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Be A Young Composer

To learn music is to be able to create music other than just learning to play a musical instrument. In music, there are numerous vocations to pursue. Being a composer is one such vocation. However, to able to compose is not confined to the older music students with many years of learning only.

Young music students can be encouraged to explore their talent in composing as well. Discovering and realizing that one can compose would be quite a most defining moment in the music student's musical journey.

Here then is a chance for all young music students to try their hand at composing using the templates given below. These templates are in three levels for the young student who have begun music lessons for about one to two years.

Read the instructions for each different level to select the one that suits you. The activity only requires you to write the melody in the treble clef. The accompaniment is already given. We advise you to try out your composition on the piano once you have completed it. Then only would you know if it sounds good or you may need to make changes to improve it.

Click on the image or link below and read the instructions to select the correct template to use. There are three separate templates with an 8 bar accompaniment using chord I and chord V only. Once you have printed out and completed the composition, scan the composition to email it back to in JPEG or PDF format (less than 200 KB). Or, you can also post it to:
Be A Young Composer
Rhythm MP Sdn. Bhd.
1947 Lorong IKS Bukit Minyak 2
Taman IKS Bukit Minyak
14100 Simpang Ampat
Penang, Malaysia

The best compositions will be featured in our blog and the young composer will be given notable mention. So, to all young music students, just go ahead and give it a try. You have much to gain and nothing to lose.

Click on MPA composition 1 to view or print.

Young Musician's Skills Development events

Encouragement is what everyone needs to develop the awareness and appreciation to excel and to pursue with purpose, a vocation or even a hobby. Without doubt, the more we learn from others, the more it should motivate us on to greater achievements. With that in mind, the Young Musician's Skills Development (YMSD) program hopes to reach out to as many music students as possible to motivate and give them more purpose towards learning music.

To date, the YMSD sessions that we have conducted for music students has brought us into contact with their teachers and parents too. The opportunity to meet parents is much appreciated as get to hear their take on music and for them to inquire more about music education for their child. Such opportunities allow me to share some insight into the intrinsic values of learning music with the parents. In doing so, I hope to have parents realize the benefits of learning music.It is through such 'meetings' with parents during our programs that we can also thank them for their gift of music to their child.

As mentioned, the YMSD program is for us to further encourage and motivate music students to excel in music. It gives the individual great gratification to be able to understand music and be able to perform music decently well. When one can find much joy in performing music, it means one is doing it right and have much to derive from it. In a way, we see this program as helping music teachers by motivating their students in hope that their students will be looking forward to music lessons and desire to learn more.

The most recent YMSD events were held in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Putting the music students through the various musical activities relevant to create musicality in them, we hope that their experiences during the YMSD event raises their appreciation for music. Personally, I would like to see more musical talent emerge from among the numerous music students we have in this region.

The photos featured in this report shows students involved in the various activities from pitch development to chord appreciation and improvisation. We do have some flexibility in the program as we will never know what talent students have until we meet them. In some instances like the recent one in Penang, we were able to create an ensemble comprising all the students, their teachers and parents to perform a musical work. There was singing, percussion accompaniment and students with me at the keyboard to perform the musical piece.


Click on MPA composition 1 to view or print.

Music Workshops & Master Classes: Learning from others.

The whole process of learning is a lengthy process that takes many years from primary (junior) to tertiary (university) level. Those who pursue their studies till the doctoral level would have indulged in studying for a little over two decades at the very least. When we take a moment to ponder on how much time is required to educate ourselves, develop skills, shape our minds, develop good attitude and character among others to be good in what we do, we realize that it is a tedious process that requires commitment, perseverance and hard work. Throughout this education journey alone, we would have learned from many teachers.

Having said that, we always tell ourselves and hear others say that to learn from as many as possible is best. At school, all our teachers specialize in a different subject. Therefore, we have a different teacher for every subject we learn at school. No single teacher can teach us everything that there is to learn. Neither will anyone of us be able to learn everything that there is to learn. Even if given a few lifetimes to do so!

Just selecting one vocation to excel in would take years of learning and training. Music as a subject and vocation comprise many differing skills to develop. We train our musical mind (mental) to comprehend and create music. Practical skills (physical) are required to perform music.

The more we learn, the better we become as we draw our inspirations from those we learn from. Besides learning from our regular music teacher, it is always encouraged to attend workshops that come our way. Over the years, there have been many music workshops for teachers and students conducted by illustrious facilitators but attendance has not been encouraging especially for the student workshops, when compared to the overall number statistics of music teachers and students in this country.

I am calling out to music teachers, students and their parents to reach an even higher level of awareness about learning music. If the student is not inspired and learns music perfunctory, then we may never see enough talent abound. If done right, the inspired music student will find the entire experience immensely rewarding. Likewise, teachers must always be on the look out for workshops that will heighten their overall skills that will make these teachers very effective in teaching.

Both teachers and students must look at their effort to sign up and attend workshops as an invaluable investment of time and money to learn and be inspired. Knowledge and skills once acquired is for keeps. When inspired, it will encourage you to excel and the experience makes you thirst for more. You have to give yourself an opportunity by attending a workshop you find interesting to open 'doors' in you that you never knew you had.

Listening Skills

There are numerous skills to develop in music. These skills require many mental and physical senses/facilities to work together. Imagine having the skill to analyze everything happening in a piece of music you are listening to. Imagine having the skills to perform well, to compose and arrange music. These are skills that every music student hopes to acquire from learning music.

However, these musical skills are not a natural process that everyone can easily do. It can be acquired through formal education and training in music. While music education teaches music rudiments, music theory and playing a musical instrument, there are other skills to develop.

Among these skills would be listening skills. Peter Fletcher in his book says that the musical process does not have to be active and listening to music is a crucial component of any music process. Listening to music creates aural awareness to appreciate every aspect involved in the music making process. Imagine for a moment that you can identify the chord progression in the piece, can analyze its musical form and identify other features in it. Would that not be quite an achievement that would gratify you greatly?

Students would have to be guided by inspired teachers to develop those skills. Students have to be made aware of the relation between melody and harmony. They must explore the relationship between tones to create melodies. They have to explore chords and chord types that best compliments the melody. They have to explore rhythms and grooves to assign one to the song. Listening to music can help develop these skills.

Being able to appreciate certain melodic lines, chord progressions and rhythmic groove means your ability to pick and isolate the interesting parts of a music. If it inspires you enough, you will attempt it on your musical instrument. That signals your keen interest to recreate what you heard.

Such inspiration can come from many sources. Music teachers are in the front line to inspire their students. Attending music workshops to learn from others is greatly recommended. The more students get to listen to others speak and perform, the more they learn and get inspired. However, the students' musical minds need to be shaped as best as can be, to fully appreciate and derive the most from any musical experience they encounter.

Young Musicians' Skills Development Program

Over the weekend of 4th July 2010, we had the opportunity to conduct the Young Musicians' Skills Development Program at two music schools who have graciously registered numerous students for us.

The first session was at Sweet Harmony Music Centre for elementary students who have completed their basic rudiments of music and are at Grade 1 level. While at the Young Music Centre, we had two groups of students, one at the elementary level and the other comprising students of the lower intermediate to intermediate level students.

Through this program, we help students discover their potential in music and to experience other facets of music making to further support their music education and enhance their musical skills. Development takes time and has to start early.

On the other hand, we also wanted to promote the idea of putting music into practice and to increase the student's aural awareness, as both these areas are required to better understand, create and perform music.

There is talent in every student and all it took was some encouragement to get the students to apply whatever knowledge and skills they possess. In some ways, the program validated this and there were some welcomed surprises too.

One such instance was an 11 year old boy who began music lessons six months ago who can comfortably improvise on the piano. Another young girl who apparently did not no possess good pitch or rhythmic pulse clearly demonstrated that she had those skills. Students at all theses music schools also demonstrated they possess good harmony skills by identifying suitable chord sounds for a melody. They could even give suitable comments on the usage of the chord types.

This tells us that there is talent in every student. All it takes is proper guidance and encouragement to bring these talents to the forefront.

YMSD Program registration form


Click on MPA composition 1 to view or print.

Music Appreciation

The third component in music studies would be music appreciation. Music appreciation basically would be getting involved in activities that would develop musicality and develop the musical mind.

There are quite many things one can do in the area of music appreciation. At music lessons, students will be taught to conduct in time to a piece of music usually in simple or compound duple, triple or quadruple.

There are also exercises on ear training where a student would have to sing in tune a certain passage that has just been played for them. Or they may be required to clap or tap the rhythm of that passage that was played for them.

In some instances, Solfege singing would also be involved. Solfege meaning using the Italian syllables Doh Re Me Fa So La Tee Doh to sing a passage. Other than this, one can get very, very creative in the area of music appreciation.

For example, the teacher may organize a session with students of about the same level to get together and listen to some music and talk about it. Topics which can be included in the discussion would be musical form, dynamics or merely expressing how you felt about the music.

In a way, it teaches the student how to be in touch with his or her emotions when listening to a piece of music, and being able to aptly describe his or her feelings upon listening to it.

Some teachers may organize a session to get students of the same level together to perform a piece or two. Upon performing the piece, discussions can be held to discuss how it was performed, who liked it, who felt it could be further improved or whether it was perfect.

Such an activity is meant to stimulate the musical mind of the student. It is especially rewarding for the teacher to be able to see his or her student being able to talk quite a bit about the piece of music in a very constructive manner.

Another excellent idea to acquire music appreciation would be for the teacher to organize a trip to a concert hall, just to go watch and listen to a performance. After which, the teacher and students could get together again and talk about the performance; how they felt about it, what were the hi-lights of the performance that they really enjoyed.

Practical (Instrumental Studies)

What would a student expect to learn during instrumental studies?

We have talked a bit about theory in the earlier (video) clip. Right now, we move to the second component in music studies, which is practical or instrumental studies.

Here, it broken up into two parts. The first being technical studies. What exactly are technical studies? Basically, they are finger drills and finger exercises that is meant to improve the performer's technique.

There are technical studies for all music students irrespective of whichever instrument you are learning. For the piano, as soon as you begin lessons, within the first few months, you will be introduced to a book that will contain scales, broken chords and arpeggios. These are your elementary technical studies that you begin with, and it is something that you will practice continuously all the way through.

Other than the book on scales, arpeggios and broken chords, there are many other publications featuring finger drills and finger exercises. One of the most popular the world over for piano students would be The Complete Hanon.

In that book, you will find melodic patterns using major and minor scales played up and down the entire keyboard, which helps the student develop agility, finger strength and of course, overall technical improvement.

Piano studies and Etudes are a great source to have students understand how scales are being used in a composition. In these works, you have scale-wise passages performed on the right hand with a basic accompaniment on the left hand. It relates chords to scale notes which helps also with acquiring musicality.


There is a wide range of repertoire to learn. Of course, every teacher based on his or her teaching syllabus, will prescribe different publications covering different types of repertoire.

What I am going to offer is just a very basic guideline of repertoire to learn. Obviously, to know music well, you have to learn an array of different styles and different genres. Therefore, I would recommend learning classical repertoire all the way across to contemporary repertoire.

A mixed array of repertoire would be ideal for the young student. Learning classical works all the way to all the modern music that we have today would broaden the scope and understanding of music of the student.

Of course, repertoire from the various eras and genres of music would help us understand different ways which music is composed, arranged and performed. It is essential for the music student to learn a variety of musical styles and genres across the board, because each different styles would require a different interpretation and a different way of playing it.

Music For Kids

The on-going Music For Kids program was held at kindergartens in Kuala Lumpur and Penang during the recent school holidays. This program has brought us to many kindergartens around the country and to Singapore as well.

Music appeals to everyone and we noted that the kids, as well as their parents, were all eager to experience the program wherever we went to conduct it. All parents are concerned for the child’s overall development, from upbringing to education. Realizing that all experiences will be beneficial to their child, any program that will help shape a child in a positive manner is worth the experience.

Currently, the program has further developed to cater to three categories of young children according to age, which are, for 3 to 4 year old kids, 5 to 6 year olds, and for the 7 to 9 year old kids.

Below are photos of the kids at their kindergartens and selections of the best artworks they did during the program.

Click on 了解我的画 to read Blog in Chinese Simplified 简体中文

The importance of knowing music theory

What is music theory about and why is it important?
To learn music theory is to learn the language of music. This musical language is what musicians use to communicate with each other during a performance. We can learn a lot about music from understanding music theory. So, it is a necessity for all musicians to learn music theory. Besides, knowing music theory makes you a much more confident musician too.

What do you use music theory for?
Learning music theory primarily is to be able to read and write music. We need music theory to be able to read and understand the music scores just like anyone reading a book. The more theory you know, the better you will be at understanding music. So, we use music theory to perform music, to compose music, to arrange music and to analyze music.

What do you learn in music theory?
Music theory covers many, many topics. Based on the syllabus of the more popular foreign examination boards in this region, they cover the essentials like; musical notation, symbols and signs, music history, harmony, score reading, among others.

Can one go far into music theory?
Yes of course there is much to learn. Music theory can sometimes be very innovative. For example, there are new approaches and unorthodox methods of playing music today. Therefore, it would call for new and unorthodox ways to be able to notate music. There are musical scores today that even take the shape of graphs and charts, not like the normal music notation we see in our music books.

Do you have any advice for music students regarding music theory?
I strongly advice all music students to study music theory very well because this will help you understand music. More importantly, if you can find an application for the music theory that you are studying, it would be great. Involve yourself in composing simple tunes or making simple arrangements of your favorite pieces by using music theory. Perhaps, if you do not know how to do that very well, you can always seek the advice and help of your music teacher.

Parental Support

How can parents assist further to enhance their child’s musical experience?
There are many ways that parents can get involved and play a proactive role in their child’s musical development.

For example, listening to music is always highly recommended especially for music students. There are many resources to look for music to listen to. For example, you can visit your local music retail shop and look for CD’s or DVD’s, concerts to get for your child to look and listen.

The radio is another source where you can get access to a lot of music, old and new. There is also MTV on the television as well as music from the Internet. Internet today has resources for lots of music; especially Internet radio and they are all available 24 hours a day.

If uncertain, you may consult your child’s music teacher to get recommendations or advice. Or you may ask your child what he or she prefers. Perhaps they may have an idea of what they like. So, bring your child to the music retail outlet and let them choose.

Let you child see and hear music being performed live. This is one of the most exhilarating experiences for anyone, whether you are learning music or not.

Allowing your child to participate in musical events, for example, their music school’s annual concert or their piano teacher’s annual concert or music clubs in their schools, or music camps, or recital events that’s being held publicly.

Starting Music Lessons

What to expect during your first few lessons?
Primarily, there are two areas of focus, which is theory and practical. For theory, you will be learning the basic fundamentals of music to be able to read and write music. This is very important because when you can read music, all the printed music that is available out there is accessible to you. For practical, it simply means that you will also start learning to play a musical instrument of your choice.

Besides theory and practical, are there other music reinforcement activities?
Yes, there are. It is very important to include ear training and rhythmic activities. These add to the students overall development.

How do these help and what is involved in these reinforcement activities?
Ear training consists of an assortment of activities to help enhance the student’s musical mind to analyze music, to perform music and to create music.

Singing is a part of ear training. Singing intervals and short passages helps with accuracy in musical pitch. It also helps with musical phrasing and musical feel. There are students who eventually are capable of acquiring perfect pitch from singing and ear training activities.

Besides, developing your voice from singing may result in you being a brilliant vocalist in the future. You will never know!

Rhythmic activities are equally important. For example, these are exercises involving clapping short passages or long passages. This will help you understand rhythm. This will also help you develop good tempo and good pulse, which is very important for playing music.

Would every teacher subscribe to the same syllabus?
Well, every teacher must have his or her own teaching syllabus. Although every teacher subscribes to the fundamental syllabus involving theory and practical, there are teachers out there who may include other activities in their lessons. And these varies from teacher to teacher based on their own personal experiences.

Card Games Made Easy Holiday Workshops

Last December, I conducted two holiday music workshops for toddlers and pre-school kids separately at the Junior Scholars Kids' Garden. It was two mornings of fun musical activities with them.

The first session was for toddlers (3 and 4 years old) while the second session was for pre-school kids (5 and 6 years old). The workshop for both groups are based on the Card Games Made Easy program.

Other than singing, music and movement, and rhythmic activities, the pre-schoolers in particular were involved in an additional segment that requires them to create a simple composition using the cards. This is to encourage the kids and let them feel that they can create simple music at such a young age, and without any music knowledge.

Other than musical activities, the young kids also participated in a drawing and coloring segment, which is very interesting as it allows us to see their world and thoughts through their eyes and minds.

It is always very encouraging when we see kids who are eager to participate in our activities and clamoring to answer our musical quizzes.

The end result is to let the kids experience the joy of making music through the Card Games Made Easy activities. In this program, we strive to let the kids feel that they have the potential for music.

I think the defining moment is when we perform their compositions for them. Many may not realize the virtuous impact music has on a developing child. Therefore, we seek to help inculcate interest in music on the kids.

Here are some photos of the event.

Reflections on the Medan Musik Camp 2009

This was my second visit to Medan in Sumatera, Indonesia by invitation of Medan Musik to conduct some workshops at their music camp. It was well attended by their students, teachers and a few parents numbering a hundred and fifty in total. Brastagi, where the music camp was held is an ideal location as it is a quaint hilly resort not too far from the city where one can enjoy the cool temperate climate.

The students seemed eager to learn and know more about other music genres. Therefore, introducing and initiating them into jazz music (at their request) was appropriate. Of course, a few of them have heard a bit of jazz and the style that they like is fusion jazz.

So, we listened to, and talked about the various other styles in jazz from traditional to modern. I reckon that after that session, some of them would take the initiative to gain an appreciation in jazz music.

I was very encouraged by the attendees who showed much enthusiasm participating in the workshop activities. They were very attentive throughout the entire day’s various workshops and responded well during the quiz and interactive sessions.
The recital later that evening featured all the students performing pieces of their choice ranging from classical to contemporary. There were also duets performances that added much color to the evening’s recital. Congrats to all the teachers for preparing their students to perform, which they did well.

In all, I had a truly great time and would like to extend my sincere thanks to the management, staff, teachers, students and parents of Medan Musik for making my stay memorable and enjoyable.