A Fresh Perspective

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
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 Pianist’s Procrastination

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
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

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
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

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
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.



Lingering Awhile with Friends

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


“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.

The writer entreats his travelling friend to wait awhile before taking the next step, not simply because it is wise to be circumspect, but because the security of the present moment provides the best launchpad into the uncertainty of the next.

Many will be starting out in new jobs, classes and projects as we enter a new season. We may, or may not, have friends lined up as travelling companions.

Soon there will be change, bringing fresh challenges, adventures and new faces into our daily lives. But for today, it’s important to treasure the friendships we have.

For those enjoying a holiday this month, I hope you will have a refreshing and relaxed time in the company of those close to you. I hope that you will linger in special moments, and craft wonderful memories that will strengthen you for the future and add incredible value to your life.

I have to confess that I too often rush my “goodbyes”, impatient for the next moment. But life does not comprise next moments; it is made up of the present ones. Let’s take time to enjoy them, and treasure our time with friends!

Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to the metaphorical link between this verse and our piano playing…

There will always be new repertoire to explore, including the latest compositions we’ve discovered as well as the manifold treasures of the keyboard literature from generations past…

But there’s really no hurry. So before stepping into new territory, remember to spend time with familiar favourites: the Active Repertoire with which you can relax, express and enjoy yourself.

As in life, so too in our piano playing, let’s take time to linger awhile with our old friends.


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.



Practice in Perspective

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


“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.”

Ordinary Practice

Is it a surprise that some days everything goes well at the piano, while other days nothing seems to work at all? Sometimes we clearly see where we are going, other times we can barely make out the shapes through the mist.

With this in mind, we perhaps need to question our perspective on practice each time we sit down at the piano, understanding that there will be unpredictable ups and downs, beyond our control, to which we need not attach special blame or emotion.

When I launched Pianodao back in 2015, I wrote:

I continue to observe that many of the problems and issues that I and my students grapple with have very little to do with our pianism and musical understanding, and far more to do with our physical limitations, tension, mental state and internal beliefs… The work of a piano teacher can sometimes have as much to do with helping our students to address these issues as it does with conventional pedagogical content.

I have offered plenty of tips on how to practise elsewhere, but believe we must understand that, regardless of technique or strategy, our practice experience is likely to vary considerably from one day to the next.

It’s crucial that we don’t jump from self-evaluation to self-condemnation. Recognising this basic point helps us to approach practice with a more healthy perspective, alleviating the stresses and frustrations that can blight our daily satisfaction at the piano.


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.



Meanwhile outside…

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


“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!

Meanwhile, back indoors…

What cruel irony, then, that this is the very time of year where many young people are cooped up revising, huddled over computer screens, readying to be herded into drab school gymnasiums where rows of identical desks await. It’s not that I’m against assessment; I am really not. But here in the UK we endure plenty of overcast, wet and windy days when studying indoors perhaps makes more sense.

In music education the same forces are equally at work, even though we instrumental teachers, perhaps more than anyone, have reason to challenge these assumptions. Have teachers, pupils and parents become so convinced of an exam-led narrative of education that we are losing our ability to discern the deeper and richer benefits music can bring?

“The Grades” imagine a fixed, artificial destination (or series of mini stop-offs) which can too easily distract us from that all-important scenery that actually makes our musical journey truly rewarding.

So many adults returning to the piano tell me that they quit lessons as teenagers because they hated taking exams so much. I would suggest that we need to very seriously reflect on this.

Meanwhile outside…

For the Daoist philosophers, one of the highest imperatives is for humanity to reawaken to the natural world around us and discover our place within it. Recognising and following the seasons, both in the natural world and our inner journey, is fundamental to our true success.

a picture says more than a thousand words…

Throughout history, the Daoists were keen musicians and artists who demonstrated that far from adding to our sense of separation from the natural world, artistic expression can provide an avenue by which we come closer to it.

As one of the ancient sages explained:

“As a general principle, music is the harmony between Heaven and Earth, and the perfect blend of Yin and Yang. Great music brings delight, enjoyment and pleasure to ruler and subject, parent and child, and old and young alike.”

The Annals of Lu Buwei, 3rd century BCE
Brindley, EF: Music, Cosmology, and the Politics of Harmony in Early China
State University of New York Press, 2012.

The Natural Musician

As in all things, it is authenticity and balance that we need, and there are many ways we can promote this. For example:

  • Try to learn pieces and techniques at a natural, unforced pace.
  • Learn to be mindful as you practise, and non-judgmental as you critique your own (and others’) playing.
  • Aim to match the repertoire you tackle to your broader life goals, choosing pieces which inspire and enlarge who you are.
  • Always listen to your playing, immersing yourself and connecting with the source of the sounds.
  • Balance time spent working at the piano with time spent playing it; remember Active Repertoire so that your piano playing has a “success foundation”.
  • Listen to your body when practising/playing. And remember to breathe!

For all the hours spent practising, find balance by spending quality time away from your instrument. Even just a walk in the local park can have a positive impact on our wellbeing.

The outside can only harmonise with the inside if we take the time we need to explore both. And there’s really no better time of year to heed the call, and join the party!


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 Practice Room Sanctuary

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


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.

In her piece entitled Music made me a happier child, she writes:

“What I didn’t consciously realise until much later was that music was providing another, possibly even more important, role in my life. My parents’ marriage had never been a happy one, and ours was a family that lived against an ambient hum of tension, anxiety and conflict. Music became my escape…
Music enabled me to set my own emotional temperature. When I was 13, my parents separated and subsequently divorced, and music became my sanctuary… throughout it all, music was my means of emotional regulation.”

No doubt like many others, I can profoundly identify with this. I too grew up in what was then known as a “broken home”, my mum divorcing my dad when I was 6, my stepdad when I was 12, her third husband dying of a heart attack when I was 17.

Music became a deepening world to me.

And not only through these troubles and tragedies, but similarly when I was mugged in the street, bullied and beaten up at school; when girlfriends dumped me; when I struggled with identity; when I generally failed at life.

In all these moments of difficulty, music was the place where I hid, the practice room my refuge, the sound of the piano a cavern of acceptance which, for much of my younger life, was the one place where I felt I could truly belong.

But music isn’t just for the dark times; playing an instrument isn’t simply a cop-out from life’s hasher realities. Music is an equally welcome friend during times of calm, of amazement, triumph and bliss.

The piano offered another way to explore and express my joy when I truly fell in love, when I got engaged, married and built a life with my wonderful wife. Music was a constant friend, too, through the birth of our two children, through their growth to maturity and development as successful adults.

Music has been there in success as in failure, a companion through all the joys and sorrows. And it will ever be there.

In all honesty, I could write an extended, euphoric eulogy to the power of music; I doubt I need to, because most who read this will hopefully already know and have experienced exactly what I mean.

As Beckerman astutely observes, music brings equilibrium to our emotions, to our soul. Playing an instrument, we express our otherwise inexpressible deepest selves.

The piano has, without judgement, allowed me to both celebrate my faith and reflect on my doubts, opening up a pathway through which I have excavated my deepest thoughts, emotions and beliefs.

Importantly, through the discipline and focus needed in order to play well, we can each of us enter a meditative state where our other thoughts are stilled, and our inner emotional landscape is able to find restorative balance and sustenance.

As Beckerman says:

“There’s a single-mindedness involved in learning scales and arpeggios until they’re exam-perfect. There’s little space for external worries when you’re doggedly playing the same 29 notes over and over again.”

I can’t help feeling that, for all our efforts to “sell” music (and indeed, cultural education), we yet need to place greater emphasis on music’s transformative and balancing impact on those who properly engage with it.

Some may disagree, but if you play just for yourself, enjoying the private sanctuary of the practice room and never performing for others, I think that’s absolutely fine.

It’s more than fine: it’s a genuine blessing. Make the most of it. As players, let’s avail ourselves of this special place in our lives. And those of us who teach: let’s try to lead our students there.

Let’s celebrate music’s scope as a means of authentic expression, and the sanctuary it offers those who run to it.


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.



A Rising Crescendo of Hope

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


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.

Hope. And how precious is that, as we find ourselves embroiled in incessant change and entangled in our transient insecurities?

Just as birdsong can convey hope, connection and continuity in an uncertain world, so too can our music. As we sit to play at the piano, we tap into the song of generations, and there is a sense of connectedness which can be palpable.

Continuity: because whether alone or playing for others, we can explore and keep alive the music of former generations. Their music is a bridge across time and space, allowing communication, empathy and a sense of connection to endure and to thrive.

All music belongs indelibly to the great human narrative, but we are required as players and listeners to step onto that bridge in our imagination, discerning and joining with the voices of the musicians of old, sharing in and recreating their thoughts, experiences and emotions.

New music, whether our own improvisation or the compositions of others, joins humanity’s own Dawn Chorus, fanning the flames of mankind’s song until they grow into a deafening crescendo of hope and lasting connection.

I appeal to readers and all my musician friends: let’s each of us embrace positive intentions as we play the piano, eschewing doubt and keeping vanity at bay, ensuring that our music is empowered by a sense of connection and continuity.

Let’s be the creators and sustainers of hope.


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.



Slow Progress

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


”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

Teaching & Learning

The idea of a fast-track approach to learning piano inevitably appeals. Everybody seems to want results, no matter whether shortcuts are taken.

The commercially-minded teacher will inevitably be keen to meet parental expectations, satisfy pupil ambitions and impatience, and demonstrate that their students have “achieved” above and beyond the norm (whatever that is).

Taking the fastest route, shortcuts and all, doesn’t bode well for the player’s future, however. Secure foundations in aural development, creativity, technique and notation-reading are all essential for balanced, ongoing progress; sadly it is often left to a later, better teacher to more methodically fill in the cracks previously papered over.

It is only as we slow down that proper understanding takes root.

When players (or those around them) get caught up in a frantic rush towards “completing” the next music book, level, grade exam, audition or competition, then taking care to develop a holistic, lasting engagement and appreciation of music can easily get lost.

In piano playing, there is no finishing line. If we fail to enjoy each step of the piano journey, savouring its full potential, then we have perhaps completely missed the point. Instead of looking for a quicker route to success, we should be asking:

Slow progress: is there truly any other kind?

Piano Practice

If the teaching and learning of the piano represent the macrocosm of the race towards progress, our personal practice sessions are the microcosm. And it’s here most of all that we can happen upon a window into our true thoughts and attitudes towards our piano journey.

Discovering how slow motion practice can (ironically) accelerate progress was one of the big discoveries of my own piano playing journey. I rarely practice any other way now, and rarely need to.

I now regard playing a piece up to speed as playing, the slow-motion work as the actual practice; following this model, it should perhaps be admitted that few piano players practice at all! When I ask students to play more slowly, they very often can’t. This suggests that they are relying on kinaesthetic memory rather than being more mindfully engaged in their own music-making.

How slow is slow?

My advice is to play just a little slower than is usual or more comfortable.

If we are aware that our playing is slightly slower than usual, it seems to flip a switch that allows us once more to properly engage with our playing.

Just as t’ai chi and Piano Qigong allow us to reconnect with the quality of our own movements, so too slow piano practice seems to facilitate and develop more effective, efficient, controlled piano playing. It is the route to security.

And … Rest!

Solala Towler concludes his point by suggesting that sometimes the “right thing to do is not to do anything”.

This speaks to the value of rest. In an article a while ago I mentioned recent research which shows that our piano playing can continue to improve between practice sessions, for example overnight while sleeping.

It’s surely important to note this extraordinary link between activity and progress: we may think that the one leads to the other, but that is often not the case!


Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:




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Seeking out Silence

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


The Autumn months can be so very busy!

•  For students, there is the return to school, college or university – in many cases starting in a new setting, or beginning new courses.

•  For teachers, many of us are still fine-tuning timetables to adapt to unexpected last-minute changes, while doing our best to tap into the enthusiasm which greets a new academic year.

•  For parents, as the summer holiday disappears into the past, new routines kick in, and the workload can be different at least – if not more daunting,

It can all get to be too much. We can feel overwhelmed. And we need to make some space for ourselves, so that we don’t implode from the demands and commitments which face us on all sides.

Silence provides that space, that essential moment of calm. And however shortlived, I have found that oasis can be truly transformative.


Here is a beautiful quote:

“As one progresses on the path, one seeks silence more and more. It will be a great comfort, a tremendous source of solace and peace … you will feel adoration of silence. This is the peace that seems to elude so many.”

Deng Ming-Dao: 365 Tao Daily Meditations, 261 (Harper Collins, 1992)


There is no true silence while we breathe, while our heart beats, while the wind blows, the waves break, the rain falls, and while the planets continue their orbital arcs.

What we seek, first of all, is to begin to notice and hear those things above the din of our own thoughts. It can be very hard to step into that quietude where our minds are stilled, our anxieties subdued, and our imaginations placed on hold.

And it seems to me that the need to seek out silence is still greater for those of us who are musicians and piano teachers. For so much of our time, we are intently focussed on sound.

Silence – the absence of sound – offers us a very special opportunity to switch off from our working lives and often noisy headspace.


And we can find silence without travelling far!

Whether by stepping outdoors for a few minutes in the middle of a busy day, or by closing the door, unplugging the technology and committing a short time to mindfulness practice, stillness can be found, and is waiting – free for all.

Returning, we can pay closer attention to sounds, whether attending a person with more care as they speak to us, or listening to fresh notes emerging from the piano.


Silence is the antidote to our busy lives…
It fortifies and nourishes our souls. 

We find in the eye of the storm the replenishment that we need, the inner treasure that will allow us to return to our busy lives feeling alert and refreshed.

“Once you find deep solitude and calm, there will be a great gladness in your heart. Here finally is the place where you need neither defence nor offence – the place where you can truly be open. There will be bliss, wonder, the awe of attaining something pure and sacred.”

Deng Ming-Dao

I urge you then, to seek silence for a short time every day throughout this coming week, and to consider the difference it makes to you!


Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:




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The Way We Believe

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


“It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

Lin Yutang (1895-1976), The Importance of Living (1937)

I have long subscribed to the view that, as the old saying goes, “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is”. It makes absolute sense that our beliefs about ‘life, the universe and everything’ will significantly impact and mould our daily behaviour. Indeed, self-esteem and understanding of our place in the world must surely have a huge impact on our reflexes, responses, and attitudes.

Lin Yutang offers a more nuanced, deeper insight. He points out that it is not so much what we believe as how we believe it: the way we go about acting out our beliefs.

It is easy to see how this idea might apply to our religious, political and social beliefs. Do we use our beliefs to divide, or as a means to bring people closer together? What action, if any, results from our beliefs?

But I think that Lin’s words are still more profound – can they not to be applied to any and all aspects of our lives, including our piano journey?

•  What do we believe about ourselves as piano players?
•  How about our beliefs about our teachers and teaching?

Could it be, for example, that we think our personal approach to piano playing favours certain composes or styles?

If so, does this belief help us to select Active Repertoire or does it limit our willingness to try new music?

Or could it be that we believe our talent is limited, and that our playing will never rise above the mediocre?

If so, does this belief help us enjoy playing without competing, or does it limit our fulfilment and leave us frustrated?

There are perhaps no ‘right or wrong answers’ here, but taking time to consider Lin’s words, and to question the way in which our beliefs are manifest could prove fruitful as the starting point on a fresh journey of reflection and discovery.


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.
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… for all the times you’ve been ignored

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


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.


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.



Are You a Fanatic?

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


“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.


Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:




PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
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Please support the site by making a small donation.



Music of our Youth

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


“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.


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.