Picking pieces for piano

Picking pieces is a difficult task. I abandoned my piano studies as I moved toward Grade 8. I have lost my previous skills. I really like this article “How to Get Better at Piano” In particular I like that it says well, to play for others, I only need 3 days of practice for about 30-60 mins. I can target 7 days of half an hour of practice time, where I do some real practice and some days to goof off sight-reading with children songbooks. However, I notice that even before looking at piano scores, I’ve been putting forward unrealistic goals such as 23 pieces to complete for the year. Plus, all those initial pieces I’ve selected are above my current ability. Second, I want to enjoy my practice and to strip away my critical inner voice. I really love this advice here.

I made no progress in 25 years, until last year when I really decided to to something about it and analyze what was wrong.

1. I loved to play the piano but I hated practicing and found it terribly boring
2. I seemed not to be able to learn anything new. Which is strange as I am a good learner in many other aspects of life, and I UNDERSTAND music well, I have a good ear. But I just got angry and frustrated with myself and many times I quit practicing in anger and decided that listening to a CD is far less painful …

I learned how to resolve this from my dog. Yes, MY DOG. Because he is also a very good learner, but there are som strict rules to follow here, and if you break them you will not get any results.

First, the dog needs encouragement ALL THE TIME. If you start something new, praise him. Praise him for everything he does. Give him treats. Praise him even more. Your goal is not that the dog should do a full routine perfectly here. Your goal is to make him like the situation and feel confident.
Second, your ambitions AT THE MOMENT must be very, very low. You have your final goal, yes. But you must take this in small, small steps, so small that the dog almost certainly will succeed. You want him to sit? Give him a treat for looking at you. Give him a treat for every little movement he makes. He will try harder and harder to get his next treat, and he will see that action pays off. So he will eagerly try whatever he can come up with. Every movement in the right direction is a correct movement. First sign of an intention in the right direction is correct. Reward him. He will learn how to sit in a few minutes and he will have fun all the way. Next time it’s time for training, he will be there, wagging his tail, and being extremely concentrated.

Now, it’s easier to train yourself than it is to train a dog. All you have to do is giving yourself some mental credit every time you do something right, every time you make some kind of progress. Never mind how small, progress is progress. Don’t set up goals for your practicing sessions, just focus on your progress. IGNORE YOUR MISTAKES. They are just progress-to-come-later. And when you leave the piano, always make a short mental summary on what you just learned. Maybe your learned a new chord. Maybe you memorized yet half a bar. Everything counts. You will always find something. Maybe it did not sound as good as yesterday – well, forget about yesterday, did you make something better when you ended your session, compared to when you started?

I believe many people think you will make no progress if you lower your ambitions this much. I can tell you, from own experience, that this is not true. By changing my mindset and lower my ambitions I started to make progress like never before. I’m learning pieces that were far beyond my horizon just a year ago, and I LOVE TO PRACTICE. I leave the piano with positive feelings and so I long for going back. That is the whole key to it.

I’m going to try for 10 pieces of easy and medium difficulty. This means that the Gershwin song book will have to wait. I’m guessing (from  google images) that the Cole Porter song book is much easier.  

So far on my to learn list:

Gymnopédies 1 – 3 (easy)
Hiromi Place to be (easy-med)
Hiromi Sicilian Blue (easy-med)
Hiromi Somewhere (easy-med)
Mozart 11 variations (easy-med)
Forest Gump Theme (med)
Various songs from Cole Porter song book
– In The Still Of the Night
– You’d Be so nice to come home to
– Let’s Do It
– Night and Day
– I’ve got you under my skin

I really would like to learn jazz piano from Doug McKenzie’s youtube channel but I’m not sure that I can do it. To learn a piece by watching someone tap keys feels hard. I feel insecure without the transcriptions.


Frugal skincare?

My skin has been feeling very dry despite increasing the percentage of oil in my formulations. It’s now so oily, yet, it still feels dry. On top of that, there is a lot of separation. This is exactly what one of my aunts, who has very dry skin tells me about my formulation. The aloe and sea kelp bioferment gives a feeling of tightness to the skin. I have always been using the same formula to manage my skin. I suppose it is time to change. Bulkactives.com started to carry rather sophisticated bases. Everytime I get on the site, I want to buy a lot of hope – different kinds of hope. I usually try restrict myself to things that actually work, eg, Vit C , AHA, and so on. I don’t even buy those that are promising – green tea egcg, co-enzyme Q10, NAG, B3 and so on.  This time, I saw Ceramides and impulse bought it. I suppose where looks are concerned, I still can’t stop buying hope.

The DIY route that I took since 3 years ago, was mainly that it interests me to experiment and it is an extremely frugal way of having good skin. However, with my recent purchase of complicated skin cream bases, ceramides, I’m not sure I am still frugal. Frugality is a complicated. Is frugality finding a cheaper alternative or is it to pare down one’s needs the way minimalists do? If I can buy a high quality product a a much reduced price, certainly it sounds frugal. However, if it is buying a more advanced version of hope, is it still frugal?

Digital Piano

I have trouble setting and sticking to a budget for piano purchase. I had initially thought of spending less than SGD 1000 on one, until I played on those in that range. It felt toy like. I had to increase my budget so that the keys won’t feel toy like. Increased my budget to about four times until I read some advice online.

Does the piano you purchased feel like and sound like a piano to you?
Does it make you happy when you play it and hear it?
Will it reproduce the kind of music you like when you play the piano?

I manage to short list a few pianos and was thinking of their features. I really like the feel of the Roland HP series concert keyboard I tried on the LX15. It’s too expensive so I would go two models lower. (HP505 or 506). I could go the used route. A CLP 440 is going for 1700 (reasonable!) but the seller won’t let me try if I have no intention of buying it. I’m unsure. My choices are almost the same as this guy from 1.5 years ago. I’m not sure what he selected eventually. I would go with the HP 505 or HP506. The HP506 is not available in Singapore.

I stumbled onto this guy who bought a Kawai CA65. It prompted a rethink of my budget. Is it too expensive? Will I regret spending that much? Should I decide on a cheaper model?

“It still feels like “too much” piano for me, as I’m not that good a player and don’t play that often, so I wonder if I maybe should have spent less money on a not-quite-as-good model.”





Piano Lessons

For me, creating fuel the consuming of the end product – baking, face cream and music. All piano schools remind me of the musical The Music Man. Every school sells equipment then teach you to play the equipment. What’s the desire behind the urge to play an instrument? Does consumption of music or instruments, or the recreation of the music makes one musical?

My curiosity in piano is revived mainly because I discovered piano transcriptions online. As I mulled over, should I do it, should I not, a poetry reading by Jane Hirshfield reminded me of the gold of a good practice. She’s a zen Buddhist and talks about the practice of meditation. It led me to thinking that I should reset my mind. I managed to finish Grade 7 exams when I was 14. As I worked towards Grade 8, I quit piano. It was a relief. Piano was horrible and boring. I wasn’t even frustrated with progress. I don’t recall enjoying learning any of the pieces. I was a child and I had decided classical music was boring. I disliked finger exercises most. I did well in Bach (which I felt, was purely technique) and the impressionists (I could make it sound like atmosphere sometimes). I think I didn’t like it because I didn’t feel connected to the music. I felt like I was typing very well. I never felt successful in it. There was not a time in which I felt I executed a phrase well. Piano practice was a mental scar. It should not be. The sustained practice, the journey, of something is the real gold. The outcome of the practice could be a good or bad product for that moment. That outcome is momentary and will be re-shaped as long as there is continual good practice. It sounds cheesy and shallow – it’s not. The cheesy and shallow is just my writing skills.

An unnatural state


I spent a long time dawdling on the floor, deciding which goes where. They resisted being together. It’s sad that in two weeks,  nature will take over. Some will move to where there is more space. There are those will stay, because they are too far behind.

Lessons in humidity

But first, man, I love being the fun parent. I made a cake for my little boy’s birthday. It had four layers of icing and a picture of pocoyo and friends as a topper. On the side there were three butterflies, two keys and three mushrooms made of marzipan. I brought the cake into my mom in law’s and we opened it when the kids were done with dinner. A lot of excited shrieking followed. The kids loved it! I felt as if it was my birthday the amount of excitement the cake generated. The best part was A saying, “Mummy made cake for me.” I am the boring parent. The layer of the law. The one who makes them do horrible  stuff like clean up and finish dinner. Feels gooooooood.

The humidity is rather troublesome in cake making. I didn’t realise this. I iced the cake two days in advance. On my first layer of icing I used an enormous tip. I finished covering the cake in 30mins. It takes a surprising lot of icing to cover an 8″ cake of four thin layers. I discovered by accident that leaving the icing to dry in the fridge makes it a lot easier to add another layer to smooth out the surface. I didn’t need to make it super smooth but it looked a lot more like store bought. The cake topper showing pocoyo and friends tore from the humidity. A hairdryer at close range manage to dry the icing so that it peels off from the plastic backing. As the backing came off, there is a certain glossiness which vanished like disappearing ellipsis in the heat. The icing became much stiffer.

The marzipan figurines flopped about. I could not get them to dry. Perhaps I need to dry them in the fridge before using.

I have been thinking about consuming and creating. I started out believing in the all or nothing of consumption and creation. Because every art, writing, music was produced perfect in its perfections and imperfections when consuming it, I felt like  Sisyphus. I felt no joy in creation not in consumption, oddly. Only a dogged strange desire to produce something instantly beautiful. I remembered being able to write only 500 words in a single day.  I remembered trying to think through plots. It was heinously difficult. I frowned at the laptop all the time. I fell asleep dreaming about what happened next. I woke up stressed and disgusted because I had fallen asleep and did no work. The most difficult work required me to come up with  a string theory like order to explain everything that happened in the novel. I did write novels during nanowrimo, some pretend poetry, and pages and pages of journals. These were drivel to me – I have no wish to associate myself with drivel. The early to mid twenties were tough. I left this stage and swung to consuming theatre, music and art without any creation. I think I spend a good ten years enjoying local theatre and jazz music. It’s interesting that the consumption of books made me want to write as if participating in a dialogue with other writers. Consuming theatre and music does not excite me into creation. It was superb entertainment. I actually saw Emma Yong’s debut in the Room on 42nd Street. (I doubt even the actors remembered that place.) Jonathan Lim won the Life theatre awards that year for his solo piece Emerald Hole. I loved local theatre. All the foreign productions were expensive. Local theatre was cheap and good. Arts festival was cheap and good. So was film festival. Man I could not forget Adam’s Apple, Flammen & Citronen and Tokyo Godfathers. And of course, The Lives of Others. I sat in while Hou Hsiao Hsien talked about his films. I went to jazz festivals put up with poseurs and their dates. The last few I remember going was to a few local Chinese productions,  Ah Jiu, December Rain and Thunderstorm. The absolute last thing was Chestnuts, where I was front of house and Judee Tan stole the show. Of course a large part of me struggling to produce something also had to do with my mom’s rubbishing of anything related to  the creation of art. The funny thing is she was knee deep in choral groups then. She knew my secondary school choir teacher. She knew the good piano teachers, she was invited to the home of Kuo Pao Kun (his wife dances). In my consumption I maintained my blog headspace. In those days,  the community was really small and not so political. Political yes, but not exclusively so. We talk of many things : poetry, film, art, music,books. Nowadays it seems political blogs are the only blogs treated seriously. In those days, I had written than creativity gets people into trouble. 

Time has worked on this puffery and I decide now that creativity is a flow. I find creativity expressed in all that I do, at work and at home. At work, I am proud of all the things I pioneered from very little that I have, using not very difficult or advanced concepts. At home, I write now, private letters to my kids and husband. Creative endeavours are a flow, there is not the all or nothing  model where we are either  wholly consumerist or wholly creative.  Younger I could not appreciate a more flowy concept, that all art is a dialogue, not a competition for a sensation of wow. We talk to the living around us, and the dead before us, and the unborn ahead of us. Well, not cakes. Cakes express a crafting skill but Cakes does not need to talk. It serves a magical moment whether store bought or made. It is a dessert. Sometimes pretty, mostly delicious unless it is bad recipe. But always it is made for a moment to be enjoyed.