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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bell Choirs: Connected With Ancient Traditions

If you attend a church during Advent (leading up to Christmas), chances are you have heard a bell choir playing a favorite Christmas carol. Many churches use handbells as music in worship throughout the year, not just at Christmas. But did you know that modern handbell choirs are connected to religious traditions (and superstitions) that go back hundreds of years?

It’s true. Back in Medieval times in Europe, Christians would ring bells to announce worship times. Eventually, the bells were made too big to carry around, and were housed permanently near churches. Later still, the structures containing the bells were attached to the church building itself, in the form of belfries and bell towers. Gradually, more and more bells were added to these installations, tuned to different pitches.

Bells were thought to hold special powers over demons and other evil spirits, particularly after they had been “blessed” or even “baptized.” Church bells would be rung during storms or other calamities, in the hope of driving away the evil spirits responsible. Bells were also rung whenever a person died, again to frighten away any evil spirits which might have been attracted to the tragic scene.

Some historians even believe that our modern doorbells derive from this custom. It is said that people would hang a small bell outside the door of their home, because evil spirits lurked outside, hoping to slip in unnoticed whenever anyone went in or out. So a visitor would ring the bell to frighten away the evil spirits, and only after this would he enter the home.

In the 1600’s, church bells in England began to take a different turn from the practices observed on the European continent. Elsewhere in Europe, churchbells, while tuned, were rung at random. In England, however, bell ringers began to play tunes on their bells. By striking only one bell at a time, in sequence, the church bell ringer could play surprisingly complex melodies.

Competitions began to spring up. And bell ringers began to practice indoors, so as not to alarm the neighbors with the constant clangor that practicing on the full-sized church bells would have produced. (Also, indoor practice was a lot more comfortable in January, compared to being up in the cold, drafty bellfry!)

Small practice bells were needed. In 1660, brothers William and Robert Cor of the Wiltshire Foundry (England) produced the first set of practice hand bells. Soon, the small handbells became an interesting musical tradition in their own right – no longer considered just a stand-in for the big bells installed above the church. By the end of the 1700’s, practically every town in England had its own bell choir.

In 1845, showman P.T. Barnum brought handbells to the United States. He had heard a group of bellringers while on a trip to England, and been delighted with this new (to him) art form. While a popular attraction in Barnum’s day, bell choirs didn’t really take off in the U.S. until the early 1900’s.

Today, there is a thriving industry to provide arrangements and original works written for bellchoirs, not to mention the bells themselves and numerous accessories. And to think, it all goes back to scaring away evil spirits in Medieval Europe!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mother's Day Song

Mother's day is approaching. If you have not thought of what to give your mom, you can try this song - My Carnations.
This song is for intermediate player. Practice this song on the piano and you can play this special song to your mom.

I have composed this song for Mother's Day. You can watch the video below:

Here is your Mother's Day sheet music

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Piano Has A Temper

No, your piano is not about to throw a tantrum if you don’t practice! Temper, or temperament, are terms referring to methods of tuning the piano.

In Western music, most pianos nowadays are tuned using Twelve-Tone Equal Temperament, or 12-TET. This means that the twelve notes that make up an octave — the chromatic scale — represent twelve equal frequency intervals. The difference in frequency between a C and a C-sharp, or a D-flat and a D, is the same.

The goal of equal temperament is to make different keys (C, D, F-sharp, and so on) sound equally well in tune. Seems obvious, right?

Not so fast! In fact, this simple-seeming tuning technique took hundreds of years to develop. What’s more, in order to make all keys sound equally well in tune… each individual interval must be made ever so slightly out of tune.

To understand this, let’s take a step back. A musical note, or tone, is simply a sound wave of a certain frequency. Certain combination of notes, or frequencies, sound more or less pleasant to the human ear. When a piano’s strings are adjusted to enable the pleasant frequency combinations to predominate, while unpleasant combination are minimized, the piano sounds “in tune.”

One of the earliest methods of tuning was Pythagorean Tuning. In this method, particular intervals were based on whole-number ratios (i.e., 3:2 or 4:3). These intervals are particularly pleasing to the ear, and are known as “just intervals.” Unfortunately, when one key (for example, C), is “in tune” using just intervals, other keys are perceived as being out of tune — in some cases, quite badly. Imagine giving a concert where all the pieces had to be in the key of C, because anything in the key of F-sharp would have sounded out of tune!

Why? Because just intervals cannot be fit evenly into an octave if there are only 12 tones in the octave. There’s a little extra frequency left over, called the “Pythagorean comma.”
To solve this problem, the just intervals are “tempered,” or degraded slightly from their purest form. How best to achieve this has preoccupied pianists and tuners for centuries.

A popular tuning system widely used in the Renaissance was “Meantone” Temperament. In meantone temperament, the just tuning of certain intervals was compromised in favor of others. Certain musical fifths might be narrowed (the top note made slightly flat) in order to allow the musical major third to more closely approach its just ratio. These out-of-tune fifths were known as “wolf” fifths and were concentrated in certain keys, which were sacrificed to the better tuning of other keys. Composers of the day simply avoided using the unplayable keys with wolf fifths.

During the time of Johann Sebastian Bach, Well Temperament was developed. Well temperament is an “irregular” temperament, meaning that the intervals between adjacent notes are not equal. This represented a major advance over meantone tuning, since all keys were playable without the instrument having to be retuned. However, the keys still sounded slightly different from each other, a phenomenon known as “key color.” For example, a particular key might be described as “dark” or “melancholic” and therefore be seen as more appropriate for certain pieces and less appropriate for others. Bach wrote two books of preludes and fugues to take advantage of well temperament. The title? “The Well-Tempered Clavier,” of course!

About a hundred years ago, modern Equal Temperament was developed, and it remains in general use today. Believe it or not, it was once controversial! Natural or just intonation was seen as reflecting God’s order; equal temperament, which debased all intervals for the sake of the overall effect, was seen by some as detrimental to the purity of music. Others lamented the loss of key color. Indeed, there are some purists even today who hold that music written for other temperaments betrays the composer’s intentions when played on an equal-tempered piano.

Now you know your piano’s temperament — and why your piano tuner should be given the utmost respect!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Improvised Hymns From Nathan

Listen to Nathan's improvised version:

When We All Get To Heaven
(Click MP3 audio file), takes a few seconds to download.

Heaven Can You Imagine
(Click MP3 audio file) , takes a few seconds to download.
Message From Nathan:
"Hi Mrs. Yoke Wong,
I would foremost like to thank you personally for making a huge difference in my musical life. Thank you for giving me the key to the house of piano playing, "Improvisation".
And now because I know how to improvise, I can have a better interpretation and understanding of pieces.
Your piano courses have helped me become more solid technically than I ever was before.
It took me 2 months of internet searching on how to play hymns - I found you.
You have fulfilled your task and mission in your walk with God, which is bringing people closer to the Lord.
Thank you. Thank you. You are the GREATEST PIANO TEACHER Ever"

Now, I’m both honored and humbled to read Nathan’s message. I am glad my lessons help not only him but many others who took the action and gave our courses a try.
If you have been considering our piano courses, I encourage you to go ahead and give it a try like Nathan did. You be glad you did.
Don't forget to listen to Nathan's pieces. Did you hear the great introduction on the first song? How about the middle of second song where he did a modulation with a quick run to bring out the climax! Then imagine you being able to do the same thing!
Check Out Our Piano Courses Below:
"The Essentials of Great Hymn Arrangement"
"Definitive Piano Improvisation Course"
"Piano Rhyhtm"
"Hand Coordination, Runs And Fillers"
"Mastering Piano Accompaniment"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Official Launch of Practical Guide to Piano Playing

Here is the website to the new piano course

Order your piano course and learn more about it here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Practical Guide to Piano Playing

I am excited to announce the incoming launch of our new piano course:

"A Practical Guide To Piano Playing"

This new course is scheduled to be launched on January 22nd, 2009.

It comes with 2 dvds (each of 55 minutes) and a 81-page book.

Take a look at the preview video:


Here are some of the topics covered in the course:

1. How do I find time to practice?
2. How can I get better at playing in different keys?
3. How do I decide/recognize what the left hand chords are in a piece of music?
4. How can I play and read sheet music faster?
5. How do I decide on proper fingering?
6. When you come across a new piano piece, how do you know which fingers
and which position to use?
7. How can I play a new piece with both hands together without pausing?
8. I’m having difficulty in reaching the octave
9. I’m having a hard time reading notes above/below the staff lines. Can you
give me some pointers?
10. I have trouble with getting the notes in the treble and bass cleft mixed up
11. I do not have steady rhythm and cannot seem to follow the rhythm
12. How do I play a thick chord with emphasis on the top note?
I3. I tend to hit piano keys too hard, how do I control my playing volume?
14. What can I do about stiff fingers?
15. I do not know some of the music terminology, can you help me?
16. How can I play piano without making errors?
17. I'm wondering how I can tell what key the singer I’m accompanying is singing in?
18. How can I make my melody sound more interesting?
How do I find balance between improvising and practicing/learning new piece?
Practice log
How can I make my playing more musical and more expressive (build artistry)?
How can I improve my technical speed and accuracy?
How do I practice Bach’s piano pieces?
How do I memorize a piece? I have trouble playing from memory.
How do I combat “stage fright”? My hands freeze and I can't play in front of

We will offer many bonuses and free shipping to the first 200 customers.