Parents, Partners & Supporters

When I started teaching a quarter of a century ago, the bulk of my students were children. They and I depended on their parents for payment and support, which sometimes also meant direction. And the crucial (if at times complex) triangle relationship between teacher, pupil and parent was a fundamental in almost every private lesson context.

Today the world has changed considerably, and one of the many differences for teachers is that the network of relationships around the private lesson context has become a far more complex and diverse one.

Continue reading Parents, Partners & Supporters

Seeking out Silence

The Fermata Series

September and October can be such busy months!

•  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!

Fermata Series

Reflections from Moniaive

The Fermata Series

My wife Louise and I have just returned from a wonderful, refreshing break in Moniaive, a peaceful and super-friendly village near Dumfries in the Scottish borders.

Travelling can remind us that in every place, people find their own flow, submitting to a silently agreed pace of life, and following an unwritten code of communal mores.

I think it would be more than a little daft – if not rather arrogant – to adopt hard concepts of how life must be lived when faced with the rich but convincingly varied testimony of shared lives and values found throughout humanity’s multiplicity of communities: the deep impact of society and geography, of time and place, is surely as indelible as it is undeniable.

Our own time in Moniaive was spent exploring the simply gorgeous countryside, traversing fields and climbing hills, visiting small arts exhibitions, tea rooms, and local hostelries. There was time to fit in some qigong practice, which surely benefited from the fresh, energetic air and bubbling stream at the back of the cottage.

We were joined for a couple of days by our daughter Ruth, a talented young artist, and her partner Ollie and friend Desiree. Jovial evenings were spent adding logs to the open fire while we chatted about life, the universe, and everything. All lubricated, of course, with tea, fine wine and whiskey!

On the third day we decided to walk from our secluded cottage in the forest to Moniaive, planning to meet an old friend there for tea. The sign at the gate into the field said, “Moniaive, 2 miles”, but should really have included, “Some mountaineering experience would be an advantage”.

Moniaive-2

None of us are getting any younger, and I will confess that I found the trek a mild challenge. But as my family remind me, how important it is that we sometimes break out of our comfort zone and rise to fresh challenges!

It would be easy, returning to Milton Keynes, to revert to the predictable comforts and mundane routines which measure my days as a teacher and writer. Indeed, it is likely that, though every experience changes us, my life will continue with only minimal change.

How sad it would be, however, to pass by this opportunity to reflect on “the what and the why” of my comfort zone.

Indeed, are our comfort zones really any more than our own artifice, a self-imposed prison of our own making?

In many places around the world, others too are returning from summer holidays, looking forward to a new “academic year”, while contemplating the imminent enjoyment of the harvest time, cozy autumn evenings, and the inexorable drift towards Christmas.

Shall we agree that, as pianists and teachers, our own shared ethos in the coming season will be one of adventure, creative rule-breaking and thinking outside of the box?

• The devoted classical player might try playing some jazz arrangements, or boogie…

• The amateur who enjoys playing “for fun” could take on a more serious, meaty challenge…

• The teacher could try a new approach, venturing beyond their established lesson routines.

• The student could try following their teacher’s advice for a change!

The glorious views of Moniaive and it’s surrounding hills, forests and valleys more than justified the steep inclines, uneasy map reading and navigation involved on our country walk. Our journeys of creative exploration at the piano have the potential to be every bit as magnificent.

Moniaive-3

Wouldn’t it be great if, bound together by mutual support and a spirit of enquiry, we could take our piano journeys far beyond the shackles of our previously inhabited comfort zones this season!

Fermata Series

The Way We Believe

The Fermata Series

“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.

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… for all the times you’ve been ignored

The Fermata Series

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.


Fermata Series

The Fermata Series offers short reflective posts, and a chance to PAUSE.
Read more from The Fermata Series here.


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Supporters enjoy extra benefits by joining The Pianodao Tea Room.



Are You a Fanatic?

The Fermata Series

“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.

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Music of our Youth

The Fermata Series

“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.

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Information Overload

The Fermata Series

“Be like the explorers of old. What they acquired for themselves will always surpass those who merely read about their exploits.”

Deng Ming-Dao
365 Tao Daily Meditations (199)

Do you often get to the end of a day feeling exhausted from sheer information overload?

It’s a contemporary phenomenon which seems to be part-and-parcel with the internet age. We feel this way whenever we receive more information than we can realistically process and internalise.

We are bombarded daily with information that ranges from the useless – such as Instagram pictures of what a friend eat for breakfast – to the academic (sometimes interesting, but often offering little possibility for application).

And then there’s the depressing 24/7 news cycle, that too often leaves us feeling anxious and bewildered rather than informed.

When the quest for an encyclopaedic knowledge, cutting-edge insight, and a full understanding (however noble these are) leaves us feeling worn out, it’s time to step back, take a break, and learn to be kinder to ourselves.

Simply put, it takes time for us to properly process all this information – or else it will anyway just go to waste!

The trick, it seems to me, is to focus on processing the most useful information:

  • information about people, subjects and music we genuinely care about;
  • information we can put to practical use;
  • information gleaned from our senses and experiences;
  • information which feeds or arises from reflection.

Instead of leading to fatigue, such information can open doorways, bring joy, excitement and a sense of playful adventure! 

And often, as we take care to be more balanced in our consumption, we will find that the information we actually need is more manageable than we previously thought…

In the picture of the overloaded bookshelf above, there’s actually only 14 different books – count them! Not so scary after all!

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Pianodao is FREE to all, but funded with the help of reader donations.
Supporters enjoy extra benefits by joining The Pianodao Tea Room.


Mindfulness in Music

Building a Library

Once upon a time, books were something very special – not mere repositories of bullet-pointed knowledge, but containers of true magic whose words could unfetter the imagination and conjure into being a genuine sense of wonder.

It seems to me that as the internet age comes to maturity there has been a concurrent if unexpected reappraisal and renewed appreciation of the tactile immersion made possible by a traditional, high-quality physical book.

Riding the crest of an exciting wave of publications crafted to the highest standard, and with a deliberate nod towards the publishing values of an earlier generation, comes a small but highly significant volume by Mark Tanner entitled Mindfulness in Music, published by Leaping Hare Press as an imprint within their ongoing series of mindfulness-related books.

The book is an inspirational delight from cover to cover (and including the covers themselves!) and I highly commend it to Pianodao readers as the “must-read” book of the season…

Continue reading Mindfulness in Music

The Pianist’s Motivations

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

  • What is it that motivates us as pianists?
  • Why did we start learning to play the piano? ..
  • And why do we continue to play?
  • What are our piano goals for the future? ..
  • And how do they excite us?
  • How can we motivate and inspire our students?

Ask these questions to a hundred pianists, and there’s a good chance you will hear a hundred different answers – but some common themes will most likely emerge.

In this article I am going to consider the many and complex motivations we all experience in life, focussing in on the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and how each pertains to our piano playing.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Motivations