Category Archives: General

Competition Winner Jessica Li – 2016 NVMTA

Student Jessica Li

Jessica Li is my student for 6 years. She started when she was 8. Great achievement to perform concerto by Grieg at age 14 and receive 1st place at March 2016 Northern Virginia Music Teachers Association (NVMTA) Piano Concerto Festival. I am very proud of my hardworking talented student.

Here is a video of Jessica playing the concerto, which we recorded after competitions. (NVMTA competition does not allow video recording.)  Please listen and comment if you feel so.

I will post another 1st place winner video soon.

Edvard Grieg Piano Concerto


The work is among Grieg’s earliest important works, written by the 24-year-old composer in 1868 in Søllerød, Denmark, during one of his visits there to benefit from the climate.

Grieg’s concerto is often compared to the Piano Concerto of Robert Schumann — it is in the same key, the opening descending flourish on the piano is similar, and the overall style is considered to be closer to Schumann than any other single composer. Incidentally, both wrote only one concerto for piano. Grieg had heard Schumann’s concerto played by Clara Schumann in Leipzig in 1858 (1859 is given by alternative sources), and was greatly influenced by Schumann’s style generally, having been taught the piano by Schumann’s friend, Ernst Ferdinand Wenzel.

Additionally, Grieg’s work provides evidence of his interest in Norwegian folk music; the opening flourish is based on the motif of a falling minor second followed by a falling major third, which is typical of the folk music of Grieg’s native country. This specific motif occurs in other works by Grieg, including the String Quartet No. 1. In the last movement of the concerto, similarities to the halling (a Norwegian folk dance) and imitations of the Hardanger fiddle (the Norwegian folk fiddle) have been detected.


Music Lessons for Children – Parent’s View

two young piano students holding musical looking balloons
Time for some fun!

Hello, Ms. Ritter. I read your blog post on the “Differences Between American and Russian Approach of Learning Piano.” It was very thought provoking. I want to share my opinions with you about music lessons for children.

I have always been fascinated with different cultures and ways of doing things. I also think because of the Internet and easy international travel, we are more exposed to different cultures than ever before. It is easier than in previous generations to take ingenuity and the best from different cultures. That allows us to provide our children with greater opportunities and perspectives than when we were limited to the narrowness of just one culture.

Continue reading Music Lessons for Children – Parent’s View

Differences between American and Russian Approach of Learning Piano

American and Russian flags
American and Russian flags flying together symbolizes my combined American and Russian approach to teaching piano!

I absorbed differences in American and Russian approach and philosophies in teaching and learning piano. I taught piano from 1982 to 1999 in Russia and from 1999 to present in America. I am grateful that I had opportunity to learn from both experiences.

I  would like to compare teaching styles in America and Russia. Then I will tell how I have combined them in my teaching.

Russian Traditional Way

I call it “aggressive” way. It is extremely demanding and almost threatening way. After such learning experiences, many students stop to play piano at all.

In Russia (old USSR,) we do not use the word “fun” regarding learning process. (Actually we do not use that word at all, there is no translation for “fun” in Russian language) . The piano lesson sound was nothing to do with “fun.” It was  strictly intellectual, more art-like activity for kids. We were very lucky back in USSR: almost every kid had opportunity to learn the piano at the local music school (seven years of study). And it was  affordable for “middle class” family. Please keep in mind that I am talking about my experience until 1999. Russia is changed now, and the way of teaching  and school and educational system changed too.

After many hours of practice (mostly pushed by parents), students forget what the meaning of the word “music” is. They question, “What piano playing  has to do with the music?”

While working in the music school in Moscow, I got  a student transferred from another teacher. The student was 7th grader, and it was her last graduating year. When we met at the first time, Masha have stated, “I will do my best to go through final exam, I will receive the diploma, I will present that diploma to my parents, and after that I will never ever play piano again!”  It was very very sad. I am glad that I could help her. At the end of the year, her attitude changed. Ffter her graduation, she thanked me with tears that I helped her to regain her love for piano again. It was very touching and rewarding.

Here, in US, a few people (when they learn that I am Russian piano teacher) jokingly asked, “Are you hitting your student’s hands with a stick?”

Continue reading Differences between American and Russian Approach of Learning Piano

Choosing a Great Piano Teacher from the Start

Today’s post is important for those who are going to start learning piano or want a beginning piano teacher for their children. I am going to share my philosophy on importance of choosing a great piano teacher from the start.

If one wants to build a beautiful house, will he go for a cheap and inexperienced contractor to build the foundation and then get a skilled contractor later? His whole building will be unstable and will tend to fall one day. Same is the case in building the piano skills of a child. Weak basics skills cannot support technique challenges that come later.

The first step of learning piano is extremely important! I have instructed a lot of students (about a thousand during my years in the US). 70 % of them needed serious help.

The problem is that most of the students start with wrong instructors. When such students come to me, I feel sad for them. They are innocent souls who know nothing in the piano world. They were victims of incompetent piano teachers.

Usually parents are responsible for it because they are usually not much knowledgeable about piano and get tricked into giving their child into wrong hands.

Most parents  have the bad idea of getting a “cheaper” piano teacher in the beginning to “teach their child the basics.”  After that, if the child has an interest in continuing to learn how to play the piano, parents often would consider finding a “more expensive and experienced” piano teacher.

This is the wrong approach.

It will costs you a lot later to fix the problems your child faces due to his/her bad approach on basic skills. It will take years for a good piano teacher to improve the basics of such children.

Besides going for a cheap piano teacher, some times the parents get into misconception that a great piano player will be a great piano teacher as well. Which is not always the case. Though exceptions occurs.

Unfortunately, most teachers do not know how to teach beginner,  and they have some great misconceptions.  During 2000-2004, I attended the  Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) National Conferences in Salt Lake City. There was a lecture by one of renowned American pianist teacher-educator, a  piano professor with a PhD.

It was astonishing experience to learn about American traditional approach to teach piano for beginners.  One of shocking statement was, “For the first three years you should not worry about hand position. Teach students notes, rhythm, and have fun!” The educational lecture and the message was given to the audience of about two hundred piano teachers who flew to Salt Lake City from all over United States.

I like the idea of making lessons fun. However, the statement about ignoring the physical approach of shaping hands is totally wrong.  In Continue reading Choosing a Great Piano Teacher from the Start