Alex Liu, eight, plays at a Yamaha Young Artist Master Class when he was seven.
Alex Liu, eight, plays at a Yamaha Young Artist Master Class when he was seven. Video Credit: Courtesy of All Talent Academy
Piano teacher Felicia Zhang and some of her piano students from Fairfield County after their performance at Carnegie Hall. Photo Credit: Courtesy of All Talent Academy
A first prize-winning piano student of Fairfield County-based piano teacher Felicia Zhang, Cary Wang, 10, will perform Friday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. At Good Shepherd-Faith Church, 152 W. 66th St. in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Courtesy of All Talent Academy
Clara Tu, now 16, performed at Carnegie Hall more than 16 times. Here she is shown with her mother Felicia Zhang in an appearance on The Today Show at age six. Photo Credit: Courtesy of All Talent Academy

Connecticut Piano Teacher Takes Holistic Approach In Lessons

Is your child a prodigy or just a kid who loves playing the piano?

We asked talent development and strategic planning expert, Felicia Feng Zhang, to break it down for parents.

Zhang has been teaching piano for 30 years in both China and the United States. After an extensive career in music education, Pedagogical practitioner, she developed her own unique teaching methods and founded All Talent Academy with locations in Greenwich and Southbury. Her students have won Numeral international level competitions and played Carnegie Hall.

Zhang is a National Certified piano teacher from National Music Teacher Association and American Certified College Musicians and received the Hall of Fame from National Guild of Piano Teachers in 2006 (certified Piano and Theory Teacher from the National Music Teachers Association, American College of Musicians and National Guild of Piano Teachers. ) Her accolades include National Gold Medals; Teacher of the Year 2017, 2018 from the Royal Conservatory of Music. She is currently vice president of the Connecticut State Music Teachers Association.

Zhang said she found that many teaching methods leave students frustrated and without passion. So she built her music school on the principles of effectiveness, efficiency, and enthusiasm along with the belief that, with the right approach to learning, music can be easy and enjoyable for everyone.

Zhang calls her teaching method 3F which stands for "Focus, Follow and Flow." It is a holistic approach to learning to play the piano -- which builds on good habits and makes learning a natural, easy and enjoyable process, she explained.

Children taught in the method learn faster, concentrate better and can hold their interest. "They learn to become independent thinkers and learners," Zhang maintained. 

How to recognize a prodigy?

While most students can learn to play the piano well, a prodigy has exceptional abilities, according to Zhang.

"They are fast learners and have a desire to finish each task nicely with drive," she said.

And while these skills are influenced by parents, or other family members and role models, child prodigies have a natural ability to "follow and focus" in lessons. They display openness to "discover and explore new music" and "have more discipline and are able to demonstrate these attributes and show off their prodigy," Zhang explained.

Other children may not have prodigy but have "natural gifts" to play the piano. “I am sure there are lots of kids who are very smart, fast thinkers, and (they) wait for us to help them to develop and guide their natural gifts—step by step, to polish, to become more bright" piano players, Zhang said.

One of the ways parents can prepare their children to excel at playing is by making sure they have a good education, Zhang said.

So along with providing piano lessons, parents should look at the quality of (academic) education their child is receiving. To play piano better, you need to learn and build appreciated eye, ears and can explore the natural beauty and into your music expression from your heart Zhang suggests parents ask, "Is (the education) a tool to develop brain function. This is important because generally speaking, the piano should be considered one of the daily education tools to develop brain function, build solid (learning) habits, learn the essential elements of life, and academic skills."

Conversely, a child's learning grasp "becomes evident in piano playing," according to Zhang. She said lessons can reveal the child's general learning and thinking habits, and their strengths and weaknesses. Associate with other learning subjects. The information can help parents assess the kind of education their child is receiving.

So how do you know your child would enjoy taking piano lessons?

Practically speaking, Zhang noted a child who loves listening to music and has a desire to play the piano would benefit from taking piano lessons.

Conversely, a child without discipline, who cannot focus or follow instructions, may have a difficult time, she said. Still, the same child can learn to play piano, Zhang said.

Playing the piano is the best education tool and solution to help make improvements in these areas, she continued.

The practice of playing music with grand staff, sith both hands working at the same time, along with sight-reading, gives a child instant feedback to improve focus, carefulness, coordination, and capability skills, Zhang explained.

Piano builds son's confidence

Yang Liu whose son Alexander Liu, eight, said since he started lessons with Zhang at age five, he's gained confidence.

"Alex was lucky to study with (Zhang) so go into the upward spiral of positive feedback, of enjoyment, achievement, and confidence. He is self-motivated and loves to play in front of his schoolmates at his school," said the Yorktown resident.

He noted that while he and his wife always loved music, they entered science and technology careers.

"But have always had a dream of music so we (wanted) to introduce Alex to a friend, piano. After systematic study and practice under (Zhang's) guidance, he has fully explored his potential."

Among his piano accomplishments, Alex has played Carnegie Hall several times, competed in an international children's piano talent show, and has been a young reporter to Sinovision, a United States-based Chinese television network based in New York City for which he's interviewed, several world-renown musicians. 

Liu said it was "cool" the first time Alexander played at Carnegie Hall. Subsequently, he noticed his son's piano playing bolster when he played the iconic world stage.