Piano Reflections with Lao Tzu

A couple of weeks ago I introduced readers to a feature I have added within the Pianodao Tea Room community: The Daily Dao.

If you haven’t yet joined the Pianodao Tea Room you are of course welcome to do so, but for this one time, I’m going to reproduce below the Daily Dao posts from the first week.

Each week, I select a “source” from which quotes are drawn, one per day with reflective and discussion questions. I have reproduced the first week below, and hope that you find these reflections helpful and thought-provoking.

The selected source for that first week was the Daoist classic Tao Te Ching by the great sage Lao Tzu. In the questions for reflection and discussion, these texts were applied directly to our lives as piano players and teachers.

In the second week, the selected source was Charles Rosen’s classic book Piano Notes. Those quotes and reflections will remain accessible on the Pianodao Tea Room community page.

And next week, the selected source is Mindfulness in Music by Mark Tanner, which I have previously reviewed here.

In the Tea Room, many of the questions and reflections led to interesting and supportive discussions between members; those comments are of course exclusive to that community, so once again, do come and join us if you are interested. From the reflections below, you will realise the Tea Room is not simply another Facebook group!

In the meantime, here verbatim are the six posts which made up the Daily Dao in the week beginning Monday August 10th 2020.


Source of the Week

Launching this new series of reflections and discussions, it seems appropriate to select the most important classic within the Daoist traditions for our quotes.

There is much here which I think is as pertinent to our journey at the piano as to our more general journey through life, and I hope that you will enjoy the quotes I share.

There are many different translations of course but for now I’m going to use the Stephen Mitchell version, which is more of a paraphrase than translation, but which conveys the meaning of this ancient text in a very direct way applicable to our lives today.I hope you enjoy the series.

Please use the questions etc as a basis for your own reflections if you wish, or as a stimulus to discussion with other Tea Room members if you wish to share!

MONDAY 10th AUGUST

“When you are content to be simply yourself,
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.”

Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, 8

For reflection and discussion:

  • Are you content with your ongoing piano journey? 
  • If so, how does this manifest?
  • And if not, why not? What spoils your sense of contentment, and what can you do about that?
  • To what extent have comparisons, competition, and benchmarks helped you progress? Or hindered you?

TUESDAY 11th AUGUST

“He who stands on tiptoe doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine dims his own light.”

Lao Tzu, Tao te Ching, 24

Rapid progress can be exciting, but can leave gaps in our foundations and development.

  • Can you think of (or share) times in your piano journey when this has caused problems for you or students you teach?
  • How can we balance the desire for progress with the need for effective learning?

WEDNESDAY 12th AUGUST

“What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, however intelligent you are. 
It is the great secret.”

Lao Tzu:  Tao Te Ching, 27

Considering “bad” and “good” in terms of piano playing…

  • Who are the teachers, mentors and practitioners who have most helped you progress? 
  • What was it that made them so effective in helping you?
  • To what extent do you now help and encourage other players, and how?

THURSDAY 13th AUGUST

“The gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action (wu-wei).
Teaching without words,
Performing without actions;
that is the Master’s way.”

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching, 43
  • How can we use gentleness to overcome the difficulties we encounter when practising, playing or teaching piano?
  • How can we inspire others, and let their progress unfold naturally?

FRIDAY 14th AUGUST

“All things end in the Dao
as rivers flow into the sea.”

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching, 32

As the weekend approaches, I hope that you will be able to find relaxation and refreshment! Are there thoughts, and things which we must let go of, put to one side for another time?

Where are we on our journey?


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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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