Little YT at Yamaha

I started learning piano at the age of 15. I don’t come from a well-to-do family and was really happy that my parents could pay for my love of music back then. I stop during ‘O’ levels but continued from University days which I paid off my piano fees using hard-earned money from giving private tuition to Primary and Secondary students. I had a China made piano which could only allow me to reach Grade 4. I skipped grades and my first ABRSM exam was Grade 4 practical which I got a distinction. To go on to Grade 5, my teacher told me I needed a better piano to hone my skills. After much thoughts and struggle, I told my parents and they agreed to buy me one costing 5k. I was extremely touched as I know that’s a super expensive and luxury item to ask of my dad who was the sole income provider earning not much and raising 3 children. My parents are perfect parents in my eyes who want to give me the best to pursue my interest. I cried quietly in the night, touched.

Then things didn’t really go as it should have been. To take a Grade 8 exam while staying in the University hostel requires lots of discipline and perseverance. I was so busy and was shy to use other hostel’s piano for practices. I could only practise at home once a week. So, the inevitable came, I flunked Grade 8.

I was devastated yet I saw it coming. I felt I disappointed my parents thoroughly. There were many times I tried to pick up where I had left and continue my passion. But at those times, I started work, got married and motherhood came fast and furious. I didn’t have time for my interest.

Like many parents, I started to place hopes on my children. I don’t know if it’s to put my passion on them to fulfill something I had never accomplished or I truly believe the benefits of learning piano. Learning music has advantages for learning Mathematics, great coordination of both hands and legs, working on patience and perseverance. I decided that since Kel and I do not want to spend money on extra academic lessions, we shall spend on cultivating a skill and interest. As I have a ready exam model piano from KAWAI, I enrolled my kids in piano courses without consulting if they like it. What does a 4 yo know about choosing an interest?

I know that Yamaha Junior Music Course (YJC) is a good course from my teacher. They train 4yos on their hearing ability. They believe at 4 years old, it is the best age to pick up musical notes and if they are trained well, they will be able to play by ear! That’s so important in learning music. Once you pass that age, you have to be real talented to be able to acquire this ability in future. I can’t play both hands by ear although I could do it with just melody, but not without trial and error.

I signed up Yamaha Junior Music Course (JMC) for XX and YH before they turned 4. They are really strict on the age and the child has to pass his 4th birthday in order to start the class. Parents could accompany their kids in this group music class for the initial 2 years. And they are supposedly to be independent from 3rd year on with occasional sit in by parents during the last 15 min of the class to be aware of how their kids progress.

Yamaha Junior Music Course (YJC) is an 8 year course. The first 2 years are foundational stage called Junior Music Course (JMC). The children will be taught 3 elements of music: rhythm, melody and harmony through singing, hearing and playing. The main objective is to develop the children’s sense of pitch and ability to identify sounds. The song pieces are catchy, beautiful and you will be surprised that your child will be able to play with both hands 4-5 lessons later.

The next 2 years are the Yamaha Junior Extension Course called JXC. At this time, you child will be about 6-7 years old. They will be playing more pieces and the songs get more and more beautiful. I really love how they cater the songs to kids, and adults love them too. This is the time where the kids will be starting to be independent. Parents are not allowed in the class but usually there will be a transition period where parents join in for the first 3 months and gradually only join in for the last 15 minutes to let them know how the kids are doing. It’s a good training for them to start independence before Primary 1 as they have to listen to teacher and take down notes without a parent beside them.

After 4 years, children can go on to Junior Ensemble Class (JNC) where they will be playing more and more difficult pieces and learning more composition of songs. In fact, even at foundational stage, kids are already starting to compose simple motifs (2-4 bars) and even submit composition of 16 bars (melody and accompaniment) for competition! Can you imagine your child composing at the age of 5-6? You’ll be surprised, all of them could! And if their composition is selected, they will be invited to play in the Junior Original Concert. There are lots of opportunities to perform in the YJC Course. At the end of each half year term, they get to have a mini class concert where they will play together in ensemble style and play individually for everyone. This is something you will not get in private lessons.

Usually by JXC, many would have quited for individual private music lessons at home to do the ABRSM course. For Yamaha, at the end of 2 years (JMC), they have a foundational test and after 4th year (JXC), they will take Yamaha Grade 9 exam (which in my opinion is ABRSM Grade 1-2 level). Then at the end of 6th year (JNC), they will take Yamaha Grade 8 exam (in my opinion is ABRSM Grade 3-4). If you appreciate the beauty of the teaching style of the Japanese, you could go further to Junior Advance Course (JAC) where the children will be taking Yamaha Grade 7-6. Beyond that, it will be Teacher’s Grades.

As my girl XX, is currently at JNC level (her 5th year) and YH is at JXC level (his 3rd year), I have no experience in the course beyond JNC. Hence, I do not have enough information to share here.

Now, for the initial period of learning music, I was really touched when I see how my kids can start playing with both hands! It was exhilarating! Children pick up anything very fast especially music. Then some months later, my kids, at times, will tell me they hate piano, don’t like using electone (YJC is taught using electone), they want to play violin, drum, etc, etc. My reaction is a poker face one.

Parents woes – how to address kids’ rants of quitting music:

“I hate piano!” 

I believe that my kids have some talent in music judging by the way they could play a brand new piece of song after just 2 tries on the piano using both hands! They don’t even look at the score! Kel has even told me not to force them to learn. But, if my kids were to tell me that they hate school, do I also say yes, you can stop going to school? Especially, when I know they are good in music, how can they give up just because of a spur of moment laziness? So, I told them,”You don’t have a choice, you have to have perseverance to learn something, in this case, piano. Till the day you pass the final exam(ok ABRSM Grade 8), then it will be up to you to stop. I can’t possibly allow you to stop school if you say you hated school.”

“I don’t like using the electone in class!”

Learning another instrument is a skill. Seeing my kids switching effortlessly from using electone in class and to using piano at home, I am so proud of them! Electone has a 2 layer keyboard, multiple pedals and come with many interesting sounds. So I encourage them to see that they now are good in 2 instruments!

“I want to learn violin, drum, etc…”

Piano is the easiest to make sense of musical sounds. I want my kids to persevere through learning an instrument. Many people learn piano and violin at the same time. But for us, investing in a violin or drum set and bringing the kids to another extra class of music, is too much for us. Time and money are big consideration. So, I told my kids that only when they are good in piano (reaching at least a Grade 5 in ABRSM exam), I will not consider a 2nd instrument or changing instrument for now.

And if you find difficulty to bring your kids to the piano for practice, read how I make my kids enjoy piano practice from dreading it to loving it here.

I totally love the Yamaha music experience. I love their pieces, love how they train the kids to play by ear, love how they emphasize on music composition as well. However, there is a low side of it that parents have to pay attention to. There is not enough teaching on theory and piano playing techniques. Hence, many parents will supplement that with private lessons at home while doing the YJC at the same time to have the best of both worlds. For private lessons, children’s hearing will not be trained and that’s something really important to have. So, for me, I will allow my kids to go through the entire YJC course then switch them to ABRSM. That’s at least my plan for now.

I feel that encouraging my kids to play an instrument help them to acquire a skill that they can show off while boosting their self-esteem, allowing them a way to release emotions, enabling them to persevere in learning an instrument, and training their patience through the many practice sessions.

Many parents have asked me about the Yamaha Music Course, I hope I have addressed their concerns here. Feel free to ask me questions and leave a comment to share your experience too! I would really love to know to decide if I should allow my kids to take up individual piano lessons or picking up a 2nd instrument too.