Yiyi Ku

Yiyi Ku

Yiyi Ku is a pianist and teacher. Born in Taiwan, she grew up in New Zealand and obtained her Master of Music degree with Distinction in Composition and Piano Performance from the University of Canterbury. Yiyi also holds a Licentiate in Piano Performance from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano from Music Teachers National Association and American College of Musicians/National Guild of Piano Teachers. She has also been certified as Advanced Specialist in both Theory and Piano from RCM. Yiyi has maintained a busy private studio for many years, and enjoys teaching students of all ages and levels.

Our job as a private instructor gives us unique perspectives and insights regarding a student’s abilities, potential, and character. Recently I have been asked to write various recommendation letters for my students for high school/college applications, summer camps, special recognition awards, as well as supporting documentation for competitions and scholarships.

Here are some of the tips I have to share:

1. State the facts – I always start by stating how long the student has studied with me. This is very important. Piano study requires time and perseverance. Being able to state that someone has stuck to the same activity for a decent number of years and not give up says a lot about that student’s character.

2. Make a list – What has the student accomplished during their time with you? List all the assessment exams/tests they have taken, what level, any high scores/honors they received. Also list any competitions they have participated in, including any prizes they won. If a student has not done any exams or competitions, then list approximately what repertoire they have studied, what level you think they have accomplished, whether they have progressed into an intermediate level or advanced level.

3. Personal observation – This is probably the most interesting part of the letter. What have you noticed about this student? What makes this student stand out from others? What are their special qualities? Does the student show enthusiasm and love? Is the student a consistent hard worker? Is the student conscientious and responsible? Does the student have a high standard for themselves? Does the student learn quickly? Is the student a joy to teach? Focus on the positives.

4. Other involvements – This is where I mention any other facts that I know about the student that may not be music related, such as academic or sports achievements. I also emphasize all the wonderful skills a piano student learns that can apply to other areas – goal setting, time management, accepting constructive criticism, etc.

5. Special mentions – Sometimes an organization requesting the letter asks for specific comments regarding the student – ability for independent study, leadership skills, community service involvements, etc. In this case, it may be necessary for the student to create special opportunities for themselves before you write the letter so that you can comment on their involvements. For example, ask the student to make arrangements to perform for retirement homes/charity concerts, so that there is something you can say about.

6. Wrap up – I also end with another personal note about my relationship with the student. How they have inspired me as a teacher, where I see their strengths lie, and where I see them grow.

7. Contact details – don’t forget to include all your contact information, so you may be contacted for further comment if necessary.

Do you write recommendation letters for your students? What do you include? Do share with us!


Photo by Adolfo Félix on Unsplash

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I live in California, and the biggest, most well-known music examination program here is called the Certificate of Merit. It is run by the Music Teachers Association of California, and approximately 30,000 students from all instrumental disciplines participate annually. For my town, the exam is held in early March, so the month of February is final count-down time for my students.

I am writing this post, because as I help my students with their exam preparations, I notice a common thread: what is obvious to us is not always so obvious for the students! Here are some common areas of concern:

1. Memorization. Most exams require students to memorize their music. To do this, we all know that we need to practice with the score in order to consolidate our memory. Very obvious right?! Students do not always know this! Once they think they have more or less memorized their pieces, they often practice from memory at home, and as such, their memory collapses. Even when told to use their music to practice, they often just put it on the music stand, and their eyes are not actually looking at the music, but at their hands and fingers instead. Everyday I have to remind someone to practice with their music, instead of from their not-so-reliable memory! Students often think they have memorized the notes, but they fail to memorize other details such as phrasing and dynamics.

2. Practice hands separately. Again very obvious right? Many students do not do this. They feel it is too boring, and they are “good enough” to not have to do something as basic as this!

3. Practice slowly. It is painful to play slowly. Students do not like it! “But the piece says Allegro”, I often hear, or “I heard someone play this fast on YouTube!” It takes so much patience to practice slowly, and we all know how important this is in order to consolidate technique, not to mention solidify the memory. Students do not know this, or they often forget to do it!

4. Practice with the metronome. In order to practice slowly, and keep the tempo slow, we need something to keep us steady – the metronome! I have a saying in my studio – the metronome does not lie! Students often get faster and faster and they do not realize it. Metronome practice requires discipline and patience – very important skills!

What are some of the things you have discovered that are so shockingly obvious to you, but you find your students forgetting to do? If you are also preparing students for exams, good luck!

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Dear MTH blog readers,

I hope you are all having a fantastic holiday!

I realize it has been a while since I last posted. My 2-year-old daughter certainly keeps me very busy. She is very active, and enjoys exploring everything around her, including sitting at the piano and just having fun with the instrument. You can see her “progress” by visiting her Facebook page JingJingAria.

2017 has been an unforgettable year for me. I was actually pregnant again, but lost the baby at 6 months gestation. It was a very difficult time. I am sharing with you all here, because I know these things are rarely talked about, and there may be some of you out there that have experienced similar losses. It is easy to celebrate joy together, as I shared with you the birth of my first child. We all deal with grief differently, and for me, finally being able to talk about it brings a certain sense of peace.

Around the time I found out the baby had complications, I started teaching a new student who is blind and autistic. I will write more about him in a future post. He opened my eyes and heart. I had the option of terminating the pregnancy very early on, but teaching this new student was so inspiring that I knew as long as the baby had a heartbeat and even a 1% chance of making it, termination was not an option for me. In the end the baby did not make it, but I am grateful for the time I had with her and for all the lessons she taught me.

Every child that walks into my studio is a miracle. If they can learn to play the piano, that is a wonderful thing! What is our job as teachers? I still need to remind myself to be ever more patient, more encouraging, more inspiring, and more loving. It is difficult to do sometimes, when the student did not practice, when they have an upcoming exam and their piece is not memorized, when they do not remember how to do Secondary Dominants after you have explained it 100 times, and when you know they simply have not lived up to their potential. But in the end, what does it matter? The child is breathing. The child is happy. The child is going to have a meaningful life. What is our role? What will they remember from us 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years from now?

Of course our job is also to inspire excellence. To cultivate the idea that hard work will be rewarded. To challenge and help our students to accomplish new tasks. To help to raise good citizens that can discover and appreciate beauty. To teach the art of playing the piano or whatever is your chosen instrument. As 2017 draws to a close, I ask myself the question, if I have been the right balance of praise and criticism for each student.

Thank you for reading this post, and letting me share with you some of my thoughts and reflections. I hope you are enjoying your holiday break, and giving some time to yourself to do whatever it is you have been wanting to do but never had the time.

Happy New Year!

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