A Fresh Perspective

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

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…

Continue reading A Fresh Perspective

The Pianist’s Procrastination

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

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…

Continue reading The Pianist’s Procrastination

Fermata • Time to Pause

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

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…

Continue reading Fermata • Time to Pause

Lingering Awhile with Friends

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

“Morning rain in Wencheng dampens rising dust.
Sprouting willows colour the guest house green.
Sir, let us drain another cup of wine.
Once you’re west of Yang Gate, you’ll have no friends.”

Seeing Yuan Er off on a mission to Anxi, Wang Wei (699-759)
translated Deng Ming-Dao, Each Journey Begins with a Single Step (2018)


This simple, if somewhat oblique verse has been bearing down on my thoughts in recent weeks. Ever since encountering it, it has stuck in my mind as a salient reminder of the importance of cultivating lasting relationships and savouring friendships.

It is also, in context, fundamentally a poem about going on a journey…

Continue reading Lingering Awhile with Friends

Practice in Perspective

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful.
And then it’s amazing again.
And in between the amazing and the awful,
it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.
Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful,
and relax and exhale during the ordinary.
That’s just living: heartbreaking, soul-healing,
amazing, awful, ordinary life.”

L.R. Knost

Hands up if your first thought, reading this quote, is that Knost’s observations about life equally apply to piano practice? That was certainly my first thought when, having posted this quote three years ago on social media it reappeared as a “memory” this week.

And one of my friends similarly wasted no time before commenting, “this is an excellent description of my average practise session”.

So let’s revisit the quote, substituting practice for life:

Practice is amazing. And then it’s awful.
And then it’s amazing again.
And in between the amazing and the awful,
it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.
Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful,
and relax and exhale during the ordinary.
That’s just practising: heartbreaking, soul-healing,
amazing, awful, ordinary practice.”

Continue reading Practice in Perspective

Meanwhile outside…

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s Party!’”

Robin Williams

The month of May seems to me to be one of the most magnificent of the year, at least here in the UK, where the lingering spring blossom gives way to an explosion of early summer abundance. The temperature strains upwards towards ideal, but the mornings retain their wonderful freshness.

It’s really quite magical!

Continue reading Meanwhile outside…

The Practice Room Sanctuary

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

The bestselling author, journalist and broadcaster Hannah Beckerman recently wrote an article for Planet Mindful (Spring 2019) in which she shared what music meant to her, and in particular the difference that learning an instrument has made in her life…

Continue reading The Practice Room Sanctuary

A Rising Crescendo of Hope

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

Walking in Linford Wood this morning, it was such a joy to hear the blazing chorus of birdsong, and among it all the unmistakable sound of a determined woodpecker tapping in the trees.

Birdsong seems to me the sound of life continuing as usual, the forces of nature and energetic cycles of the universe triumphing over turmoil. And at this time of year, as spring arrives in the forest, there is daily new life, fresh growth and ever-present hope.

Continue reading A Rising Crescendo of Hope

Accomplishment

Fluency, understanding, expression and confidence.
Written by Andrew Eales

”In the beginning of training, it may seem as if you are doing very little. You compare yourself to your teachers and to more accomplished people, and you may despair at ever reaching their levels.
But if you are diligent, then it is inevitable that you will make something of yourself. Once you reach such a plateau, you will be able to relax a bit and contemplate where you are on your journey.”

Deng Ming-Dao,  365 Tao Daily Mediations (204).

Piano students, and adults in particular, often underestimate the time it will take to become proficient players, to play the music they aspire to, and to sound as good as they hoped.

When newcomers ask me, “how long until I can play really well?” I typically answer, “How does ten years sound?

It’s an easy (if entirely random) guess, but the point is the aspiring pianist’s response. Are they mentally prepared for the climb ahead?

The idea that after ”ten years” a player will be attempting advanced repertoire isn’t entirely incorrect. It can be qualified by pointing out that if “really well” equates to ABRSM Grade 8 (the highest amateur qualification), many who start as children progress by around one grade a year. Unless they make exceptional progress, young beginners who stick the course can expect to be attempting the higher grades in their mid to late teens.

But there’s a much more important truth, which I quickly bring up. Unless something is very amiss, we do not begin to enjoy playing music only once we reach that the more advanced stages of playing.

EVERY STEP of the journey is a real ACCOMPLISHMENT in which the player should take personal satisfaction and find musical engagement and reward.

We may wish our skills could be multiplied, but often moving a single step at a time counts for more. One PLUS One is actually more than One TIMES One, and it is foolish to miss out steps along the way. Mistakes and weaknesses in our playing can lead to us losing our footing long before we reach the upper summits.

And ultimately, as piano playing is a journey with no fixed destination, it’s important that we really take time to enjoy the scenery.

If patience is really a virtue, perhaps it is because learning to appreciate each moment leads to a rewarding lifetime of happiness and health.


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Slow Progress

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

”Often we find ourselves in trouble simply because we are going too fast, disregarding signs of trouble that we would have seen if only we had been going a little slower.
All too often we get caught up in the rush; our whole culture is based on it.  Get ahead!  Do it now!
Sometimes the right thing to do is not to do anything.”

Solala Towler, Cha Dao (Singing Dragon, 2010)

These comments (which are taken from a book about the preparation and consumption of tea) offer golden advice which can be applied to pretty much any aspect of our lives. No wonder so many of us feel completely worn out most of the time!

For our purposes, I want to touch on the value of taking our time in two areas:

•  firstly teaching and learning
•  and then our personal piano practice

Continue reading Slow Progress