History of PMI
In 1990, just months after delivering her first child, Pastor Irene Choon felt frustrated at giving piano lessons, as it centred on classical music and consisted of learning monotonous set pieces with endless notes.
She felt there should be a simpler, more hands-on and fun approach to learning the piano, but she didn't know what it was, and this only added to her frustration.
"I prayed for God's guidance on whether to abandon music as a career, and one day an entirely new concept to teaching the piano just popped into my head, as if some heavenly knowledge had been downloaded into my brain cells.
"I kept writing unceasingly for about four hours, and only after I had reviewed what I had written did I realise that God had given me an unheard of concept to teaching music. Uncannily, my newborn baby slept through those four hours without crying."
Initially, Pastor Irene had formulated this new concept into 18 teaching modules. But she perfected these in 1995 and shortened them to only 12.
Pastor Irene said her heavenly gift consisted of teaching piano lessons using a "touch system" consisting of chords, solfa, play-by-ear and notes. Stressing that most modern gospel songs had moved away from hymns to chords, she said:
"With chords, it's just a matter of learning a formula of sounds and then mixing and matching them to suit the mood of the song, which can also be altered to suit the situation or surroundings.
"It takes about 10 years to reach Grade 8 level through the conventional method of using notes, but with the touch system, a student only needs two-and-a-half years to reach the same level of understanding," she said.
In the process of formulating her teaching method based on the concept God had given her, Pastor Irene said she had actually invented a new language for writing music which is simpler and easier to read. She said her students could play simple tunes after completing Module I and began playing in church after Module 6. One module takes between eight and 10 lessons to complete and can be learnt through one lesson a week for students in Kota Kinabalu or in three days for distance learning students. The Distance Learning Course is conducted through a three-day seminar approach where students are taught the concept and style of playing a particular module. Once they had acquired the relevant knowledge, students are given a self- practice schedule which they have to follow for the next three months to master that particular module.
Pastor Irene said the method was so convenient that students actually flew in three times a year from Singapore, Kuching in Sarawak and Sandakan and Tawau in Sabah to Kota Kinabalu where her institution, Praise Music International (PMI), is located. Last year, Pastor Irene began travelling to Sydney, Australia to conduct the Distance Learning Course which began in Miri, Sarawak, at the beginning of 2005. She said most of her initial 17 students had no piano background, and this propelled churches in Miri to use her Distance Learning Course to train pianists.
Students begin their internship by playing the piano in church after just six modules, which take one- and-a-half years to complete. They are certified as fully qualified pianists after completing all 12 modules a duration which takes two-and-a-half to three years. Best of all, the teaching method is so simple that her students range in ages from three-and-a-half to 63 years. Furthermore, those who sat for the London-based ABRSM classical piano examination last year achieved 100 percent passes. Pastor Irene said God had also given her the wisdom to compile a music theory course for adults without a music theory background. She said students who took this course can complete it within one year and be ready to sit for the ABRSM Grade 5 Theory Examination.
"The most important aspect of my teaching method is that students learn how to play by ear, and that means playing from the heart. "Notes are a set method that gives no room for improvisation, while chords allow different students to play the same song in different their own reflecting tunes, personalities. "This is very important for Christians as we are always led by the Holy Spirit when we pray. We lose ourselves in our worship and let the Spirit guide us," she said. Pastor Irene said she'd always believed that musicians led people into the presence of God through their music. Hence, she insists that those who learn from her have to be worshippers first before they can lead others.
She also insists all her students sing as they play, and although her students learn to play mainly gospel songs, she also ensures they play some wholesome secular songs to give them a sense of
flexibility. Angel Wong, 22, who teaches at PMI, is also a graduate of the Intensiv Church Pianist Course and only took a year to complete it as she had joined the course with a Grade 6 qualification in classical piano. "l have been exposed to both forms of teaching and find Irene's method to be a breath of fresh air. Now, I'm free to mix and match various tunes compared to the traditional method of learning the piano, which is rather rigid. "In fact, I have even begun composing my own songs and they are currently being sung in my church," said Angel. She added that students at PMI are encouraged to compose their own songs while graduating students are required to compose original songs and present them during their graduation concert.
Another student, Wei Na Tang, 35, said she had completed Grade 8 in classical piano and was now in the midst of completing Module 9 of the Intensive Church Pianist Course. "This method frees my spirit to play. Best of all, I can sing too and do so in parts such as tenor, bass, soprano, alto and so on," she said. The Intensive Church Pianist Course takes two-and-a-half years to complete and Pastor Irene said she is willing to fly to any part of the world to teach her course, so long as there is a minimum of 12 students interested in learning. For enquiries and to enrol in Pastor Irene's courses, please contact PMI at
Tel: 6088-385631, Fax: 6088. 385632