teaching piano

This past month I gave a piano masterclass in Jakarta, Indonesia. How? Read below – this post will hopefully inspire you with ideas to help your students (and bring more students to you).

Back in May, I had a dilemma that many teachers face: our piano students leave town for the summer. I could teach my remaining students until the fall rolled around, but what if I mixed in a little adventure?

I brushed with the travel bug last year, but I had never been to Asia. I started thinking, how cool would it be to visit and teach music somewhere out there?

It never hurts to check. I was enticed by Bali, so I chose to look into the city of Jakarta, a short plane ride away.

Steps to Teach Music Overseas

  1. Created a spreadsheet and Googled Indonesian music schools.
  2. Made a list of ~20, with links and contact info.
  3. Crafted a short email, stating that I wanted to teach a masterclass and/or teach lessons while I was visiting.
  4. Cut down my already short email by half, to be clearer and to-the-point.
  5. Sent this to each school.

Within the week, two had enthusiastically responded. I chose to work with Rosa Mistyca, the super sharp and talented owner of Ensiklomusika, based in Jakarta. We Skyped once to confirm that, yes, we’re both real people. Rosa agreed to promote my visit to Jakarta residents (a ton of work on her part). The deal was – I’d give one presentation for teachers looking for tips on teaching, and one masterclass where I teach individual students for ~25 minutes each, with their families and other students in the audience. Over the next month, we coordinated dates and suddenly I realized: Oh this is really happening. Can’t back out now.

No Longer Just a Fantasy: I’m Really Going to Asia

I booked my ticket, got my shots, and started to prepare. I had never done any of this before. But after a decade of teaching and making music in NYC, I felt ready to share what I’ve learned, to challenge myself, and to embrace a little chaos and uncertainty.

I sat down, nervously started to write…and realized I knew a lot more than I thought.

Until you write down or present what you know in a codified way, it’s tough to know how much you truly know. This is why blogging and writing lesson notes to families are so crucial (Music Teacher’ s Helper lets you do this easily, by the way). It doesn’t just help them but gives your teaching clarity. Weak habits get broken. You start to see how to approach the problems students face but also why, at a deeper level, an approach is good or needs to change. Very powerful.

Still, I was intimidated. Ensiklomusika was counting on me, paying me, to prepare something clear and useful, in an unfamiliar context, in a foreign country. It would be nice if they all loved it, and loved me, but maybe they’ll think I’m a fraud. Then what?

A wise man once wrote: “the future is indeed terrifyingly unknowable when you can’t even focus on the present.”

So I focused on what I could control: my own effort, in that moment.

Weeks later, I arrived in Jakarta and spent some time wandering around the city.

After a few stimulating days dodging Southeast Asia traffic, I hunkered down in my hotel to work on my presentation.

The Presentation

I arrived, sat down at the piano, and relaxed for a few minutes. Oh wait, I know how to do this.

Soon, a dozen teachers from Jakarta filed in, with pens and paper, and sat down, waiting for me to begin.

So I took a deep breath, and began. I talked about rhythmic approaches, how to sight-read, and common problems students have. I shared stories about my students to show why rapport matters so much – students often stay or leave because of this alone.

Finally, I brought in a unique approach to helping kids, as young as four, read and play music from their first lesson. I’ve used Andrew Ingkavet’s Musicolor Method for close to a year and watched as referrals flew in, my roster almost double, and my confidence as a teacher grow like crazy. Andrew’s approach not only works, but kids (and even one of my adult students!) really love it. What an opportunity to show a room full of Jakarta residents something new, from the other side of the world!


After two hours, the conference ended. The masterclass began soon after.

Again, this was new for me. I was to give each of seven students a private lesson…with their families, friends, and students watching. To take the searing spotlight off the student, I planned to address the audience at times, to include them in the learning process.

This means I had to:

  • immediately identify the problems that particular student (a student I had just met!) was facing
  • help her feel comfortable enough to listen to me and try my suggestions (with a watching audience)
  • throughout each lesson, I had to observe, frame, and simplify those problems to the audience in a way that 1) didn’t alienate the student herself, and 2) helped the audience understand some technicals without alienating them


By the end, I was totally wiped out.

And who headlines the entire masterclass? A wildly talented student, Elnino, six years old, sits down and crushes a tricky Sonatina. This boy used every part of his body gracefully and played it passionately. Not like a robot at all. It was easy for him.

Elnino’s physical instincts were top-notch. I nudged the audience to observe what he does so effortlessly with his arms and body overall, to open their minds to how he’s intuitively solved his own physical problems, the same problems that plague other students.

What a reward, to present material that I love to new faces, and they were thrilled!

We finished, grabbed a beer, and Rosa forced me to eat a durian (a fruit that smells so bad it offends cockroaches). Then I hopped on a plane to Bali the next morning. What a trip.


Takeaways: What I Learned by Teaching Teachers and Giving a Piano Masterclass

It challenged me to condense all my knowledge in a simple, actionable way, and to do this publicly, on the spot.

I learned to repeat myself, helpfully. For instance, unclear rhythms cause most problems for students. During the masterclass, I saw five students struggle with this. So I approached them with a similar solution, five times, and noted the common thread to the student and the audience. Everyone wins.

The experience gave me more confidence as a teacher. It gave my work visibility, legitimacy, and a bridge to a whole new set of relationships on a different continent. As a busy teacher in NYC, I know that relationships, and ultimately businesses, are built and sustained on trust. I managed to create a pocket of that within an entirely new part of the world.


Want to try something like this? You never know, all it takes is a quick email. Plan ahead now before next summer comes – Ensiklomusika continuously accepts foreign teachers during their visits.


Brett Crudgington runs a private piano studio in Brooklyn, NY for over 20 students. He studied jazz as a teenager and spent formative years in college working with John Kamitsuka on classical music. It was here that he learned Abby Whiteside’s physical approach to the piano, how to make music that emanates from the core rather than the fingers. He actively brings a wide range of pedagogical tools to his lessons, including Andrew Ingkavet’s Musicolor Method.

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The first time I introduce a chord to my piano students, it’s at the keyboard.

Playing Chords

The problem most younger kids (3 to 7 year olds) have with chords is they just can’t seem to get their fingers coordinated enough to make this sound clear.  So, I usually present it on it’s own as a separate activity weeks before I actually have them use it in a song.

So I show them a C major root position chord first as the outside notes – making a fifth, and then the inner third.  Then putting it all together.  This takes longer than you would think!

After a few weeks of practicing the chord daily so that they can play it 10 times in a row bouncing up and down, we can now move to playing the song Mary Had A Little Lamb.

Reading Chords

Playing piano and reading music are separate skills.  Yes they are interrelated but much less that you would think.  So, weeks later, after the students are playing chords easily, I begin to address chords on the staff.   To do this I tell them a little story and show them a drawing.  I actually draw it right in their notebook in front of them.

There’s always magic seeing something come from nothing!

I tell them that in this magic world of music there are snowmen.  Each note can be stacked on top of each other and this is what they look like.

Root position chords look like a snowman.


Illustration by Andrew Ingkavet

Play It On the Keys

We then play the chord and notice how our fingers correspond to each ball of the snowman.

Find All The Snowmen In This Piece

I will usually have them look at song and start circling all the “snowmen” they can find.

Chord Inversions

Then later, when we learn other chords, we have other versions of snowmen.

This snowman is stretching his legs!

First inversion (3rd in the bass)

Screenshot 2016-03-23 12.05.13

Play this one.

This snowman is lifting his head and shoulders up!

Second inversion (5th in the bass)

Screenshot 2016-03-23 12.06.47

Play this one too.

The kids think it is very funny and funny is memorable!

And now that Disney has made Olaf a famous snowman (from Frozen), I even can tell them

“Hey look, it’s Olaf!”

What do you use to teach chords?

Any fun stories?  I’d love to hear!

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teaching piano tools and resources

The intersection of technology and art is key to the evolution of life. One such example is the transition from standard instruments to electronic based instruments. No longer do drums need a special material stretched over the base, nor a piano need strings to sound like a grand piano. With electronic instruments, the world of self-taught musicians is becoming more common. With the surge of mobile apps, musicians are able to learn musical instruments at home, on the train, at the park or even at the beach. Below are a few examples of technology infused with art.

1. Wolfie

One new app that has surfaced is called Wolfie, named after famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Because the study of music is declining in the US and Europe, the idea of combining tech and music learning is essential to keep the attraction of the youth. The app includes a patented Magic Cursor, which follows the notes in real time, allowing students to not lose their place, or miss a note. The app has a wide variety of scores, ranging from beginner to advanced, and constantly adding new scores. After 12 months of development, the app is ready to go!


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