A Common Approach 2022

Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION

Originally published in 2002, A Common Approach is perhaps the ultimate instrumental music teaching manual, offering a complete curriculum and extensive lesson activities for most instruments, including separate schemes of work for piano and electronic keyboard.

Now it has just been fully revamped and made available as an updated, free online resource to support instrumental teachers everywhere. Whether working privately or in a school, all piano and keyboard teachers would do well to have a look at this extensive and superb material.

According to its publishers Music Mark,

“A Common Approach is an online resource to support music educators in their teaching practice and help develop a holistic approach to music education. Relevant to all vocal and instrumental teaching, including individual, small-group, large-group and whole-class lessons, music educators at all stages of their career can use the support and shared learning found in A Common Approach.”

Music Mark Chief Executive Bridget Whyte tells us,

“Twenty years after the original version of A Common Approach was published, Music Mark has worked with a skilled team of music tutors from across the UK to update and enhance this valuable teaching tool. Containing both universal guidance and instrument-specific content, this online resource not only provides a great starting point for trainee and early-career tutors, but also gives those who are more experienced the opportunity to reflect on their practice.”

This has particular interest to me because back in 2002, I was a member of the national steering group who put together the original version of A Common Approach which provides the ongoing foundation of this update.

It’s therefore time both to take a short stroll down memory lane, and to consider how the updated version of this milestone resource can help piano teachers today…

Continue reading A Common Approach 2022

A Fresh Perspective

Taking the time to pause and reflect

Those who know me well enough to have observed some of my personal struggles often urge me to stop caring what others think of my choices, opinions, beliefs and work. Many of us become trapped in the mindset of the “people-pleaser”; manipulated or bullied by others, we can easily lose sight of our own core values if we aren’t careful.

A decision not to care what others think about us can be emancipating, and can empower us to be our more authentic selves. I’m not surprised that this sentiment has become a common theme in self-help manuals.

But wait. If we stop caring about what others think, how long before we stop caring about them at all? Mutual understanding of each other’s ideas, feelings and perspectives is a crucial foundation for building empathetic, honest relationships.

We may not always agree with the opinions of others, but shutting them out ultimately isolates us. Clearly a balance is needed, along with an ability to accept the perspectives of others without feeling belittled.

As in life, so too this applies in our piano playing.

It seems growing numbers of players are so assertively independent that, at best, they regard the views of teachers and other players as an optional “take-it-or-leave-it” commodity. It is a viewpoint which I countered in some detail in my article Who Needs Piano Lessons Anyway?

The simple truth is that all of us, however good we believe we are, and however much personal satisfaction we presently gain from our playing, can benefit from the advice of other experienced players and teachers.

As the Chinese saying goes,

“However good your eye-sight, you still can’t see the back of your own head.”

There is always value in getting another, fresh perspective on our playing.

But not all opinions carry equal weight, despite the best efforts of social media to present them thus. The commenting of Facebook peers and strangers may be useful, but won’t always convey special insight; and how does one sift through so many contradictory opinions?

It seems obvious that when we consider (and if necessary, research) the expertise of the person who is giving us feedback, and reflect on the quality of our relationship with them, then we will be better placed to find the healthy balance we need.

Ask yourself:

  • Does the person offering advice just want to show off their own knowledge, are they touting for business, or do they genuinely want to help me?
  • Do they have the experience of playing this music well, or at least a good knowledge of the repertoire?
  • Are they listening carefully and engaging positively with me?
  • Am I looking for the support of a friend or the constructive advice and insight of an expert?

How we answer these questions might give us a clue as to whether we should care about a person’s opinions or not. There remains the possibility to take charge of our personal and pianistic development while also nurturing respectful, honest relationships.

But we might notice that sometimes the feedback we are given, invited or otherwise, can be useful even when we don’t feel a particular connection to the individual offering it. The observations of somebody we might not generally agree with, or even particularly like, can present the fresh perspective we were previously missing.

Beyond personality issues then, when receiving feedback on your piano playing ask yourself:

  • Does the feedback increase my understanding of the music in a way which will help me to play it better?
  • Does the feedback include practical, physical or technical advice which I might benefit from trying out?
  • Does the feedback inspire me musically, get my creative juices flowing, or offer an alternative interpretation of the music which could be interesting to explore?

Maya Angelou once said,

“We do the best we can with what we know,
and when we know better, we do better.”

Are you ready for a fresh perspective on your playing?

Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:

PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small donation.

“The Thinking Pianist” Summer Course

Get Expert Support & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION

Summer schools and courses for (especially) adult piano enthusiasts have become an embedded feature of the music education landscape in recent years, and last year saw the launch of the latest.

The Thinking Pianist is the brainchild of David Jones, an established pianist, educator, and presently Head of Keyboard Studies at Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

I am delighted to announce that for this, the course’s second year, I will be joining the faculty. Here in advance, I talk to Jones about what it is that makes this particular course special, and distinct from other successful summer schools…

Continue reading “The Thinking Pianist” Summer Course

How to Practise Music: Reviews

Books For Musicians, Educators & Enthusiasts

It has been a couple of months since the release of my first book for Hal Leonard in the UK, and it is now available in a US english version, and n digital format from the Amazon Kindle and Apple Books stores.

I have been thrilled and touched by the many wonderful comments I have received and reviews that have appeared. Here is a selection…

“In this helpful little book, the author considers 50 aspects of practice and unpacks them in such a way as to be useful to instrumentalists and vocalists of any genre… Any independent learner or parent committed to their child’s progress would benefit from having this book to dip into, and to make sure they are investing all that practice time as well as possible.”

Helena Ruinard
Music Teacher Magazine April 2022

“This hold-in-the-hand 80-page book is the perfect practice manual for teachers to draw ideas from and for students to develop their own personal practice tool kit to help make the most of the time… This compact book, packed with sage advice and wonderful content, will help any teacher or student reading it to resolve their practice challenges. The result will potentially be a greater love of their instrument and so much more success playing it.”

Karen Marshall
Piano teacher, presenter and best-selling author
Read the full review here.

“Andrew’s book unquestionably considers in equal measure the organisational and creative aspects of practising most persuasively. The presentation and style is lucid and practical. This is not a florid, pictorial production. Rather, it cuts to the chase, fits neatly into your jacket pocket and will be of invaluable use to an enormous number of practicing musicians.”

Murray McLachlan
Pianist, writer, recording artist and educator 
Read the full review here

“This pocket-sized volume is the perfect companion for every musician, packing a punch in less than 100 pages with its wealth of supportive, imaginative, practical and thoughtful suggestions to keep the musician, whatever their age or ability level, focused and motivated… You may wish to read the book from cover to cover, or to simply dip into it; either way, you will find it an invaluable resource. Teachers too will find much useful information in finding creative ways to encourage students to practise.”

Frances Wilson
The Cross-Eyed Pianist website
Read the full review here

“Packed with wisdom gleaned from decades of making and teaching music, Eales’ guide offers practical advice on how to practice in ways that are both productive and joyful. What many of us had to learn through years of trial and error can be found in this pithy, must-have book.”

Rhonda Rizzo
Pianist, novelist and writer
No Dead Guys website interview

“This publication is full of accessible, supportive, imaginative, wise practical advice and strategy for today’s learner, gleaned from Eales’ many years as a music educator. I think this is a great book and recommend it highly as an easily-digestible guide. Eales recognises the challenges faced by any musician. The reader is encouraged to focus, plan, reflect and explore in a spirit of creativity, mindfulness and engaged curiosity. It presents a fairly comprehensive compendium of useful  and wide-ranging ideas with warmth and understanding without ever being patronising or didactic. Elements of motivation, progress and satisfaction are all acknowledged, both in the nitty-gritty of planned practice and the joy of playfulness and discovery.”

Rachel Sherry
AOTOS Newsletter

My sincere thanks to all the reviewers who have taken the time to read, to reflect on and to write such wonderful reviews of my book. I know from experience the long hours of work that go into writing an informative and helpful review, and it is much appreciated!

Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:

PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small donation.

Happy Birthday, Musica Ferrum!

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

Independent music publisher Editions Musica Ferrum launched ten years ago, and as we celebrate the anniversary this week I am happy to share this interview which I recently conducted with EMF founder and owner Nikolas Sideris.

The interview covers the Musica Ferrum story so far, with many fascinating insights. The interview also appears as a YouTube video at the end of this post, following a transcript of the major points…

Continue reading Happy Birthday, Musica Ferrum!

Introducing Pianodao MASTERCLASS

Since introducing a video feedback service to support players looking for advice online, pianists from three continents have sent films of their playing and found my detailed written comments helpful.

Now I am happy to be launching Pianodao MASTERCLASS, a revised and updated video feedback service with a fair pricing structure that better reflects the depth and quality of feedback given, and the time that goes into writing it (never less than half an hour).

Continue reading Introducing Pianodao MASTERCLASS

The Pianist’s Procrastination

Taking the time to pause and reflect

Verse 64 of Lao Tau’s Tao te ching contains perhaps the most famous line in all Daoist philosophy (quoting here from Solala Towler’s rendition):

“The largest tree grows from a tiny shoot.
The highest tower is built brick by brick.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”

Preceding this great quote, and shedding further light on the philosophy of Daoism, we read in verse 63:

“Deal with the difficult while it is easy.
Create the large from the small.”

These words offer an important blueprint for how we might approach any task, including learning a new piece of piano music.

They also provide us with the ammunition we need in order to stop putting off our practice, and overcome procrastination.

Let’s consider each of these points in turn…

Dealing with the difficult

In order to “deal with the difficult while it is easy, we need to break a piece down into manageable sections (or “chunks”, as they are sometimes called), realistically identifying the easily manageable and creating measurable goals.

I frequently find when teaching a player that they are unable to pick up a piece mid-section, and want to play from the beginning. An obvious deduction is that they always tackle the whole movement from start to finish, “practising” without correcting mistakes or addressing problems as they go. But this merely “bakes in” persistent errors.

Patient work on short sections is almost always more effective, but requires the player to recognise the chunks which make up the whole. These can then be practised in isolation, in order, or using a more random or creative design. Once carefully learnt, they can be sewn back together to create the complete piece.

It may be easy to manage learning a piece with one hand at a time, or even breaking down the individual voices. Sometimes, starting with both hands but at a super-slow tempo proves more rewarding. An alert teacher can advise on the best approach for a particular piece and player, and one size certainly does not fit all.

You can also discover a lot of useful practice strategies in my little book, How to Practise Music (find out more here).

The universal truth here is that we must identify the easy as our starting point, rather than trying to deal with the difficult.

If the highest tower is built brick by brick, it’s important to understand that until one brick is aligned correctly, we should not attempt to lay the next.

Overcoming Procrastination

Faced with the task of learning a new piece, our initial enthusiasm might be laced with a sense that the task ahead is a daunting one. Overawed by the thousand-mile journey, we find ourselves paralysed to take the first step. Confidence dissolves, procrastination sets in.

Using Lao Tzu’s blueprint of looking at the difficult task and breaking it down into smaller components, however, we can begin to see those more manageable steps. It can be helpful to pursue this process until we find steps which are so easily approachable that we can achieve them in next to no time at all.

Completing a practice step which requires almost no effort is a “quick win” that brings encouragement, a positive feeling which generates its own energy and ongoing momentum. As we tick off the smallest tasks, confidence returns and we can see that progress is being made.

What music are you learning on the piano at the moment? Do you feel overwhelmed? Let today be the day to say “Goodbye” to procrastination. The first step can be taken, the initial brick laid; visible progress can be achieved.

Why not today?

Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:

PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small donation.

Competition & Conflict

Taking the time to pause and reflect

“To compete always damages your soul.”

Maria João Pires (International Piano, January 2014)

With auditions for the finals of this year’s Van Cliburn International Piano Competition underway, we are yet again presented with the spectacle of competing pianists pitted against one another by an industry that would have us all believe that there is no other way to launch a career (despite so many high-profile examples to the contrary).

A lot of people seem to love this stuff, and certainly we can look forward to some fabulous performances. But personally, while perhaps not as outspoken on the subject as the marvellous Maria João Pires, I have long felt uneasy with the whole idea of piano competitions.

The climax of any competition is the victory of the “winner”. And of course, everyone knows what the opposite of a winner is. Mitigating this, multiple medals and accolades might be awarded, but when players are divided into good, better and best, they have still fundamentally been divided.

We don’t need to beat others to have value.

I sometimes hear it suggested that competition is natural, an evolutionary imperative. Whether the sibling rivalry between Cain and Abel set the tone for our species, or the ‘survival of the fittest’ determined who we have corporately become, the point is made that we are hard-wired to compete.

If we want to follow the Natural Way, should we compete?

Competition in Nature

I have read several scientific definitions of competition as it exists in nature, all of which go something like this:

“Competition is most typically considered the interaction of individuals that vie for a common resource that is in limited supply.”

In the case of the Van Cliburn, that “common resource” is a coveted prize and a significant promotional boost. But these can hardly be considered life-or-death resources; clearly, there has been a shift towards an artificial construct of competition not found in nature. To put it bluntly, the human ego has taken over where evolution left off.

While examples of individuated competition exist in nature, they can usually be understood in the context of the wider needs of the herd. Not only so, but we see plenty of species whose survival depends on cooperation, teamwork and socialisation. Human beings would seem to be among their number: conflict ultimately presents an existential threat.

Can we be sure where competition ends and conflict begins? Most of us deplore the endless battles that develop between individuals and social groupings as opportunities dwindle or egos inflate. We shake our heads sadly, and wonder how such conflict was ever allowed to develop.

Beyond Competition

Overcoming the competitive spirit can seem to be an uphill struggle.

If we find it difficult to stop comparing ourselves and others, or to resist drafting a mental tally of winners and losers, we might conclude that trying to avoid competition is unrealistic, an idealistic delusion, or even a smokescreen for weakness. We join our peers in agreement that competition is the normal state, and we redouble our efforts to prevail.

But if we make space in our lives for meditative silence and stillness, our own deeper insecurities and swirling thoughts will start to settle and clear. We begin by making peace with ourselves. Finally it dawns on us:

We don’t need to beat others to have value.

Not only so, but the anxiety caused by the competitiveness of others, their ceaseless self-promotion and petty conflicts, start to exercise less of a pull on us. The empathy which we are all born with can reawaken, along with our ability to more sincerely support others; even those that we perhaps formerly considered ‘rivals’. Because:

We don’t need to beat others to have value.

As pianists, a commitment to regularly playing our active repertoire for our own personal enjoyment, without the need to impress or compare, can in some cases unlock years of imprisonment to negative self-talk.

Surely, isn’t this how making music should be? As pianists:

We don’t need to beat others to have value.

As caring parents, humane teachers and musicians, we have an important role to play in helping the next generation of piano players to have a more healthy, less competitive attitude.

If we truly want to promote a happier, more peaceful world, we need to stop promoting unnecessary, unnatural, unhealthy competition.

I believe that we can all be winners together by being the best that we can collectively be, through cooperation, teamwork, collaboration and mutual respect. Between us, we surely have the creative imagination to develop far more positive opportunities and pathways into a lifetime of music-making.

Let’s keep our eyes on the real prize: a world less driven by conflict, and more in love with the transformative power of shared music.

Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:

PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small donation.

Fermata • Time to Pause

Taking the time to pause and reflect

The fermata sign is an indication that we should take a little time to pause before playing on.

Pausing is a musical activity.
When we pause we should notice that we have paused.
And our audience should notice that we have paused.

The pause should not be ignored.

An effectively measured pause on a note or rest will often radically alter the quality of the narrative flow, performance choreography and communicative power of a piece of music.

Take a moment now to consider whether you make the most of fermata in your piano playing…

As in music, so it is in life.

Just as the expressive power of music depends upon the pace of its delivery and the space allowed for silence to speak between the notes, so too human wellbeing depends on the timing of our activity, the tempo of our thoughts, and the permission that we give ourselves to pause.

We all need to regularly reboot. Just like the misbehaving computer we have to switch ourselves off and, after a short pause, start back up again. We need to empty out the cluttered cache of our minds and allow the kinks of our ever- developing tension to naturally and gently unwind.

And when we forget to do that, things start to go wrong for us. Many of us have experienced significant burnout during the last couple of years for exactly this reason.

The Fermata Series on Pianodao is the outworking of my original vision for this to be a site which positions our piano playing and teaching within the context of our broader lives, incorporating articles that probe the intersection between my expertise as a piano educator and my interest in the natural philosophical wisdom of Daoism and health benefits of qigong practice.

After (ironically) pausing the series I am now rebooting it, believing that it is needed more than ever. Previous fermata posts can be discovered here, and as time allows I will add more, inviting readers to pause and reflect.

Quoting from pianists, poets and philosophers, sharing my own ideas and music, the Fermata Series is returning to Pianodao to encourage wellbeing for every season, and to inspire all our ongoing piano pathways.

Just for now, take a moment to pause.

Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:

PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small donation.

Launching “HerStory”

Pianodao Tea Room members were this week treated to a very special online event, at which best-selling author Karen Marshall unveiled her new collection, HerStory.

Below, we are now pleased to share the full video of the presentation, with special thanks to Rachel Topham at Faber Music and Emily Alexander at Yorkshire Young Musicians for their generous support.

Continue reading Launching “HerStory”

Welcome to Pianodao!

Welcome to the piano education website of teacher, published composer and author ANDREW EALES.

Andrew provides regular lessons and mentoring at his home studio in Milton Keynes and consultations online. His Masterclass feedback service delivers detailed constructive written advice to players all over the world.

Pianodao features more than 600 articles and music reviews, all written to inform and support players, teachers and enthusiasts everywhere, and free to access thanks to the support of readers.

Discover Timeless Classics

Get Expert Support & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION

To what extent does your voice today harmonise with the chorus that went before you?

A ‘deep’ question perhaps, and one which we can use to ground ourselves, a reminder of that which is more permanent in our lives, as well as more broadly indelible in our communities, history and culture.

The Music We Play

When it comes to the music we play, bombarded with the new we can lose sight of those established favourites and foundations which have nurtured and nourished us before, and which in many cases have been treasured by previous generations.

As a piano teacher, I am thrilled that such a wealth and variety of new piano music comes my way. Overwhelmed, even. Through my reviews I try to promote a rich and varied selection of the very best new music suitable for all levels of player. Sometimes readers mention that it is too much, and certainly we all need to cherry-pick the fresh discoveries that excite us most.

It would be possible for a pianist or teacher to use these latest publications as the core of their performing or teaching repertoire, ignoring all that went before. Those newer to the piano may well choose to do so. But what of our peerless heritage?

As pianists we have an astonishing range, depth and wealth of repertoire upon which we can fix our gaze and focus our practice…

Continue reading Discover Timeless Classics

How to Practise Music: The Handbook

Books For Musicians, Educators & Enthusiasts

I am thrilled to announce my first publication with Hal Leonard, described by the publishers as:

“The essential, pocket-sized companion for every musician. Accessible and authoritative, How to Practise Music is an ideal guide for anyone learning to play music. Suitable for instrumentalists and vocalists of any genre, this comprehensive handbook will give you a better idea of how to practise music, good reasons for doing so, and the confidence to succeed. “

The book is now available in both UK and US versions (Practice/Practise!):

In this post I will give you an exclusive first look…

Continue reading How to Practise Music: The Handbook

The Active Repertoire Challenge 2022

The Music You Enjoy Playing, Any Time, Any Place.

For 2022, many piano players are ready to embrace a fresh musical focus and revitalised piano goals. Whether frustrated by lack of playing in the last year or pleased with progress made, we all want to embrace the most motivated, positive version of ourselves at the piano.

Thankfully, there is an answer…

Continue reading The Active Repertoire Challenge 2022

Teaching Adults to Play the Piano

Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION

There has been an interesting and persistent debate in recent months about whether adult students can effectively teach themselves to play the piano (tapping into the growing plethora or apps, books, etc), or whether there is an essential ongoing need for a teacher’s involvement. I have addressed this in my recent article Who Needs Piano Lessons Anyway?

But while there’s no shortage of arguments for learning with a “good teacher”, many seem to struggle finding one who is sympathetic to their goals and in tune with the needs of adult learners.

In this post I will therefore share some of the strategies which have worked for me over the last three decades of teaching these enthusiastic learners.

Continue reading Teaching Adults to Play the Piano