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.

Boogie Woogie Piano Solos

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

Of all the jazz styles, boogie woogie surely sits at the “unabashed fun” end of the spectrum, with a musical appeal, approachable good-nature and lack of pretensions that invites classical players as well as jazz-devotees to get down and have a go.

Intermediate players who want to boogie are well catered for by the likes of William Gillock, Martha Meir and Mike Cornick, while for the advancing player Tim Richards’ Blues, Boogie & Gospel Collection (reviewed here) is a great resource.

Meanwhile, those who want to master the style at the highest level and play transcriptions of the classics will welcome the latest addition to Hal Leonard’s Jazz Piano Solos series (volume 60, and you can explore previous highlights here). Simply titled Boogie Woogie, this new collection is terrific, and more advanced players will absolutely love it.

Continue reading Boogie Woogie Piano Solos

Discovering Schönberg’s Piano Works

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

Image: Portrait of Arnold Schoenberg by Richard Gerstl, c.June 1905

When music publisher Universal Edition was founded in Vienna in 1901, its goal was to provide core classical and educational works to an enthusiastic Austrian market, but the company soon became associated with some of the most radical modernist composers of the age.

Within ten years, UE had signed contracts to publish new music by Mahler, Bartók, Schönberg, Webern, Zemlinsky, and in subsequent decades the company became the publishers of Kurtág, Ligetti, Stockhausen, Berio and Boulez among many others.

Austrian copyright ownership lasts for 70 years after a composer’s death, and when Bartók’s music came out of copyright in 2015, G. Henle Verlag were quick to produce new urtext editions which significantly improved on the scores that were previously available.

Now they are repeating the trick with the key piano works of Arnold Schönberg (later Schoenberg, 1874-1951), delivering fresh urtext editions of the Drei Klaveristücke (Three Piano Pieces) Opus 11, Sechs kleine Klavierstücke (Six Little Piano Pieces) Opus 19 and Suite Opus 25…

Continue reading Discovering Schönberg’s Piano Works

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!

Music from Minecraft

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

When I heard that Hal Leonard were bringing out a Music from Minecraft solo piano album, I was intrigued but unsure what to expect, not least because while interested in the concept of the game, I haven’t actually played it.

The music is composed by Daniel Rosenfeld, a German electronic composer and sound engineer who performs under the moniker C418. Rosenfeld began creating music on his computer as a teenager, and by the age of twenty had an established growing career.

Rosenfeld’s music for Minecraft was created when he was in his early twenties, and has been released on two albums in conjunction with the game itself: Minecraft Alpha (2011) and the longer, lusher Minecraft Beta (2013).

The present sheet music publication draws twenty pieces from across both those albums, presenting solo piano transcriptions suitable for intermediate to advanced players. The target audience will predominantly be teenagers and young adults who play the game, and that’s a huge target!

So let’s take a look…

Continue reading Music from Minecraft

Mirosław Gąsieniec: Album for Children

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

In 2020, I was commissioned by PWM Edition to record five films showcasing Polish piano music. I was captivated by new musical discoveries, asked to see a wider selection, and have subsequently continued to independently review and introduce this repertoire to Pianodao readers…

Of the many beautifully presented piano collections suitable for intermediate players in the PWM Edition catalogue, the Album for Children by Mirosław Gąsieniec deserves special attention. Published in 2020, the book includes twelve superbly crafted, varied and original, melodic pieces.

In this review I will also consider the same composer’s earlier Collection of Dances for Piano (2013) which delivers another, similarly enticing set of ten Gąsieniec originals composed in a neo-classical manner, and again suited to players at upper intermediate level (around UK Grade 4-6).

Continue reading Mirosław Gąsieniec: Album for Children

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.

Six Preludes About Time

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

It’s about time I reviewed About Time: Six Piano Preludes by the well-known British composer Mark Goddard.

Published by EVC Music back in 2018, this intriguing collection of miniatures with latin subtitles initially slipped under my radar. Following EVC’s new partnership with Hal Leonard I have been re-examining their catalogue, and have been delighted to discover About Time, which makes an excellent addition to the growing Pianodao Music Library

Continue reading Six Preludes About Time

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.

Rebeca Omordia’s “African Pianism”

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

Discovering new repertoire, personalities and sound worlds has long been a particular goal when selecting the Pianodao Recording of the Month, and for March 2022, I am excited to be writing about a new album that ticks all three boxes.

African Pianism is a revelatory collection of music by seven African composers, none of whom I was previously familiar with. Released to coincide with Black History Month in the United States, the album marks the solo debut of Nigerian-Romanian pianist Rebeca Omordia on the SOMM label.

There’s certainly nothing predictable or conservative about this release, so let’s take the disc for a spin…

Continue reading Rebeca Omordia’s “African Pianism”

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.

“HerStory”: The Piano Collection

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

Best-selling author Karen Marshall has been a driving force behind some of the most popular and useful piano education titles of recent years, including the Piano Star and Encore series (both ABRSM), Get Set! Piano method books (Collins Music) and Piano Trainer series (Faber Music).

To get the measure of this achievement, you can browse and read all of my previous reviews of Marshall’s work by clicking on this tag.

Marshall’s latest project is HerStory from Faber Music, and will appeal to a wider catchment of piano players beyond the education market, being a compilation of 30 works by female composers who thus far have not received the recognition they have deserved. But HerStory is so much more than simply another repertoire collection, as I will explain in this review.

Continue reading “HerStory”: The Piano Collection

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”

An Expedition into Czech Piano Music

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

Here’s an interesting idea – and a superb collection of music!

German music publisher Bärenreiter have had offices in Prague since 1991, and have done more than any other publisher to champion Czech music.

For their new Expedition into Czech Piano Music collection they have worked with leading Czech pianist and educator Ivo Kahánek to produce a collection of 21 solo piano pieces composed from the 18th to 20th centuries, including representative music by 15 composers.

Though rather ambitiously billed as being for “early intermediate pianists” (and such definitions are always loose), I would suggest the pieces here would suit later intermediate to advanced players, from around UK Grades 4-8, several pieces having appeared in the higher grades.

Let’s go exploring…

Continue reading An Expedition into Czech Piano Music