intentionally set out to experiment with composing/improvisation!:

ne of my 6 year old students wanted to write her own song using creature notation, so I gave her cut-out creatures so that she can paste them on a A4 paper to create her song. The only rule I gave her was ‘not to use all the creatures, just 2 or 3 to make a simple tune’. Here is what she came up with:

6yo's tune_small

And I played an accompaniment to her song like this:

accompaniment example_6yo's tune

As we played together the melody shown below, my 6 year-old student couldn’t keep the pulse, so we practised tapping the pulse as we sang the melody, then asked her to tap the beat on a single note as I played the melody. As we continued doing so, she started to responding to my playing, and than playing a counter melody to it; B– B– | CBC– |. By then she established a steady pulse in her playing. This can idea can be extended to composition exercise within a frame set by the teacher.

Creature Booklet page22_small

Introducing notes on the standard stave
With most of my students, I introduce note writing exercises as soon as they are exercised to recognise line/space notes and can understand basic rhythmic values (short & long) and . Notes are written on a single stave without a clef just to practise writing space notes and line notes, including ledge line notes so that they understand how the notes can move up and down on the stave. I wrote a blog post about it some time ago if you’re interested in reading.

By the time they get to half way through the Creature Booklet, they’re ready to start doing some transcribing exercises:

Creature Booklet transcription example_small

Having done a few exercises like this, my students could transcribe their own creature-notated songs into standard notation.

Have fun with creatures on the keys and always look out for what the student is captivated by on the moment and turn it into some creative activities. Be intuitive and spontaneous!



My fascination with Morse code rhythm has started ever since I heard Barrington Pheulong‘s Inspector Morse theme tune. When I discovered that I could use Morse code rhythms to explain some hard-to-explain rhythmic patterns in music to my students in a direct way so that they can get the feel of how the rhythms should go rather than understand them mathematically.  Motivated by that fact, I started writing short rhythmic tunes using Morse code style notation, and they became very popular amongst my young students.  Because they only need to know two rhythmic syllables (dah and di) to play syncopated rhythm tunes without needing to read standard musical notation.  In my piano studio, these Morse code tunes have become a cornerstone of the rhythmic and aural exercises to improve overall piano playing skills. They’re turning out to be very useful for working on articulations, effective dynamic shaping, ear-eye-hand coordination, attentive listening, and learning about tonalities and metres, etc.

There’re 27 tunes (plus a bonus tune) and are of varying length from 4 to 14 bars. They are repetitive so that players learn about the usefulness of repeated short musical ideas in music. The ideas in this book can be extended to be used as a tool to set a motif for a composition.

For those who can already read music and also for those who are starting to read, it may be an idea to add an activity of transcribing some of the tunes into standard musical notation as shown in the book on p.48~49 (p.50~51 in A4 version) as examples or something inventive like this!:

Morse code notation example2_small

Another creative way of exercising Morse code rhythms would be to use a drum metronome usually equipped on any digital piano these days.  Unlike a standard metronome, a drum metronome has its own rhythmic patterns with a strong steady pulse provided (if you choose the right style, that is!), which often helps players increase their focus level in listening and improve their play-along-to-the-beat skill. You probably find yourself moving (head nodding to start with!) to a drum metronome more to feel the beat.

But before using a drum metronome, it may be advisable to do a simple exercise learning how to ‘listen and play’ to what you hear.  The simplest and most effective exercise actually occurs during learning the Morse code tune; at the stage where you sing the Morse code rhythms whilst playing the notes.  In most cases, players tend to play faster than their singing.  Draw their attention to what they’re singing and ask them to ‘match’ the speed of their playing to their own singing speed.  A couple of playing through this way, they learn what it takes to ‘really listen’ to your own playing.  Voice can be the best the guide, not only as a metronome but also in controlling the finger movement, shaping musical phrases, etc.

The book is available from my website shop and also via and Amazon Europe (UK, France, Germany, Italy, etc.).

cover image wo c

Special thanks to my husband for his support in making this book, Ewan Bailey for allowing me use his witty cartoon illustration, Barrington Pheloung for inspiring me in the first place.  Last but not least, my students for giving me the impetus to write this book and also for being the most honest critics.

Happy playing!

A preview of our lunchtime concert on Wednesday 7th June 2017 at the Emmanuel United Reformed Church on Trumpington Street, Cambridge UK. Mifune Tsuji (violin)
and I (piano) will be performing memorable tunes from the films and beyond. Please stop by if you’re in the vicinity! It’s a free entry with a retiring collection for the church.


There’re tunes that I use with my beginner students of any age at the early stage of their piano learning; young children, older children and adults.  Ideals tunes that serves the purpose of keyboard orientation as well as introducing fundamental elements of how music works; sound, pulse, silent pulse, melodic shape, character, articulation, dynamics, theory, etc.

1.Whole-tone scale based tunes:
To the Moon_small

On the Moon_small

Back to the Earth_small

By the end of exploring the keyboard playing these tunes, students are usually well aware of what makes spacey sound (whole-tone scale); 3 black-key followed by 3 white-key (around 2 black-key) or 2 black-key followed by 4 white-key (around 3 black-key).  They also learn to listen attentively!


2.Chromatic scale based tune: Pink Panther by Henry Mancini

Thumb on the white key and middle finger on the black key.

chromatic scale playing_small

tip for chromatic scale playing_small

Pink Panther _ bass patterns:
Pink Panther-bass patterns_small

This exercise teaches the students about counting, listening, articulation, dynamics, optimum hand shape, relaxed wrist, how to use thumb for piano playing, etc.

Next scales to explore will be diatonic ones, which is basically a mixture of above two scales!

I hope you enjoy a little time with your students to explore what piano can do before reading study begins.

Happy exploring!






I’m sure it’s a natural development for many enthusiastic and creative teachers to write pieces for their students.  The reason to do so may be for pure enjoyment on both parts or born out of necessity. There’re as many types of students as there’re teachers.  Every teacher is different and has his/her own approach and so is what each student wants out of the lessons. As one of the teachers who are trying their best to respond to such needs, I’ve also been writing many little pieces for my students for the past years, often tailored to the level of their playing skill and most importantly in a style of music that they can relate to. For me, the challenge is to help those who started the piano for the first time without any musical background (no music learning in their schools, etc.) and their age is about 9 years old and above. Unlike small children, those age group children have been regularly exposed to the music surrounding them and the reason why they want to take up piano lessons often is because they want to play like someone or want to play some songs they enjoy listening. That means that they have a rough idea what they wish to get out of their lessons. Having had gone through some tricky situations where I couldn’t seem to find enough materials for those particular age group beginners, I’ve started to write pieces for them, inspired by what they enjoy listening and wants to play. It took me some years before I managed to put them into sensibly categorised collections.

I’m pleased to announce that one of such collections is finally finished and professionally printed for publication.  This book is the second in the series aimed at the late elementary to early intermediate levels.  It came out earlier than the book one simply I frequently use the pieces from the book two with my teenage students at the moment.  Having said that, one of my ambitious little players who have just passed ABRSM grade 1 also started using it.  Hopefully, book one and three to follow soon, and then book four.

My students are happy now to have those pieces in a book form, not on the A4 printed sheets on their ring binders!

Please have a visit to my website if you’re interested in having a look. It’s available for purchase.  I’m gradually put all my other pieces into several collections (some etudes for piano beginners, some fun rhythm pieces based on morse code, some folk songs for children, etc.), which I hope to add to my website shop under sheet music in the near future.

Happy playing!

Explaining musical elements during the short lesson time can be tricky sometimes. Because it needs to be done but you don’t want to waste valuable lesson time in explaining them in length, but then you don’t want to give your students a quick answer just to save time, either, without engaging their thinking minds.

Over the years, I’ve been using tangible visual aids to teach musical elements such as note values, rhythmic patterns, key signatures, time signature, etc. Every time my students stumble across the problems, I refer them to the visual aids to guide them to solve the problems themselves. I find that when something is explained to the learners in a form of shapes and colours, it tends to stay in their memory longer and the learners can make a logical connection to what they already know to the new challenges.

Amongst many visual aids I’ve been using, I’ve decided to make some of them available in a professional printed form so that my students can take them home and use them as a guide when they are stuck on problems. Here’s one example, which I use to help my students understand about the metre (A4 card, both sided).

Note values_samples

I use American English for explaining note values (e.g. quarter note rather than crochet) because it can make a direct connection to how time signature is constructed. For example, in 3/4 time, a quarter note (1/4) gets one count, hence 4 as the bottom number of the time signature. Likewise, in 3/8 time, an eighth note (1/8) gets one count, hence 8 as the bottom number of the time signature, etc.

How to link the time signature to understanding of rhythmic patterns in music is another challenge for beginners who has just started reading notation. Here’s another chart I made to help my students ‘see’ how it all works.

Note values_samples2

There’re several other charts that were born out of my unique teaching practice. If you’re interested in having a look, please visit my website.

Happy Theory Learning!

It’s unusual for me to share my practice session publicy and also to use a digital piano for it(!) but I thought some pianists/accompanists may find it useful.  Here it goes:

Pre-rehearsal stage
The main focus was to bring it up to the indicated tempo (138bpm) without loosing the intricacy of contrapuntal texture and the bouncy rhythmic nature of this piece.  What I found out through using drum beat patterns rather than a metronome was that it’s sharpened up my listening ear to be able to check how my 16th notes (semiquavers) are doing to greater details.  Truly useful exercise to go through before rehearsing with the clarinet players in a week’s time.  And it was fun too!