… for all the times you’ve been ignored

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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.

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Developing Fluency

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“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!

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Are You a Fanatic?

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“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.

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Music of our Youth

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“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.

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Information Overload

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“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!

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It’s a New Day, and a New Week

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An inspirational quote to start the new week –

And while you read, you might also enjoy this original, hope-filled piano composition from a while ago…

Here’s the quote – very simple, but have a good think about each sentence before skipping ahead…

The writer talks about a “New Day”, but at the start of the week perhaps we can apply it to the “New Week” with even more benefit!

“Every morning means a fresh start on things.
If yesterday was trying and exhausting, today is a given opportunity to do something different.
If yesterday was full of triumph and satisfaction, today is a free chance to go further.
All too often we wake up, think of our schedules, and assume that we must act according to the same dull script. We need not.
If we find what is unique to each day, we will have freshness and the greatest fulfillment possible.”

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

Have a unique and wonderful day – and week ahead!

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Dustin Hoffman’s Dream

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Ever wished you could be one of the top Hollywood movie stars of your generation? It turns out that Dustin Hoffman had a different dream, as he relates in an interview with the Radio Times magazine (5-11 March 2016):

“I always wanted to be a piano player.
I grew up studying piano, particularly jazz.
I just didn’t have the talent.

I had the desire. I had the feeling for it – and I still have it – but I didn’t have a very good ear.
I couldn’t just sit down and play something if you whistled it, like many musicians can.
I could not read regular classical music quickly; it was all laborious for me.

I still feel I missed my calling in life.
If God said today, “You will be what you always wanted to be, starting right now, and that is a really good jazz pianist”, I’d quit everything and be quite happy.”

This collection of thoughts and statements suggests to me many ways in which we use language quite loosely. What, for example, is “a piano player” or for that matter “a really good jazz pianist”? Are these labels limited to those who can earn a living as a performer? At what stage in one’s development as a pianist is one allowed to use the term?

And then there is the question of “talent”. If ever there was a word that is used to convey so much, but actually conveys so little, “talent” is surely a contender!

Why did Dustin Hoffman believe that he “didn’t have the talent”? Did a teacher or parent take him to one side and gently break the news? Did he fail an exam or lose a competition? Or did he simply submit to the worst insults leveled at him by his own inner critic?

The answers to these questions are perhaps not for the knowing, but it is interesting that Dustin Hoffman goes on to talk about the ideas contained in Kung Fu Panda 3, the latest movie he is involved with.

Hoffman concludes the interview with this thought:

“One of the themes of Kung Fu Panda 3 is that they use the word “Chi”, in other words finding your inner self; the purpose of life is to find your inner self. Your essence.
And I think you spend a lifetime doing that.”

For me, being a pianist is a real part of my “inner self”, regardless of whether I have a successful concert career or not. And I suspect many readers will identify with piano playing in the same way – as a core part of our identity and means of self-expression.

If so, do not listen to your inner critic, to the teacher who puts you down, to the competition judge who overlooks you, or to the audition board that pass you over.

Be sure to pursue your dream, because the rest is just noise.

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Paying attention to the small things

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“You may be capable of great things,
But life consists of small things.”

Deng Ming Dao is a popular contemporary writer whose meditation books have a Daoist emphasis – I’ve quoted from him before, and no doubt will again as he is a source of tremendous wisdom.

I highly recommend all his books, and the best-selling ‘365 Tao’ is a great place to start, offering a thought a day throughout the year.

Today’s thought is, I think, of particular relevance to musicians. Here’s an extract, which I hope you will enjoy reflecting on:

“Big things seldom come along.
One should know the small as well as the big.

We may all yearn to make lasting achievements and to be heroes, but life seldom affords us the opportunities to do so. Most of our days consist of small things – the uneventful meditations, the ordinary cooking of meals, the banal trips to work, the quiet scratching in the garden – and it is from these small things that the larger events of our lives are composed.

The master musician’s best composition is but one work in a sea of musical tones. If we want to be successful, it is the small things that we should pay attention to.

We must not fall in the trap of waiting so long for the big things that we let numerous small chances slip right by us. People who do this are forever waiting for life to be perfect. They complain that fate is against them, that the world does not recognise their greatness. If they would lower their sights, they would see all the beautiful opportunities waiting at their feet. If they would humble themselves enough to bend down, they could scoop untold treasures up into their hands.”

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Feeling Impatient?

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One thing is certain – everything changes. But sometimes things can take longer than we hoped for, in stark contrast to the general pace of our lives today. Is it any wonder that we often feel impatient?

Perhaps there are obstacles that won’t shift from your pathway. Wounds that won’t heal…

… or simply a favourite piece of music that you would love to be able to play on the piano, but which somehow seems far out of your reach.

As qigong master Kam Chuen Lam explains, some things simply take time – and are all the better for it!

“All authentic growth takes time. So does healing and the process of deep strengthening. It is like giving birth.

In the more than thirty years that I have been teaching and treating people in the West, I have always had to tell people that nature takes time to form, nourish and give birth to new life.

I tell my students, ‘You can’t make a plant grow by tugging on it every day. You simply put it in good soil, give it just enough water and light, and let it grow. If you do that it will grow naturally. That is its nature’.”

Master Kam Chuen Lam
The Qigong Workbook for Anxiety

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The Quiet Fields

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The writer Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) gave us these much treasured words:

“Come away from the din.
Come away to the quiet fields,
over which the great sky stretches,
and where, between us and the stars,
there lies but silence;
and there, in the stillness
let us listen to the voice
that is speaking within us.”

Whether speaking of the Divine, or perhaps our inner creative inspiration, these words represent a powerful call which we should and surely must heed on a regular basis.

For the school child, the busy professional or the highly active senior, the “Quiet Fields” could mean time spent at the piano.

For those of us whose work involves performing on or teaching the piano, the “Quiet Fields” are necessarily elsewhere.

But for all of us the imperative applies: we need time away from the daily grind to listen and to renew.

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Enjoy a long, healthy life!

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An ancient Daoist text “Principles of Nourishing Life and Cultivating Longevity”  (recently translated by Eva Wong and included in within her book “Being Taoist“)  includes the following simple advice:

“When you are young, don’t spend a lot of energy doing what everyone thinks is appropriate.
When you’ve reached maturity, don’t be too competitive.
When you’ve passed middle age, you should begin to find contentment.
When you are old, you should minimise desires.
Exercise the body gently to prevent it from stiffening, and entertain your mind leisurely to prevent it from deteriorating.
In this way you will enjoy a healthy and long life.”

There is of course no quick fix solution to avoid death, no elixir of life to sustain us indefinitely, and we know that once our energy is gone, the end will come.

But perhaps the above advice is useful when thinking about our own approach and lifestyle. We could all do with questioning what steps we are taking to enjoy a healthier and longer life.

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Finding your own way…

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Concert pianist and writer Charles Rosen (1927-2012) offers some interesting advice in his book “Piano Notes

Do you agree with his conclusions?

“…  any dogmatic system of teaching technique is pernicious. Most pianists, in fact, have to work to some extent in late adolescence to undo the effects of their early instruction and find an idiosyncratic method that suits them personally.

Not only the individual shape of the hand counts but even the whole corporal shape. That is why there is no optimum position for sitting at the piano, in spite of what many pedagogues think.”

Charles Rosen
Piano Notes – The Hidden World of the Pianist (2002)

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Happiness

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“Humanity grows more and more intelligent, yet there is clearly more trouble and less happiness daily.
How can this be so?
It is because intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom.”

Lao Tzu: Hua Hu Ching
translated Brian Walker

The big question for us all is this: what do we do with our knowledge?

Do we accumulate knowledge simply to “fight back”, to be “better” and more “successful” than the next person?

Or does our own self-improvement and development go hand in hand with generosity towards other people?

There are many possible responses, but it’s important to recognise the priority of wisdom over knowledge, because this leads to happiness and peace.

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“Developing Gradually”

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Have you noticed that the pace of life isn’t slowing?

That social change and technological innovation are often adding to the stress of your daily life rather than alleviating it?

Sometimes we simply need to slow down.

To find calm and purpose.

This is true for all of life – including our piano playing.

The image of a tree growing gradually on a mountainside sums up the natural wisdom of making secure progress, and reaching purposefully towards all the points one must in one’s individual journey.

This image of “Developing Gradually” (derived from I Ching 53) is likely to recur here on the Pianodao site as core wisdom. It also underpins the development of this site.

There is so much I would like to share here – but it will take time. The planning is done, and roots are growing into the ground. Over the next few months and years I hope that many branches will grow.

And I hope that as you join me on this journey, you will be nourished by the fruits of the site.

Welcome to Pianodao.

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