The Pianist’s Limits

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
for support playing • BOOK A CONSULTATION


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 music 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”….

Continue reading Musicians Who Teach

YOUR Way of Piano

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PIANODAO. Supporting YOUR Way of Piano.

UK Exam Boards: The Pianodao 2021 Survey

Later this year, Pianodao hopes to publish a major feature, Which Grade Exam Board 2021-2.

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

The Pianist’s Behaviour

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


With the majority of our interactions and interpersonal relationships evolving exclusively online over the last year or so, it’s no surprise that some are now expressing some anxiety about resuming our lives in the “real world” again.

I’m surely not the only one who has watched with a mixture of bemusement, concern, and at times mounting horror as friends, colleagues and forum folk have, over the lockdown months, become increasingly cranky.

Won’t it be a bit awkward bumping into that piano teacher who has spent the last year pedalling bizarre conspiracy theories?

How about those friends and colleagues who have been so rude to, or about each other, seemingly oblivious that their acquaintances were collectively grabbing the popcorn and reading along in stunned disbelief?

Whether we’ve been drawn into the fray, stood back in judgment, or remained completely aloof, none of us can honestly claim to have been entirely blameless through this period of adaptation. Sometimes, this pandemic has brought out the best in us. Sometimes not.

It is time for us all to take stock. When it comes to behaviour and relationships, there may be situations where we need to hit the “reset” button.

Each tentative step towards the “new normal” brings growing recognition that both in-person and online engagement are very much here to stay, and will contribute to a more complex reality in which the quality of our personal and relational behaviour will be as crucial, and more visible than ever.

Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Age

During my recent readings of the Daoist Classics, this passage from Laozi’s Daojeding leapt from the pages, and is I believe pertinent to this time:

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying too.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Dao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

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

Daodejing, chapter 8, Laozi.
translated by Stephen Mitchell.
“Tao Te Ching, An Illustrated Journey”.

It is hardly for me to instruct others in how to behave. Nevertheless, I believe that Laozi’s words present a fairly comprehensive and beautifully succinct manual covering the most important bits.

The sage’s insights on cultivating healthy priorities, resolving conflict, avoiding comparisons and turning away from competition speak incisively, and are as relevant and powerful today as they were two and a half millennia ago.

And perhaps it really is this simple, if only we take time to reflect upon and apply these teachings.

To save you scrolling back, here are Laozi’s words again, together with the suggestion that we all take time to read them slowly:

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying too.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Dao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

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


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The Piano Teachers’ Course

ANDREW EALES in conversation with LUCINDA MACKWORTH-YOUNG and MASAYUKI TAYAMA of the PIANO TEACHERS’ COURSE UK


Currently in its 13th year, the Piano Teachers’ Course UK (PTC) is the longest-running course of its kind in this country, specifically designed for pianists and piano teachers who wish to enhance their professional teaching skills, come together for inspiration and become part of a motivated, supportive musical network.

Having previously visited several residential course weekends as an observer and guest tutor, I have been hugely impressed with the professionalism with which the one-year programme is run, and by the expertise and dedication that the PTC personnel offer.

I have also seen that the PTC shares very similar values to those that I espouse here on Pianodao. Those who have studied with me, who come to me for mentoring, or who simply enjoy reading my articles here will most likely feel very at home on the PTC course.

As the course continues to diversify its offer to include online access and an international reach, this seems a good time to catch up with the course’s founder and International Director, Lucinda Mackworth-Young, and UK Course Director Masayuki Tayama for a cup of tea and a chat on Zoom.

Continue reading The Piano Teachers’ Course

Who needs piano lessons anyway?

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
for support playing • BOOK A CONSULTATION


As UK Chair (at time of writing) of the European Piano Teachers’ Association, Mark Tanner seems an unlikely cheerleader for shunning expert tuition in favour of “teaching” oneself to play the piano. And yet in his new teach-yourself-book for older beginners, The Piano in Black and White (Faber Music, 2021), this is the path he advocates, enthusing:

“Learning to teach ourselves gives us the advantage of becoming masters of our own universe.”

Tanner ignores the obvious point that our own universe, without the guidance and insights of those more experienced and knowledgeable than us, might well prove to be a rather limited, small universe.

Tanner’s teach-yourself book is just the latest in a plethora of new apps, YouTube channels, books and videos claiming that adult beginners can learn to play the piano without the help (and expense) of a teacher.

Popular though these DIY attempts seem to be, and welcome though a diversity of educational resources are, most of us truthfully recognise that we are better off letting an expert guide take the lead. We realise, too, that while a one-size-fits-all app or book might set us off in the right direction, without the benefit of a personal guide who understands the terrain, the quicksands may well swallow us whole.

We can cite examples of those rare geniuses who succeeded as pianists without being able to access tuition due to geography, generation, genes or genre. But within most musical traditions, historically and globally, instruction from a teacher has been and remains the norm. There are many compelling reasons for this.

The idea of “going it alone” in preference to learning from an experienced practitioner is neither heroic nor wise. This is true in any field, whether basket-weaving, developing a good golf swing, or learning to play the violin. Piano playing is no lesser a skill, no mere “button pressing”, and must not be portrayed as such.

Those of us who have learnt from good teachers will appreciate and be grateful for that privilege. We naturally support the teaching profession, having ourselves experienced the elevating qualities of a good music education, and are eager for others to enjoy the same benefits as we have.

In this post, I will explore those benefits.

Continue reading Who needs piano lessons anyway?

The Post-Pandemic Piano Player

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
for support playing • BOOK A CONSULTATION


“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over.
But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.” 

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

As I write this, we are starting to consider and look forward to the relaxation of lockdown rules in the coming weeks, with a hope that schools will resume in March and most other activities by Easter. Being cautious, I had anticipated the probability of a return of face-to-face lessons by mid-summer, but it now seems possible that life will begin returning to some-kind-of-normal sooner. Hooray!

But what will we all have learnt in the last year?
How will we have changed in general, and as piano players?
And in what ways will the teaching and learning of the piano have been fundamentally and permanently altered?

Let’s consider the “Post-Pandemic Piano Player”…

Continue reading The Post-Pandemic Piano Player

Compose Yourself!

GUEST FEATURE • by Lindsey Berwin


From a very young age, my ambition was to forge a career which in some way involved the piano.

After completing my A levels, I was fortunate enough to spend four rewarding years studying at the Royal Academy of Music. However the one area of formal musical training that was missing from my time spent there was composition.

As a result, when I began my piano teaching career and decided to embark on a journey into this unknown territory, it was very much an exploratory one. It began with me gingerly feeling my way, but it very quickly became one of excitement for both myself and my pupils!

Continue reading Compose Yourself!

Last Post “…from Chopin’s Land”

MUSIC FROM CHOPIN’S LAND
In 2020 I was commissioned to record five films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…


At the start of this series I gave an account of my surprise 2020 visit to Poland, and in subsequent articles I have discussed some of the best piano music I discovered on my trip, together with the tutorial films that I and a team of international colleagues created to showcase this music to the piano teaching community worldwide.

As the series draws to a close, I would like to share a couple more books that were featured in the PWM promotion, as well as a series of three special collections which actually bear the project name, Music from Chopin’s Land.

And then the punchline! I will end this final post in the series with a short reflection on the lasting lessons I have learnt about piano pedagogy following on from my visit to Chopin’s land…

So, firstly, a few extra reviews and videos for your interest and enjoyment…

Continue reading Last Post “…from Chopin’s Land”