Frequently Asked Questions (Courses)

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The music courses are as follows: Pop Piano Improvisation, Jazz Piano Improvisation, Pop Vocal, & Pop Piano Junior. The courses provided are for adults, teenagers and children.

It depends on your level of musical experience and training. A student with zero musical background will take on average, about 1-6 months to reasonably play simple tunes with 2 hands. A student that has strong music background such as prior classical training would generally require about 2-3 years of training at PBE before attaining the standard of a ‘lounge player’ or a “working or gig musician”. Having said this, the time needed really boils down to the effort and time invested in practicing. Practice leads to perfection.

Yes, without a doubt. Every student is unique, with varying musical experiences and interests. At PBE, your personal instructor will tailor the lesson to fit your current knowledge and ability. If you are able to demonstrate an understanding of a particular topic, your instructor can quickly move on to cover other skills and concepts that are new to you. For students with classical music background, your prior training has given you an understanding of musical theory and concepts; however, many of the improvisation techniques that are taught here would be new to you.

Yes, it is possible upon your request. You may request to learn from your instructor whatever you wish. Everything can be customized to your needs. Following the P.B.E.Syllabus™ also provides a fair bit of flexibility as well. For example, the syllabus allows you to play songs of your own personal choice. You may also learn what you like from the syllabus and skip those that you might already acquired.

Yes. The oldest student we have is in her 70s.

Playing solely “by ear” is never a good substitute for the skill of reading music, because being able to read music notes allows you to play songs that you have never heard before! However, we do not force those that choose not to read the musical notations. History has shown us that there are numerous talented musicians who can play very well but are unable to read notes. At PBE, we generally teach students to read only the melody notes for the tune. You will need to know just enough music theory to help you begin playing and improvising.

In order to play the correct notes, chords, and rhythms, a basic understanding of music theory and concepts is required. Our teaching method incorporates the use of fake sheets, which are much easier to read and understand, compared to a full music score (such as those used for classical music). Being able to read and understand the written song makes it much easier for you to start playing and improvising on it. A fake sheet (also known as lead sheet) is actually a music score containing only the melody line and the basic chords (sometimes with lyrics). It provides a musician the minimum information required in order to make an improvised arrangement of a song. Fake books are collections of a wide variety of fake sheets – these may be purchased through various online and physical music bookstores.

If you have previously attended some classical piano lessons, playing by ear (pop piano) will help you understand what you have been playing over the period of your classical training. You will learn to better appreciate harmonies, chords and rhythms, even those found in your classical music pieces! Learning pop or jazz piano will definitely NOT affect your classical music progress, and neither will it put your classical music skills to waste. It’s like learning how to ice skate and learning how to roller blade; these are separate skills that benefit each other. Regardless of the style you play (pop or jazz or classical), the same set of music notes, playing skills, fingerings, chords, etc., apply to all genres. In the end, it’s still music.


The ABRSM grading is relevant to classical training, which is different from the contemporary style of playing. There are so many different styles of music and different chord progressions, chord types, rhythms, fills and improvisation techniques to learn. Pop, the genre itself, refers to a wide range of styles. Any song that is not defined as classical is considered to be ‘pop’ or ‘popular music’. Within pop, there are a range of styles such as Ballads, Pop Rock, R&B, Latin, Funk, Jazz Pop, etc. Music as a subject and art-form is so wide and dynamic that even very experienced musicians will admit that there are some areas that they have yet to learn, to apply and to master.

It actually depends on the instructor and also whether the student wishes to play and sing. Usually, during the teaching of “comping” or accompaniment style, students are encouraged to sing as they play. Instructors may assist if they are comfortable singing as well. If you wish to focus on learning to sing well, you may consider our Pop Vocal Improvisation Course.

We are very proud to say that all of our students have benefited from the P.B.E.S™ courses. Many of those that have learnt at our school for a reasonable period of time are now able to play by ear and improvise. We are teaching our students by using a proven international teaching methodology designed since 2003.

The main difference from a classical training course is that we emphasize and teach improvisation techniques and skills. Although we consider the reading of music notation very important, we will never encourage our students to read and interpret, note for note, pre-arranged music scores for both hands. Pop and jazz musicians normally rely on ‘fake’ books, which consist of scores containing only the lead melody and the chords. Our teaching method will eventually equip students to independently play and improvise on any song from fake books or from any written chord progressions (in “comping” style). On the other spectrum, our course is not so simplified as to only teach our students chords, comping and not much else. It is a comprehensive learning experience that trains our students to become real musicians, who do not need to rely on fully arranged music scores, and yet can play decently and creatively.

We teach our students songs from all the various pop and jazz genres. The PBE fake book used for teaching purposes contains many songs including Pop hits, Jazz favourites, English modern and oldies, Chinese pop and oldies/radio hits, Korean Drama theme songs, Japanese pop songs, Anime theme songs, and Contemporary Christian songs. The range of pop artistes include Jay Chou, S.H.E, J.J Lin, Lizzo, Katy Perry, Adele, BTS, The Beatles, Queen, Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton, and Hillsong, to name a few.

Yes, most certainly. A student is more than welcome to suggest what song he or she wants to learn during the lesson, provided that it is within his or her level of ability (the instructor’s advice should be sought regarding this). Our P.B.E.Syllabus™ is designed to be organised and structured, and yet still flexible to suit individual students’ needs. The course is also applicable to all levels and types of music. We encourage students to choose songs that they wish to play, as it is extremely important that our students remain motivated, through playing songs that they like. Students can also send us the youtube link of their songs and we can gladly transcribe the songs into simplified fake sheets for educational usage. If your chosen song is beyond your current playing ability, your instructor may decide to provide a simplified version of the song, or to defer the learning of the song to a later date. Our PBE Fake sheets library categorizes songs according to the student’s level of learning. In general, we recommend that Level 1 students limit themselves to Level 1 songs, in order to apply the basic musical concepts learnt to an actual song, without being hindered by more complex melodies.

In general, the songs that PBE students are taught during the lessons are taken from our PBE fake sheet library, which consists of a wide variety of songs that have been “simplified” for learning purposes. You may bring your own songs, but we strongly encourage bringing fake sheets or music sheets with chord symbols, in order to allow our instructors to teach you how to improvise.

Yes, we most certainly do. We have instructors that are specialized in preparing students to play in a church band setting or to train as a solo church piano player. Contemporary worship songs are considered as Pop as well. The techniques to improvisation is the same.

P.B.E.S™ = Play By Ear Syllabus (the Study of Contemporary Music Improvisation & Aural Techniques). This teaching methodology was designed with an aim to make the learning of music improvisation accessible to all ages (regardless of whether they are absolute beginners or musicians with some experience and/or training).

P.B.E.S™ is a flexible syllabus that provides for customized learning. While it is an organized and structured syllabus where you will learn about chords, chord progressions and a range of improvisation techniques, that may be applied to different songs, it allows your to learn what you prefer as well. It is unique, mainly because the syllabus is designed in such a way that it welcomes and allows students from all different levels and background to “come in” and to progressively start learning from where their current ability lies.

Children between the age of 7-12 yrs old can enroll in the Pop Piano Junior course. At the moment, we do not accept children below the age of 12yrs old for Pop Vocal and Pop Guitar courses.

Music fake sheets are music sheets that are stripped down to their most basic properties. A fake sheet consists of only melody notes (to be played with the right hand) and chord symbols. The reality is that all musicians (other than classical musicians) rely on such fake sheets during their performances, because it gives them the freedom of improvisation, rather than relying on a fixed written music arrangement. PBES uses fake sheets because there is no better method of learning how to play, than learning to improvise. You are actually “forced” to learn how to improvise when you play from a fake sheet. It helps you not to be reliant on music scores.

A music fake book is simply a compilation of a wide variety of fake sheets.

Yes you may, but you should bring a fake sheet score or at least need a score sheet with chords written for every bar. With the written chords, there is room for improvisation. Otherwise, your instructor would only get to teach you how to play the music note-for-note, which defeats the purpose of learning how to improvise in PBES. Your instructor may be able to figure out the appropriate chords for the song, but it is time consuming and generally not recommended during a 45-minute lesson.

Playing by ear actually means improvisation, doing something impromptu, without any prior fixed preparation. You can also interpret “play by ear” as being able to listen to a piece of music and play it out on the piano or any other musical instrument, without needing to read music scores.

Pop is actually an abbreviation for ‘popular’ or ‘popular music’, and it basically refers to all modern contemporary music. Music that was composed centuries ago, in the eras of Bach, Mozart, Chopin and Beethoven, is considered to be ‘classical’. Within the scope of Classical music, there were 4 main periods, namely the Baroque era: c. 1600–1750, the Classical era: c. 1750-1830, the Romantic era: c. 1815–1910, and the 20th century modern era: 1901–2000. Music composed after the 20th century is referred to as contemporary music (1975-current). Jazz originated in the early 20th century and grew as a genre over the years, while Pop, which began as rock and roll in the 1950s, emerged as a whole new genre that simplified music. In short, any music that is not Classical music is considered to be a part of the Pop genre which also has a wide variety of sub-genres such as Rock, Funk, New age, Ballads, etc.

No, absolutely not. Pop training DOES NOT replace Classical training. Classical music training encompasses its own techniques which are mostly fingering, dynamics and pedaling techniques. Pop music is contemporary and modern, and focuses on improvisation technique.

Jazz music represents a very advanced genre and is considered to be the highest level of music. Thus, it is very important to learn pop and be well-versed in pop playing before even attempting to start learning jazz.

Jazz music represents a genre of its own. Jazz originated during the early 20th century among African-American communities, especially in New Orleans. Early jazz music was popular to dance to, and included big band swing, ragtime and blues. By the 1940s, new jazz styles such as bebop and cool jazz had evolved into a challenging musical art form, with the use of sophisticated harmonies and chord-based improvisation. Today, jazz is well-known as a high-level, extremely improvised genre, with complex chords and melody line structures. Famous songs such as “Autumn leaves”, “Fly me to the moon”, “Satin doll” and “Take five” are among the Jazz standard songs we teach in our jazz improvisation course.

You could probably start at PBES Level 2. Although you may have forgotten much music theory and though your piano playing may be very rusty, you should pick up faster than most people as you already understand basic music concepts. PBES Level 1 is meant for pure beginners with no prior training, and who have problems with rhythm and co-ordination.

Yes, we also cover music theory as it is part of our P.B.E.Syllabus™. The music theory taught during the lesson is very “relevant” and immediately applicable to the practical part – actual piano playing and improvisation. Unlike classical training, where you may learn theory and practical in separate classes, Pop piano or contemporary music theory involves understanding the formation of chords and other rudiments of music, and then applying them to songs. We always aim to apply the concept learnt immediately to a song. Hence, theory and practical are combined in the same lesson.

The word improvisation literally means to play by ear, to create something out from nothing. Since most people also interpret “playing by ear” as being able to play a song purely by hearing, we also link “playing by ear” and “improvisation” together. Firstly, we emphasize on the importance of learning the skills to improvise, through chords, and subsequently being able to play any song by ear.

Music is truly an art, and all art requires improvisation and creativity. Imagine if you were only allowed to paint or draw with a fixed set of instructions and requirements. Or perform a dance following written instructions step-by-step, without freedom of expression. We do not even follow step-by-step instructions when we talk, as we improvise our words on the spot! The same goes for music. Whether you are a former classical pianist, a newbie or self-taught, you need to be able to improvise and read music. Improvisation is key to becoming a real musician.

Simply, through improvisation; by learning how to play using chords and by understanding how chord progressions work to accompany a melody line. A song is actually made up of chords and a melody. By understanding this formula, working and improvising around this song skeleton (chords + melody) will help you understand how most songs are actually composed. Only after you understand these requirements, should you think about actually “playing by ear” which requires “ear training”. Ear training helps students “map” or transfer music from hearing onto their musical instrument, through understanding pitch and intervals.

In general, yes, but it depends on the student. Although most students would recognize the importance of being able to read the melody, some are strongly averse to reading music notes. Nonetheless, we will provide the fake sheet for you, which will contain proper music notation. If you are really against reading notes, the least you should do, with your instructor’s help, is to translate the right-hand melody notation into music alphabets (A, B, C, etc.) on the scores.

As there are approximately billions of songs in existence, P.B.E.S™ has carefully filtered out and selected songs that are suitable for teaching and learning. From time to time, we update and add songs to our P.B.E.S™ approved song list. This does not mean that if a song you wish to learn is not in our P.B.E.S™ approved song list, you won’t get to learn it. We have a transcribing department and we can simply transcribe your desired song upon request through your instructor, thus ensuring that your learning experience is not compromised.

Yes, we do. Our Pop Piano improvisation course teaches skills equivalent to a keyboard course, but if you are referring to an advanced synthesizer course with the use of synth features and functions, we are unfortunately not able to offer it. When you learn ‘Pop Piano Improvisation’, your playing abilities can be applied to acoustic piano, digital piano and digital keyboard or synthesizer. Strictly learning how to play the keyboard/synthesizer is debatably a stripped-down process of learning pop piano, apart from the technical usage of the functions and features on the keyboard.