Why Bother with Scales?

“For many, scales and arpeggios are an academic, dry and soulless part of learning the piano, and have to be practised because, like cod liver oil, they are ‘good for you’.”

Anthony WilliamsThe Piano Teacher’s Survival Guide (Faber, 2017, p.31)

Why bother with scales? (by which, for the purposes of this article, I also mean arpeggios and broken chords) …

In order to properly answer this question, this article will consider these related questions, of vital importance to students and teachers concerned to know about the purpose and value of teaching and learning scales:

  • What are the benefit of learning scales?
  • Is it important to use consistent fingering?
  • What are the benefits of cumulative learning vs. exam preparation?
  • How can scales practice and creativity go hand-in-hand?

Let’s get started by considering the core benefits of learning scales…

Continue reading Why Bother with Scales?

Active Repertoire Challenge 2018

What can you play?

This is a question which for too many pianists leads to such answers as:

  • I’m working on Allegro, but it’s not yet ready to play;
  • I finished learning Andante last month, but I’ve forgotten it now;
  • I don’t have my music books with me, so …

What a pity!

The reality is that too many of us can’t sit down at the piano – without notice, without notation, and without embarrassment – and simply play something!

Continue reading Active Repertoire Challenge 2018

Piano Playground

Sheet Music Review

Hans-Günter Heumann is nothing if not prolific  – only a few weeks ago I was reviewing his excellent Mystery Piano collection, follow-up to his popular Fantasy Piano, which I am equally enthusiastic about.

And let’s not forget that in the meantime he has published the 16 books that make up the Piano Junior method series!

Somehow he has also now found the time to write Piano Playground 1 – with a second book to follow in November.

Piano Playground 1 is a collection of “30 Playful Piano Pieces”, brought to us by Heumann’s regular publishers, Schott Music.

Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Piano Playground

5 Qigong Books for Beginners

Piano Qigong Resources

Piano Qigong focuses on the “secondary benefits” of Qigong that are particularly relevant to piano playing.

Pianodao includes descriptive instructions for a few simple introductory Qigong exercises and techniques, but it is likely that having experienced the initial benefits these bring, readers will want to find out more about Qigong, its background, and exercises.

Qigong is a huge and fascinating subject, and there are a great many excellent books and other resources now available to help the Westerner with an interest in finding out more.

If you are keen to find out about the primary benefits of Qigong practice, here are some recommended books to explore – between them they include practical advice for Qigong practice, simple exercises for beginner practice, a philosophical grounding, and a general overview of Qigong history, science, its many styles and applications.

These books are suitable for beginners and those who simply want to find out what Qigong is all about. 

I have included a short description of each, which I hope will help you to select the right book for you!

Elsewhere, the Qigong Resources section on Pianodao includes reviews of other books and resources which may be of interest.

Continue reading 5 Qigong Books for Beginners

Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets

Sheet Music Review

In a recent review I praised Gayle Kowlachyk and E.L. Lancaster’s Piano Studies for Technical Development books, and I’m pleased to say that the duo are back with another set of interesting and highly useful books, Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets.

This new series collects 59 original compositions, mostly from the pedagogy literature of the mid-late Romantic Era, in three progressive books. As such, it offers an invaluable source-book for teachers everywhere.

Let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets

… for all the times you’ve been ignored

The Fermata Series

Have you ever felt ignored, passed over, or even scorned? 

Consider these profound words:

“Help others for all the times that you have been ignored;
Be kind to others, for all the times that you have been scorned.”

Deng Ming-Dao
365 Tao Daily Meditations, 206 (Harper Collins, 1992)

These are powerful sentiments, which point towards a wholeness which can be ours if only we respond to life’s disappointments and hurts with wisdom and generosity.

It can seem counterintuitive to be kind when we are scorned, and to help others when we ourselves have been ignored. Shouldn’t we fight back, hold our ground, pursue our own agenda, and put ourselves first?

And yet it is within our nature to have empathy; if we ignore the impulse to do good, we diminish our own humanity. We damage ourselves more than anyone – and more than we can bear.

Having been scorned we know what it is to be scorned;
Having been ignored we know what it is to be ignored;
Unless we have a cruel heart, we will want to spare others such pain.

Notice that Deng isn’t suggesting we be kind to the very people who have slighted us. Rather, the focus here is on our own attitude: foster generosity to ALL who need it.

Such help is not meddling;
nor is it another excuse for self-promotion.
It is simple giving.

Forgive and Forget?

Certainly when we feel hurt we must forgive, if only to protect ourselves from the anger, disappointment and bitterness that do us more harm than anyone else!

When a situation or relationship has been knocked off balance, regardless of the reasons or blame, it can also take patience to wait for more auspicious circumstances so that balance can properly be restored.

Better in my experience to smile, walk away, and forget those who would do us harm; and like the great sage Laozi, to seek anonymity at such times. Not only does this allow us to maintain our own integrity, it negates the influence of those who may seek to diminish us.

And if, in the future, there is a renewed opportunity for friendship, our own commitment to forgive, forget and move on from the past enables us to foster reconciliation.

Giving Back

I am often asked why I devote so many hours every week to writing this site, offering free help to pianists and teachers around the world, rather than simply cashing in on my expertise.

Firstly, I already make a reasonable living as a busy piano teacher, and I am not especially ambitious. But perhaps my desire to give freely here is also in part my own response to those times when I too have been ignored or scorned.

And yet I am equally well aware of the enormous good fortune I have experienced, and the generosity of others towards me.

In short, then, I want to give back in a world where I believe there is so much to celebrate and to share.

But it seems to me that a positive outlook can only be possible if we are willing to let go of the times when we were ignored or scorned, and focus instead on helping others. If I am ambitious at all, it is to become a kinder person.

Whether in our piano journey, or in general life, most of us have experienced times of disappointment, felt wronged, or been told, “you lose”.

But the truth is, at such times we stand on the threshold of personal growth, accelerated opportunity, and the chance to truly triumph in life.

Fermata Series

Your Stories: Debjani Sengupta

Your Stories

I am the music teacher at The Cambridge School, Calcutta, India.
I am a pianist. Here’s my story…

Continue reading Your Stories: Debjani Sengupta

Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Sheet Music Review

The name Melody Bober may be a new one to many readers here in the UK, but in North America she is well known for her popular Grand Solos and Grand Duets for piano series, among others, published by Alfred Music.

And based on her latest series of collections, Solo Xreme, perhaps it’s time for her to gain wider recognition here too!

Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Your Story: Neil Nguyen

Your Stories

I’m a piano tutor, living in an overcrowded city with over 8 million people: Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, a developing country in Southeast Asia.

Piano learning is a kind of luxury thing in Vietnam. You will discover why as you read my story …

Continue reading Your Story: Neil Nguyen

Emil Hradecký: Two-Part Piano Miniatures

The Czech composer and teacher Emil Hradecký (b. 1953) has devoted much of his creative output to children and the piano. His pieces are frequently inspired by dance music and jazz, and are distinguished by their fresh melodies and distinctive rhythms.

Several of his collections are published here in the UK by Bärenreiter, including his Little Jazz Album for PianoJazz Etudes for Young Pianists and the duet collection Jazzy Pieces for 20 Fingers.

His latest collection is called Two-Part Piano Miniatures on One Page…

Continue reading Emil Hradecký: Two-Part Piano Miniatures

Developing Fluency

The Fermata Series

“I begin every lesson by having the pupil play the whole movement through without any interruption (no going back if you make mistake, as in practising). So we start with the experience of performance – and then turn to the details.”

Fanny Waterman
International Piano, Sept/Oct 2010

I vividly recall how, as a student at the Royal College of Music, my harpsichord teacher would ask me to play a piece, only appearing to listen to the first few bars. Indeed, he often seemed quite distracted, checking the room humidity, rifling through the paperwork on his desk, pacing up and down, and generally appearing to have other things on his mind.

Once I reached the end of the piece, however, he would invariably have the most perceptive comments to make about my performance – before turning back to the first page and looking at the piece in more detail.

My own approach as a teacher is not dissimilar (including my tendency to fidget!). I’ve always felt that if a student has practised a piece, I rather owe it to them to listen to what they’ve achieved and develop an overview of their progress before interrupting and interjecting with comments, criticisms, and suggestions for improvement.

I am perhaps unusual in this though – most often when I have observed other teachers they have seemed ill-at-ease simply enjoying their student’s playing.

I once heard OFSTED’s Chief HMI for Music (at the time) say that one of the biggest problems observed by inspectors visiting music lessons in schools was that pupils rarely played a piece in its entirety, so neither working on structural awareness and pacing of the composition in their lessons, nor fluency in performing.

It is too easy to get so bogged down in the detail that we fail to observe the big picture, and no longer see the wood through the trees. And I’m sure there are still more clichés to describe this common problem!

Whether practising or teaching, let’s be more careful to develop fluency – without sacrificing accuracy in the process.

In doing so we are more likely also to develop fluency in our appreciation of great art – and that’s a tremendous goal!

How often when you are practising do you play pieces all the way through, simply observing the music without criticism? Teachers – do you make it your habit to listen to pieces in full before commenting? Please share your thoughts with a comment below!

Fermata Series

A Birthday Celebration!

This week Pianodao reaches a milestone – it’s three years since the site was launched!

When I started Pianodao, I made a personal commitment to myself that come what may, I would plug away writing and developing the site for a minimum of three years before reviewing its future. Amazingly, three years in, I hear from readers far and wide who express support and appreciation for the site.

Moving forward, I am therefore even more determined to ensure Pianodao remains my free gift to the piano community – a site packed with professional content, encouragement and support for players, teachers and piano enthusiasts around the world.

Continue reading A Birthday Celebration!

Your Story: Yukie Smith

Yukie Smith is from Yokohama, Japan. She now lives in the UK, where she performs, accompanies and teaches piano using her own multi-sensory learning technique.

She’s the author of a piano duet arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (abridged version); and a full version of a violin & piano arrangement of Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango.

Here’s her story …

Continue reading Your Story: Yukie Smith

Mike Cornick’s Piano Duets & Ensembles

Sheet Music Review

Teachers often ask me to recommend duet and ensemble pieces suitable for older players who are at intermediate level.

One context where this has added importance is the preparation of pieces for assessment as GCSE “ensemble” performances. Here there is a particular need for music at around ABRSM Grade 3 level, with suitably easy duet part for the classroom music teacher to play at sight, or for two or more students to perform together.

But equally, for those who teach siblings or paired/group lessons, intermediate music for more than one player can be an important – indeed essential – resource.

Happily, popular educational composer Mike Cornick has been on the case, writing brilliant arrangements for various combinations of players, and publishing several collections through Universal Edition over the years.

There are two particular sets of books well worth looking at. Firstly, there are several neat duet books, and secondly – more unusually – a series of books for larger combinations sharing a single piano.

In this review I will take a look at two of Mike’s latest publications:

  • Movie Music Favourites: Eight arrangements for piano duet
  • 4 Afro-Caribbean pieces for 6 hands at 1 piano

Continue reading Mike Cornick’s Piano Duets & Ensembles

Are You a Fanatic?

The Fermata Series

“If you’re invited for tea by a connoisseur of Pu Er (tea) in Yunnan, be prepared to deal with a fanatic, for Pu Er inspires a zealous devotion among its advocates, who, like missionaries of a mysterious cult, will try their best to coax you away from your own acquired taste in Chinese tea, and persuade you instead that Pu Er is the high and mighty lord in the entire pantheon of Chinese tea.”

Daniel Reid
The Art and Alchemy of Chinese Tea (Singing Dragon, 2011, p78)


I can think of several parallels in the world of the piano, where advocates of a particular approach or style present themselves as zealots for their cause.

It seems to me that there’s nothing wrong with such passion, so long as we each remember to show respect for one another, and present our views and ideas with dignity, generosity and grace towards others.

I have been, and remain, a fanatic for many musical and other causes. If something works for me, there’s a good chance it will equally work for others, and I am happy to share my experiences and insights if they might help.

But what works for one, although it may work for all, need not do so.

We are, each of us, unique. Each must find their path, and few of us like to feel coerced or pressurised into accepting a rigid model stipulated by another.

Experience ultimately always triumphs over dogma. As the saying goes,

“The older I get, the less I know.”

So let’s keep the fires of healthy fanaticism alight, but in our passion we must remember humility, keeping our hearts and minds open. Above all, pursuing kindness.

Fermata Series

Music of our Youth

The Fermata Series

“When I was growing up my parents used to take me to the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, and I remember hearing a recital by Alfred Brendel there in the late 1970s. He played the Schubert G major Sonata … Brendel’s style was so different from the keyboard giants of the past, but it opened my eyes to Schubert and made me understand the greatness of that kind of serious playing…

Brendel made recordings of the last series of Schubert sonatas, including the G major Sonata released in 2001. Nothing moves me more than those particular Schubert sonatas. I’ve played the B flat Sonata often over the years, and its second movement is so affecting that I find it hard to move onto the third movement. It’s as though everything has been said, and we should all go home.”

Stephen Hough
International Piano, May/June 2010

It fascinates me that our memories of music discovered in our youth can so powerfully impact our ongoing appreciation of music in later life, whether as listeners or performers.

Like Stephen Hough, I can well remember several “light-bulb moments” where music freshly heard in my younger years left a reverberating impact that I can still feel acutely today. When I mentally list the names of the great composers, how often my “favourite” pieces by them are those I first discovered.

Here in the Eales household, we listen to a staggering variety of music, from classical to bluegrass, and from jazz to ambient electronic. But whenever a pop song from the 1970s or 80s comes on the radio, my wife will sing along, and can remember all the words – another reminder that the music of our youth will often be the lasting treasure that vastly overshadows our subsequent musical journey.

As parents, teachers and performers, let’s be especially diligent in choosing the music we introduce to the children in our lives, considering its quality and permanent value, and knowing that this music more than any other will inform and hopefully enrich their whole musical future.

Do you have special memories of music discovered when you were young? Feel free to share by leaving a comment below.

Fermata Series

Your Story: Christopher Norton

Your Stories

New Zealand-born, now Canadian-based composer and pianist Christopher Norton is known the world over for his best-selling educational music, including the MicrojazzConnections and Preludes series.

Here he reveals how he discovered music in his youth …

Continue reading Your Story: Christopher Norton

Information Overload

The Fermata Series

“Be like the explorers of old. What they acquired for themselves will always surpass those who merely read about their exploits.”

Deng Ming-Dao
365 Tao Daily Meditations (199)

Do you often get to the end of a day feeling exhausted from sheer information overload?

It’s a contemporary phenomenon which seems to be part-and-parcel with the internet age. We feel this way whenever we receive more information than we can realistically process and internalise.

We are bombarded daily with information that ranges from the useless – such as Instagram pictures of what a friend eat for breakfast – to the academic (sometimes interesting, but often offering little possibility for application).

And then there’s the depressing 24/7 news cycle, that too often leaves us feeling anxious and bewildered rather than informed.

When the quest for an encyclopaedic knowledge, cutting-edge insight, and a full understanding (however noble these are) leaves us feeling worn out, it’s time to step back, take a break, and learn to be kinder to ourselves.

Simply put, it takes time for us to properly process all this information – or else it will anyway just go to waste!

The trick, it seems to me, is to focus on processing the most useful information:

  • information about people, subjects and music we genuinely care about;
  • information we can put to practical use;
  • information gleaned from our senses and experiences;
  • information which feeds or arises from reflection.

Instead of leading to fatigue, such information can open doorways, bring joy, excitement and a sense of playful adventure! 

And often, as we take care to be more balanced in our consumption, we will find that the information we actually need is more manageable than we previously thought…

In the picture of the overloaded bookshelf above, there’s actually only 14 different books – count them! Not so scary after all!

Fermata Series

The Classical Film Collection

Sheet Music Review

Last summer, Faber Music brought out Film Themes: The Piano Collection, which I reviewed enthusiastically here.

This summer, they follow up with The Classical Film Collection, which offers a varied compendium of 40 popular classical pieces – all of which have been prominently used in movies – arranged for intermediate to early-advanced pianists.

Let’s take a closer look and see what’s included …

Continue reading The Classical Film Collection

Albéniz: Cantos de España

Sheet Music Review

As I write this, the UK is one of many countries in the grip of a historic heat-wave. Suffice to say that when the weather here turns Mediterranean in feel, I have a tendency to uncork a fine bottle of Rioja and reach for the Albéniz CDs.

The piano music of Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909), it seems to me, occupies a uniquely odd position in the classical piano repertoire.

On the one hand he would seem to be universally admired, his monumental series of 12 piece Iberia roundly hailed as one of the seminal masterpieces at the very pinnacle of the “core repertoire” (and yet rarely performed or recorded!). On the other hand, many pianists complete their lifetime journey at the piano without once opening one of his scores.

As well as the stunning Iberia cycle, don’t miss the gorgeous Suite Española Op.47, scenic Recuerdo de Viaje Op.71, accessible España Op.165 and the brilliant Cantos de España Op.232. All are easily available as sheet music scores.

A brand new edition of the last listed of these works has recently been issued in the Alfred Masterworks Edition library, so let’s take a closer look.

Continue reading Albéniz: Cantos de España