Excellence in Piano Studies - An Interview with winner of Steinway Youth Piano Competition 2014

DSCN9161Fong Jean Ying (10 yr old) recently won the 1st prize in the Steinway Youth Piano Competition (Category 1).

We are happy to share the interview with her and her parents on their musical journey and experiences, process of attaining excellence in piano studies amidst other endeavours and pursuit.



 1. How do you balance your piano practices with your school work?


Jean Ying: With my parents' help, I've set a time table for every day of the week. Once that is in place, it is important to be disciplined and follow it as closely as possible. I enjoy playing the piano and take it as a break from school work. My daily practices make me feel rejuvenated and allow me to focus better on my studies.


Parents: We try to make her understand that there are other important aspects of her life, such as school work and rest, that should not be compromised because of music. Since the number of hours per day is fixed, if she wants more of something, she has to give up something else. Most of the time, this means cutting down on the time she spends on the iPad or her play time with her sister. Through this, she learns the concept of making compromises and keeping things balanced.


2. How does your teacher motivate you in striving hard to improve your piano performances?


Jean Ying: Teacher Ralitsa is one of the most patient person I know. She will spend many hours combing through all kinds of details in the pieces that I play, without losing her temper or patience when I make mistakes. She gives me lots of encouragement and advice. Each time I go for her lesson, I feel obliged to be well prepared so that she knows her efforts are not wasted on me.


Parents: Besides music, we feel that Ralitsa takes a genuine interest in Jean Ying's overall well being as a person. She makes sure that failures and disappointments are taken with the correct attitude, and that successes never get to the head. She also emphasizes the need to have a well balanced outlook and experience of life, so that a person's musical growth can be nurtured to the fullest. Above all, her own life experiences reflect what she preaches.



3. Do you find the Aural and Musicianship and Masterclass in the SMART program helpful in your piano studies?


Jean Ying: AMUS classes allow me to explore other interesting musical areas beyond piano playing, such as singing, music theory and concepts, and music history and styles. I like performing in front of an audience very much, and I also like to learn new pieces, so the monthly masterclasses are a perfect platform for me to do so. I always make sure that I prepare well for each masterclass so that I can get useful feedback from Teacher Darcey, who is in charge of my masterclass. All of us in the masterclass learn from each other as we listen to the performances.


Parents: The AMUS classes train students in areas that are directly relevant to their ABRSM graded exams, so they are better prepared than other students who have to squeeze out time from their one-to-one lessons to do so. The masterclasses are really where we first discovered Jean Ying's love for performing, which naturally led to her participation in competitions later.



4. How do you balance your piano practices in between preparing for examinations and competitions?


Jean Ying: I make adjustments to the daily time table, depending on whether there is an upcoming school exam/test or piano performance/competition, to allocate more time to preparing for the upcoming event. No matter what, each day, I always make sure I allocate time for both. I've heard that it is far better to practice the piano for 15 minutes a day than to not touch it for 3 days then practice a whole hour on the fourth day. The number of hours spent may be the same, but the effect on my improvements will be different. I believe this is the same for both piano and school work.


Parents: While we help her make micro-level adjustments on a daily basis, as parents our main job is actually the macro-level planning of longer term schedules for her. We always have to look months ahead to know what school exams/tests and what piano performances/competitions are coming. In this way, the time table adjustments don't occur too suddenly and are easier for her to get used to.



5. What other advice would you give to other students apart from being discipline in your piano practice?


Jean Ying: I have 3 very important advice. Firstly, scales are important, so do not try to run away from them in your practices. Learn to play them well and they will serve you well when you play the pieces you love. secondly, be patient and don't rush into playing pieces at their performance speeds. Always practice bars and phrases in slow tempo to correct issues like wrong notes and awkward fingerings. If you cannot play your pieces well in slow tempo, there is no way you will play them well in fast tempo. Lastly, always make sure that you're enjoying your piano playing. If you find that you are not enjoying it, step back and ask yourself why, then fix the reason for your unhappiness.


Parents: Music has taught Jean Ying some very important life lessons. Firstly, she has learnt to set targets and to work towards achieving them. Secondly, she knows not to allow successes and failures to affect her own learning, as long as she knows that she keeps improving. Thirdly, she is now more open to criticism and understands that it helps to improve her playing. Lastly, she understands that it is a privilege to share her music with others, so likewise she appreciates others' sharing even in a competitive setting.



From left, Mr Fong, Jean Ying, Mrs Fong, Jean Ann



Jean Ying and Teacher Ralitsa

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