Andor Földes on being a ‘Child Prodigy’

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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The pianist Andor Földes (1913-1992) was one of the great child ‘prodigies’ of the early twentieth century, making his public debut performing a Mozart concerto with the Budapest Philharmonic in 1921 when he was just 8 years old, and entering the Liszt Academy (where he studied with the great Ernst von Dohnányi and Béla Bartók) before he was even a teenager.

Földes went on to enjoy a hugely successful concert and recording career, as well as writing several books, including the seminal Keys to the Keyboard (1950, sadly no longer in print, but an exceptionally wise and notably humane book).

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Musical Achievement, Assessment and Motivation

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
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A RESPONSE TO ABRSM

With a single Tweet, the exam board ABRSM have in the last week provoked what they have themselves described as a “passionate debate”.

Defending their stance, ABRSM have subsequently confirmed that these are the words of their Chief Examiner, John Holmes, quoted from his presentation at this year’s Music Education EXPO event in London:


In the context of his talk, Holmes will no doubt have made many other points, adding balance and nuance to his position. That said, his view of a “virtuous circle of motivation” was surely not made up on the spot. We must accept this as his well-rehearsed position on the nature of and relationship between musical achievement, assessment and intrinsic motivation.

Discussion of these important concepts must be welcomed. As teachers it is our basic responsibility to question ideas, absorb good material, develop subject knowledge and promote better understanding. I should add that we also have a duty to confront that which might genuinely harm our students.

These issues are of course also of interest and importance to the parents of any child learning to sing or play a musical instrument. In contributing this response, I hope my thoughts might be considered both by teachers and by parents who are rightly keen to understand their childrens’ progress.

Together, let’s begin to unpack some of the many positive ways that we can all celebrate our childrens’ and our own adult achievements.

Continue reading Musical Achievement, Assessment and Motivation

The Future of ABRSM Grades?

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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In the last couple of weeks I have come across two well argued letters in the music press, the first by Alex Aitken and published in the September 2021 issue of Music Teacher magazine, the second by Pauline Carter and appearing in the October issue of the BBC Music Magazine.

Both letter writers lament a perceived decline in music education, singling out ABRSM as being uniquely responsible for this malaise. Their charge is probably unavoidable, and not without merit bearing in mind that ABRSM are in their own words,

“…the UK’s largest music education body, and the world’s leading provider of music exams.”

The diametrically different solutions each of the two propose points to the serious challenge ABRSM now face in charting a path that reconnects with all of their stakeholders, wins wide support, and restores confidence in their ability to (as they put it) “inspire musical achievement”.

It is certainly beyond doubt that many in music education are reflecting anew on the role, relevance and value of music exams:

What is the future of ABRSM grades?

I am coming to the view that it’s time to focus on a live performance assessment and scrap divisive “support tests” and other prerequisites from grade exams. Done well, this could raise a bar which does seem to have been steadily slipping in recent years, while better matching the real-world priorities of the 21st century.

When ABRSM announced their “Performance Grades” a few months back, I admit that I was skeptical. But having listened carefully to a range of opinion, I now believe that making the performance of music the whole focus of graded assessments could prove unifying, and makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons. Let’s consider three of particular significance…

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September in the Pianodao Tea Room

Throughout the coming month, the focus of Daily Dao posts in the Pianodao Tea Room community will be Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians, a series of aphorisms that the great composer initially intended as a companion to his famous Album for the Young.

Join our convivial Facebook community to reflect on and discuss your piano journey in the company of other Pianodao readers and supporters!

Remember that as a member you are also entitled to 20% discount on all sheet music purchases from Musicroom.com, EVC Music, Editions Musica Ferrum and Edition HH.

For more information about joining our special community:


Which Piano Exam Board 2021?

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
For lessons and advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


Taking grade exams on the piano has for many been a rite of passage, and many teachers and parents convey an expectation that they are an important landmark in any pianist’s journey. Whatever one’s view of this, it is no surprise that so many of the questions, comments and requests made on internet forums concern the different exam boards available.

Five equally accredited boards operate internationally from a UK base, giving rise to endless comparisons and discussions, often generating more heat than light. This article is a sincere attempt to offer the latter, providing a level playing field for each of the five boards to present themselves in their own words, outline what they offer and their recent developments.

The following pages, one for each board, will supplement this information with links to Pianodao’s independent syllabus reviews, and a representative sampling of the customer feedback users of each board have generously provided in response to the recent Pianodao reader survey.

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Your Next Steps at the Piano

Receive flexible, expert piano tuition, bespoke advice and friendly support from leading educator ANDREW EALES.


Adult learn piano lessons Milton Keynes teacher
Learn piano Milton Keynes

“For 30 years I have had the pleasure of helping students of all ages and abilities take their next steps at the piano. I would love to support your journey at the piano too, and very much look forward to hearing from you – do please get in touch.

ANDREW EALES • piano teacher and mentor

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The Pianist’s Breathwork

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
Setting our piano journey in its living context.


Breathing is the first and last thing that we do as humans. And yet most of us breathe in unconscious and restricted ways, leading to dire consequences for our bodies, physical health and emotional wellness.

But as Jennifer Patterson advocates in her brilliant The Power of Breathwork (2020, available here),

“Breathing happens unconsciously all the time, but it can also be consciously and intentionally engaged with. How present you are to your breath is how present you are to your life. By bringing consciousness to the breath you can interrupt automatic responses, reactions, thought patterns, and more.”

During breathwork practice we intentionally focus on and systematically adjust our breathing patterns. Such exercises have been a core element of meditation, yoga (pranayama) practice, and qigong for centuries, but have recently been popularised worldwide by the wellness movement and as a mindfulness technique.

Breathwork is now also recommended by the NHS here in the UK as a tool to overcoming stress. Many find that this practice promotes deep relaxation and leaves them feeling energised.

In this article I am going to consider the value of simple breathwork practice for pianists, explaining how and when it can be a helpful tool, and introducing you to some easy and popular breathwork exercises that you will be able to try for yourself, straight away.

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The Pianist’s Limits

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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Some years ago, a highly successful man from the world of finance approached me for lessons. Essentially a beginner, he had previously tried a few lessons with another teacher locally, and I asked him why it hadn’t worked out.

His explanation amounted to a cautionary tale:

“I told her that I was only interested in learning Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, but she insisted on trying to teach me dull Grade 1 pieces. I had no interest in learning them, felt unmotivated and annoyed, and made no progress.”

Naturally I tried to explain (as undoubtedly the previous teacher had) that the Tempest is an incredibly difficult work, requiring a range of highly advanced musical and technical skills. It is possible to admire and be inspired by the achievements of the world’s greatest players while enjoying working at our own level.

Alas, he was not for turning, and within a short time the lessons stopped, my name presumably added to the list of stubborn failures who had been unable to teleport him directly into the Tempest without his needing to follow in the footsteps of those pianists who have previously made the journey with success.

Teaching with a sense of structured progression and an underlying curriculum is not a matter of professional hubris or a money-spinning scam; it is the means by which learners can progress towards their goals, realising their potential. It is an act of generosity.

Nor is it negative, lacking in faith or discouraging to recognise that as players we all have our limitations. On the contrary: it is foolish, arrogant and self-defeating to think otherwise. For a start, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Deng Ming-Dao reminds us,

“Every river has its banks,
Every ocean has its shores.”

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao Daily Meditations, Harper Collins

Continue reading The Pianist’s Limits

Musicians Who Teach

THE PIANODAO BOOKSHELF
Books for piano players, teachers, students and enthusiasts


Faber Music’s latest publication is a slim book called The Essential Handbook for Musicians Who Teach.

Written by singing teacher, researcher and lecturer Dr. Kerry Boyle and Diane Widdison, formerly National Organiser for Education and Training at the MU, the book is aimed at any musician teaching in the UK, whatever the context, and offers a wealth of generic advice covering the many practical aspects of earning money from instrumental/singing teaching.

I’ll look at the content in detail, and let’s find out whether this new handbook is indeed “essential”….

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UK Exam Boards: The Pianodao 2021 Survey

Later this year, Pianodao hopes to publish a major feature, Which Piano Exam Board 2021-3.

The aim of the article will be to support and inform those readers who are considering taking a formal piano playing assessment, and looking for a simple comparative summary of what is available to them from the UK-based international examination boards.

To that end, I have invited the five accredited exam boards to contribute their own content, and am now also asking you to provide user feedback if you have it.

The review form is included later in this article, so if you would like to contribute, then please read on…

Continue reading UK Exam Boards: The Pianodao 2021 Survey