About Upbeat Piano Studio


Welcome to Upbeat Piano Studio! The studio motto is “Enriching lives through music.” Our teachers approach teaching with the goal of complete musicianship, taught in a step-by-step approach, using popular beginner methods and the Royal Conservatory of Music curriculum. Students also learn to play popular and seasonal music of their choice. We deal with each student as an individual and help them to achieve their own goals. We encourage parents and students to communicate openly with us about their goals and repertoire choices. A basic five-subject course includes: compositions, technique, ear training, sight reading and theory. We insist that students complete regular practice between lessons to maximize the value of their lessons and so that they make sufficient progress to keep them interested and motivated. Theory instruction helps students to understand what they are playing and to make music accessible to them. Performing is a very popular part of our program. Student success builds morale and increases motivation and we ensure that students are prepared so that these experiences are positive. There is a Halloween Piano Party, and also a Christmas Carol Concert for seniors and an end of year recital in June. Some students enter in the Kiwanis Festival and there is also an opportunity to enter Ontario Registered Music Teachers’ Association auditions.   Our teachers have had many students successfully participate in RCM examinations: this is geared to student interest and personal goals.

Melanie Dickson-Smith

Royal Conservatory of Music Certified Teacher Upbeat Piano Studio Director Melanie Dickson-Smith, RCM Certified Teacher:  Advanced Specialist – Piano, Intermediate Specialist – Theory, has been teaching piano lessons and theory lessons in the Greater Toronto Area since 1989 and she has been teaching in the Toronto community of Leaside and the surrounding area since 2004. She is known for her enthusiasm and keen interest in each student’s musical development. This year, the studio is expanding to offer even more services. There are new group theory classes and new teachers to accommodate even more students. Melanie began teaching piano in Leamington, Ontario in 1981 while an advanced piano student. She studied piano with Marion Stuart-Kosmala, M. Mus., B. Mus., A. Mus. (all in Piano Performance) in the 1980s and with Bill Keis, jazz/contemporary pianist, keyboardist, composer, producer, musical director, educator, and author of 488-page book “The Complete Guide To Learning Music” in the 1990s. She also studied theatre at York University and acting at the Banff School of Fine Arts and performed as an actor and singer in community, university and other non-equity theatre productions. She studied pedagogy with James Lawless, ARCT (Piano Performance), LRCT (Piano Licentiate, U of T), Chief Examiner Emeritus, Royal Conservatory of Music. Melanie has successfully completed the certificate program requirements for Intermediate Piano Pedagogy towards the A.R.C.T. Diploma in Piano Pedagogy from the Royal Conservatory of Music. She has also attended many seminars and workshops presented by senior teachers and examiners in North America, to keep abreast of the latest innovations in teaching and learning music. She has had many student candidates succeed at RCM practical and theory examinations.


Christine Tsai

Royal Conservatory of Music Certified TeacherChristine Tsai, B.F.A. in Piano Performance (York University) and BM – Piano Performance candidate (School of Music, San Jose State University (SJSU), CA), RCM Certified Teacher:  Intermediate Specialist – Piano, R.M.T. is a Founding Teacher of the National Music Certificate Program (Royal Conservatory of Music) USA, 2007. She is a professional musician and teacher with more than 20 years of experience in teaching piano techniques, theory, ear training, sight-reading, music history, music appreciation and musicianship development. She is serious about providing students with a strong technical foundation as well as developing their musicality. Lessons are tailored to suit each student’s abilities, interests, and goals. Christine is especially gifted at communicating with and teaching children and adolescents. She can teach lessons in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Taiwanese. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Christine began learning piano at age 5 and a half. At age 16, she taught her first piano lesson. In 1988, she moved to Toronto with her family. She studied with the piano faculty of the Royal Conservatory of Music from 1989 – 1992 and continued to teach. Christine relocated to the Silicon Valley in California and lived there for 11 years, where she continued her studies. Her teachers included Hang Li, MM, who was honored with the title “Artists” of Sanremo Festival, Italy and in her undergraduate years in San Jose State, she studied piano with Dr. Gwendolyn Mok. She performed in concert series like piano showcase and Beethoven Center Hours. From 1998 – 2008 Christine taught piano lessons to hundreds of children in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. From 2000 – 2005 at Melody’s School of Music, Cupertino, California, she specialized in group piano classes for young children. At York University in 2011 and 2012, Christine studied with Christina Petrowska Quilico, BM, MS (Juilliard), who is the Professor of Piano Performance and Musicology, and the Head Coordinator of the Piano Department. In the past 6 years since returning to Toronto, Christine has successfully taught students with varying experience, from beginners to RCM Level 10 students, helping them achieve further and pass RCM exams. She has hosted 7 annual concerts and looks forward to engaging her students in the many performance opportunities at Upbeat Piano Studio. She is very pleased to be part of Upbeat Piano Studio and looks forward to working with many students on their musical development.

Royal Conservatory of Music Certified TeacherBayla Marin has studied with several renowned teachers of the classical guitar, including Eli Kassner in Toronto, John Mills in London, England, and Oliver Hunt at the London College of Music. She has taught and performed in the Mount Allison University Summer Music Program. Bayla has worked as a freelance musician, and has established a busy teaching practice, offering both private and ensemble instruction. Bayla Marin is a Royal Conservatory of Music Certified Teacher with an Advanced Specialist designation.

David King

David King, A.R.C.T. Performance, Bachelor of Music U.W.O., R.M.T., has been teaching piano students of all ages and musical backgrounds for the last nine years. Whether preparing his students for RCM exams or helping them read and improvise from chord charts, David brings flexibility to his teaching that allows students to pursue a variety of goals in an encouraging environment. David holds an ARCT in piano performance from the Royal Conservatory of Music and a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Western Ontario. He has had the privilege of studying with a number of top piano teachers (Andrew Markow, John Paul Bracey, Stephan Sylvestre) who have each had a profound impact on his teaching style. As well as being comfortable teaching a wide range of classical repertoire, David can also offer a strong introduction to popular music. Supplementing his training in classical piano, David studied music production and song writing at university and has written, recorded and performed his own music. For the last four years, David has been teaching regularly at Long and McQuade Waterloo where he continues to teach once a week. David and his wife Jenn moved from Waterloo to Toronto this past summer when David began a new job at St Matthew’s Church Riverdale. Part of this job included launching a jam session for youth that happens regularly on Friday nights. David is very pleased to be part of the teaching team at Upbeat Piano Studio.

Nikki Puchkov

Nikki Puchkov is currently in the process of completing her Bachelor of Music from the University of Toronto, specializing in Music Education-Piano. Prior to her admission to the Faculty of Music, she studied with Ludmila Urbanovich and Elena Shimonov. Nikki has been teaching piano and theory since the age of 15 to students of a variety of ages. She currently volunteers at the RCSCC Vanguard as a Band Instructor, where she teaches a group of Navy Cadets (ages 12-18) the techniques of ensemble playing. Her teaching experience stretches beyond music, as she also worked at the Learning Disabilities Association of York Region from 2013-2015, where she tutored students with ADHD and Dyslexia. Apart from being a teacher, Nikki accompanies for recitals, auditions, and playing exams. She has recently began to explore Baroque improvisation and stylistic playing, and is planning to minor in Early Historical Keyboard (Harpsichord and Organ). Nikki holds several awards for her musical studies, including the Cosmo Music Award (2016), Hymn Society Bursary in Music (2017-2018), and is recognized as a University of Toronto Scholar (2016). She is currently studying with Dr. Megan Chang.

Yvonne Gao is an undergraduate student studying music education in the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto. She has studied with Boyanna Toyich and Emily Chiang and actively participates in all kinds of performing events such as giving performances in nursing homes. She was named as a 2018-19 recipient of the Arthur Plettner Scholarship and Kathleen Walls Memorial Scholarship by the Faculty of Music for her outstanding academic achievements. She also received Kodaly level one certificate by the Kodaly Society Canada. She has experience teaching students of all levels and ages. She loves to share her knowledge and skills to students and make individual teaching plan to suit different needs and is excited to be working with the students at Upbeat Piano Studio.

Giselle Chan is currently majoring in Music Education – Piano at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Starting piano at the age of 5, she has received formal training in the RCM curriculum for piano, ear training, and theory. She has studied with Olga Kostrinsky and is currently studying in Brian McDonagh’s studio. In addition, she has received training in historical keyboard under the instruction of Kevin Komisaruk for the harpsichord and the organ. She has previously taught with Sol Music for two years to children from grades 1-8. She has also taught piano to young adults. She enjoys working with students of all ages and looks forward to working with the students of Upbeat Piano Studio!