Why I started Pianodao

Pianists usually find that self-evaluation is crucial to their progress and musical development. When I started teaching piano I quickly also realised that the same rule applies: one of the best ways I can improve is to continuously reflect on my teaching practice and student response.

Pianodao takes this basic principle and places that process of reflection and evaluation within a much broader context – our journey through life.

Piano playing isn’t all black and white!

When teaching 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.

We all have a life outside of our piano playing, and it is clearly worthwhile considering the connections between our experience of life and our ongoing musical development. But where do we start?

When it comes to considering those connections, I have found that the Eastern philosophical wisdom of Daoism (or “Taoism”) can offer a powerful and insightful approach – one which recognises and celebrates inter-connectedness in all things, rather than focussing on disconnected specialisms as so often happens in Western thinking.

A good example is in medicine: Western medicine tends to identify specific localised symptoms and treat them, whereas Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to balance the whole body system. Just as TCM and western medicine can ‘complement’ (rather than replace) one another, so too the philosophy of Daoism can offer a fresh perspective, complementary to our established western notions, even though rooted in such a different cultural tradition. East meets West!

The more I have studied the wisdom and practices of Daoism, the more they have had a positive impact on my piano playing and teaching, as well as more broadly on my quality of life. The most direct example of this has been is my practice of Qigong breathing and stretching exercises, leading to my ideas for “Piano Qigong”.

“Piano Qigong” is a free resource offering simple breathing and stretching movements and exercises suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. These might help you overcome physical and technical obstacles you previously found insurmountable.

Alongside my own contributions, the site includes ideas from a wide range of specialisms, ranging from piano technique to practical psychology, and from the insights of modern performing arts medicine to those of ancient China. I often include articles by guest writers, and hope is that this will all contribute to a holistic understanding in which valuable connections are established, benefiting pianists at all stages of their journey.

I would like to thank my wife Louise Eales for her input here: she has many years clinical experience as a specialist mental health practitioner working with children and adolescents. She is my “go-to” adviser in all matters relating to psychology, behaviour and mental health issues, and her insights have had a huge impact on my own piano teaching practice and my writing.

“Self-help” material is too often written in an inaccessible manner, with impenetrable scientific jargon at one end of the spectrum and vague mysticism at the other. My basic aim is to write with clarity and simplicity, and I hope that ordinary readers such as myself will find the site easily engaging.

Alongside all these broader reflections, which distinguish this from other piano sites, Pianodao of course includes plenty or material directly addressing piano playing itself, including articles offering advice for learning, teaching and playing, interviews with a variety of pianists from different backgrounds, and reviews of useful resources and new sheet music. All of these are offered to support the piano community worldwide.

Those who “Follow” the site (see the section in the left margin to sign up now!) will most clearly appreciate the big themes presented here. But for those who prefer to dip in, the menu structure (top left) enables you to jump in wherever you choose, and there is a “Search” box to help find specific articles more easily.

Making connections between my experiences as a pianist and teacher, my practice of qigong and interest in philosophy, I hope Pianodao offers insights which will bring clarity to your own “Way of Piano”.