Play By Ear (PBE) Music School is currently the largest pop and jazz keyboard music school in Singapore. Founded in 2003 by Mr Andrew Yau when he was just 23, the school has come a long way since in an incredibly short period of time. From a one-man show when it first began, the school is now staffed by close to 20 instructors, with 500 students on average monthly.
So what enables PBE to stand out and shine among the intense competition in the music education industry?
A Novel Concept
PBE began with a clear purpose in mind – to teach students how to play-by-ear or improvise music. The PBE syllabus and methodology had to be developed from scratch because established piano syllabuses such as the ABRSM do not cater for its purpose. Andrew reveals he even had to take up designing somewhere along his entrepreneurial journey in order to develop the graphics and website for PBE. PBE’s novel concept has drawn a large following of students of all backgrounds including doctors and lawyers, surprising even Andrew himself.
Emphasis on Creativity, not Accuracy
As its website states, “Though reading proper music notation is important, relying totally on pre-written scores for both hands to “play the tune” is not the ideal way. We learn to speak languages. Similarly, for music, we should learn to improvise!” PBE students play from fake sheets, which are basically music scores with only single right-hand notes. Relevant chords are written at the top of the right-hand bars to indicate the left-hand parts, which students improvise from. By encouraging creativity instead of accuracy, the PBE experience allows students to feel liberated rather than restricted.
PBE instructors are relatively well-known in the local music scene, Andrew says, yet its course fees remain competitive. Andrew explains he does not want to position PBE as a luxury music school where only the good and the rich can attend. Passion, he declares, is the main driving force for him and his team of instructors, and the key to PBE’s success.
“There’s no retirement for me,” he laughs. Indeed, how do you retire from something that feels more like fun than work?
Even though Play By Ear only moved into its current shophouse located near Bugis Village in 2005, the music school has already undergone its fourth renovation project to provide its students with the best possible learning environment. Even so, Andrew is still unsatisfied, and feels that there is a need to constantly improve. Andrew also shares his plans for PBE to globalize and bring the unique methodology he created to learners in other parts of the world. As of now, they are looking at setting up a PBE franchise in Australia.