The Pianist’s Self-Care

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

At the time of writing, most of us are feeling uneasy. We are, after all, in the midst of a global pandemic, concerned for ourselves, our loved ones, our finances, and fearful of what our world might be like in a few months time.

But as we spend more time away from our usual routines, we might also discover a deeper unease. A rock has plunged into the pool of our lives. The ripples are still clearing, and a lot of mud has been churned up. As the waters settle again, we are coming to see things that were perhaps unclear to us before.

As pianists we might hope to see glimpses of answers to life’s most profound questions sat before our piano, absorbed in our playing. And certainly, as I’ve written here before, piano playing can provide a sanctuary from all else that is unfolding around us.

But while some presently find they can use their piano playing as an escape from grim news, many others are experiencing frustration at their lack of motivation, focus and inspiration.

In this entry to The Pianist’s Reflections Series I will consider some basic elements of self-care from a Daoist (Taoist) perspective in the hope that readers will find some helpful suggestions, and that each of us can enjoy a piano journey that reflects an easier, more connected and settled experience of life.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Self-Care

Pianodao at Four, and the Knowledge Economy

It has now been four years since the launch of Pianodao

It’s been a rollercoaster journey, and over these years I have published more than 500 articles (with plenty more in the pipeline!), all of which are available to readers worldwide for FREE.

That’s a lot of work – and a lot of words!

Some would of course question the wisdom of spending so much time creating all this, but these words by Deng Ming-Dao have long been important to me, and underpin my outlook:

“Nowadays, many people regard knowledge as a mere commodity to be packaged, marketed and sold… We live in a world where the selfless sharing of knowledge is no longer a virtue.
The more knowledge that you give away, the more will come to you. The more you hoard, the less you will accumulate. Be compassionate to others. What do you have to fear by being open?”

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao Daily Meditations (1992)


This doesn’t mean that we should give away all our professional expertise for free. But the internet offers us an unparalleled opportunity to be generous with our knowledge, raise awareness, promote discussion, disseminate ideas and improve the quality of communication and understanding. It offers a valuable supplement that can coexist alongside our professional work.

When I launched Pianodao I hoped of course that there would be those who would discover and enjoy the site, especially the Daoist philosophical angle.

But I couldn’t have anticipated that, four years on, the Pianodao site would have welcomed readers from almost every country, more than half a million times, and have established a reputation as a source of reliable information and advice. Goodness… THANK YOU!

I’ve often explained why I choose to write here, but mostly I would simply sum up Pianodao as being a “labour of love”.

Pianodao is truly my online journal, and the place where I can explore my thoughts, experiences, and enjoy the gift of writing for its own sake.

And it’s good to be able to share the journey.

I always hoped there would be an element of community around the site (and the Pianodao Tea Room has become a particular embodiment of that.)

Of course I’ve also welcomed the donations of those who appreciate the site, and who so generously choose to support it.

But the core of Pianodao has been, and will remain FREE.
It is not simply my gift to you: it is my gift to myself too.

Why not check out the very first post I ever wrote here, four years ago today: the vision outlined there still holds true!


How about You?

What does Pianodao mean to you? Please leave a comment below!

And if you have appreciated Pianodao and would like to make a donation to help towards the next four years, please do so right here:



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Lingering Awhile with Friends

“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, a poem about journeying. 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.


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You will find over 500 FREE articles and reviews here.
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Information Overload

“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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Are you finding Pianodao informative and encouraging?
You will find over 500 FREE articles and reviews here.
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The Lunar Tao

Qigong Resources

Regular readers will have seen that I sometimes quote from the contemporary Daoist (Taoist) author Deng Ming-Dao, and as we rapidly approach the Chinese New Year it gives me pleasure to recommend his recent book “The Lunar Tao”, published by Harper-Collins in 2013.

According to the publishers:

“The lunar calendar is a main pillar of Chinese culture, encompassing many stories and festivals. Deng Ming-Dao looks to the lunar calendar and highlights where these festivals and stories coincide with Taoism, giving readers a renewed and original way into this ancient philosophy.

Each day of the lunar year is represented with a reading meditation, original translations, illustrations and illuminating facts about festivals and traditions, providing readers with the context that gives Taoism such depth and resonance.”

Continue reading The Lunar Tao