The Appeal of Einaudi’s Music

Supporting Educators • Promoting Learning

The inspiration for this article came from a discussion with my wife Louise, who is a clinical specialist in mental health; I am immensely grateful for her insights, which are peppered throughout.

I was recently amused by a message I received from a parent of one of my teenage students, who contacted me saying,

“I thought this might make you smile. Over the last 7-10 days I have never heard the piano practised so much. A beautiful piece which I am told is called Nuvole Bianche. When I enquired why I was hearing more practise I was told (and I quote) ‘it’s a proper piano piece’.”

It’s a story which I am sure could be echoed by many of my colleagues, both in communities up and down this country, and far beyond. And yet, many of my musician friends seem to regard Einaudi’s music with a sniffy contempt, a disdain that appears out of proportion to any offence it could possibly have caused.

In some cases this is undoubtedly rooted in a sense of injustice that he has enjoyed such commercial success from doing, in their view, so little.

More often perhaps, they are baffled that music so lacking in the complexity they themselves enjoy could be so highly prized by others. According to this view, Einaudi’s work is, at best, a gateway that might lead the uninitiated into the more rewarding musical territory that they inhabit, albeit a gateway they personally prefer to position themselves a very long way away from.

To adopt such a viewpoint is potentially to deprive ourselves of a deeper understanding of what it is exactly that makes Einaudi’s music so very appealing, and to so many. And if we can understand that, we might be better equipped to perform and teach Einaudi’s music with sympathetic intelligence, and more effectively decipher and communicate with audiences when promoting other music.

Familiarity fosters enjoyment

Here in the UK, many will instantly recognise Einaudi’s music because it has been used so ubiquitously in film, television and advertising. Even those who aren’t sure they have heard Nuvole Bianche before will very likely have done so without consciously registering it, and will be drawn to it as a piece of music because of a phenomenon psychologists call the mere exposure effect.

Writing for Psychology Today, Raj Raghunathan Ph.D explains,

“Familiar things – food, music, activities, surroundings, etc. – make us feel comfortable. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that familiarity breeds liking. Generally speaking, things that are familiar are likely to be safer than things that are not. If something is familiar, we have clearly survived exposure to it, and our brain, recognising this, steers us towards it. Thus, one could say that we are hardwired to feel that the ‘known devil is better than the unknown angel’.”

Simply put, that which is familiar to us is less likely to hurt us, at least in an unexpected way. We don’t want to risk the unfamiliar. We naturally gravitate towards that which we “know and love”.

As teachers, it is good practice to build on prior learning (conscious or otherwise), and it would surely be a mistake to eschew the familiar. It is within our gift to use well-known favourites to engage the enjoyment of developing players. It is in recognition of this point that most teachers understand the value of including Einaudi’s music in their programmes of study, even if they do so with gritted teeth.

At the same time, we cannot allow students to wallow solely in their comfort zone, because we have a responsibility to promote a larger engagement, and fundamentally to teach. As Raghunathan argues in his piece,

“Each of us can literally double or triple the amount of enjoyment we derive from life by doubling or tripling the stimuli to which we familiarise ourselves…”

But new experiences can be challenging. Unless we effectively process them, so that they become familiar ones, anxiety will ensue. As piano teachers we need to take great care to stay alert to the pace of this processing in our students’ musical development, teaching with empathy as we add new learning alongside the familiar, journeying from the gateway to whatever lies beyond.

We also need to remember that our own over-familiarity with any music might breed contempt rather than enjoyment. Like others, I have experienced moments when the voice in my head muttered, “oh no, not this again!”. The point to remember here is a simple one: piano lessons exist for our students’ benefit, not for ours. It is our privilege to join them on their journey.

Einaudi’s music is surely not the only piano repertoire that benefits from student familiarity (and suffers from teacher fatigue) in this way however, so there are clearly other factors at play…

The Power of Comfort

Important though it is to understand the motivating power of familiarity, there is another power we need to discuss if we are to understand the appeal of Einaudi’s music, and that is the power of comfort.

Perhaps one of the reasons that Einaudi’s music has been so widely used by the media is its easy, unobtrusive quality. He has a well-honed gift for producing music which creates ambience, but without using melody, harmony and rhythm in ways that might distract our attention away from the other media it accompanies and supports.

In this context, the sense that Einaudi’s pieces aren’t going somewhere becomes their virtue. They don’t need to progress; they simply need to be. Not only so; with its lulling motion, repetitive patterns and welcome predictability Einaudi’s music engenders a sense of dependable security, as if wrapping the listener in a warm blanket.

To regard Einaudi’s music from this angle is neither to infantilise the music, nor those who enjoy it. Rather, it is to recognise that music can have an intrinsic ability to promote healing, and to foster wellbeing.

Einaudi is not of course the first musician to recognise these broader benefits of music, nor to tap into the impact that organising ambient sound can have. From ancient healers to New Age gong baths, and from Brian Eno’s seminal Music for Airports to the galaxy of composers creating resonant music-based spa experiences, the practice of using music and sound to promote wellbeing is long and well established.

Faced with the news that restaurants and supermarkets have researched and deploy specific background music to enhance mood and promote receptiveness among their customers, musicians might well bemoan the reduction of their art.

But what if it is true that music has value beyond the concert hall, social event, or our personal AirPods: what if it really can influence mental health, or even promote physical healing? Wouldn’t it be strange for musicians to ignore the opportunity we have for doing good?

Repetition and Engagement

At the heart of his music, Einaudi builds his pieces using the technique of repeating patterns and steadily shifting layers, as championed by minimalist composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass in the latter half of the last century. A master of fusion, Einaudi has combined the aesthetics of post-minimalism with the simple chord progressions of popular music, finally adding the warm ambience of relaxation music to produce his own identifiable (and now much-copied) style.

Here is music which is seemingly calculated to shift mood, connect with the subconscious and help us slow down. And if it proves blissfully soothing to the listener, encouraging inner reflection at a time of frantic external change, its repetitive musical mantras have proved equally compelling for many players.

Here, it seems to me that the simple structure of repeated patterns lends the music a predictability that helps players break free from the strictures of notation reading and technical challenge, allowing them more readily to access and express their emotions through the music, with a more personal engagement and musical flow than they are perhaps used to.

This is neither the traditional route towards artistic maturity, nor need it be the final destination in the journey, but it can surely be a legitimate landmark along the musician’s way. And hubris aside, I really see no reason why the more accomplished concert pianist couldn’t also discover something fresh (and healing) by playing these simple, pure pieces.

Music can occupy and fill many different spaces in our lives. Fundamentally, it can be truly accessible to us all. Einaudi’s compositions remind us that music does not always need to be intellectually supercharged, even though his pieces are cleverly and carefully crafted.

Nor perhaps should we equate the best composition with a dazzling display of technical expertise, or the best performance with physical pyrotechnics. Great music can equally be driven by the flow of emotion, simple connection, and a quest for lingering beauty.


This “Greatest Hits” collection includes many of the composer’s most familiar pieces.
Available from Musicroom here.

Based on his album of the same name, this collection brings together 17 pieces which have prominently featured in movies.
Read the Pianodao Review here

Einaudi’s most recent album at time of writing, this collection has proven hugely popular, offering shorter pieces with a more overtly melodic flavour than his previous work.
Read the Pianodao Review here.

Seven Days Walking
Another recent album, and one of the composer’s most interesting ambient projects, this is also well worth investigating!
Read the Pianodao Review here.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.