Active Repertoire: The 2021 Challenge

ACTIVE REPERTOIRE PROJECT
Music you can play, any time, any place


For piano players, like everyone else, 2020 has been a huge struggle.

We have needed to re-evaluate our goals and quickly change many of our plans. But in the midst of the turmoil, many of us have found a renewed enthusiasm for piano playing, while many more have returned to the piano or taken up playing for the first time.

We enter 2021 with growing numbers of pianists and teachers embracing a fresh direction and revitalised piano goals. Whether disenchanted with a dull exam-driven formula or eager to disentangle from over-prescriptive methodology, many are now hungry for a more inspired musical approach.

We want to embrace a more motivated, positive version of ourselves at the piano!

Thankfully, there is an answer…

Continue reading Active Repertoire: The 2021 Challenge

Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
For lessons and advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


“If we begin to think about our goals in life as destinations, as points to which we must arrive, this thinking begins to cut out all that makes a point worth having.
It is as if instead of giving you a full banana to eat, I gave you just the two tiny ends of the banana – and that would not be, in any sense, a satisfactory meal”.

Alan Watts: What is Tao?

Over the many years I have been teaching the piano to children, one of the most common enquiries from parents is this:

“What goal can my child be working towards?”

More often than not, it turns out that they would like me to move their child onto an exam-driven footing rather than simply allowing them to wander more freely in the meadows of musical wonderment.

Interestingly enough, far fewer adult learners make this point. We should really consider why this is, and how useful goal setting might really be…

Continue reading Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

Which Adult Piano Method?

This year’s updated feature on adult method books begins with an in-depth look at each of my Top 5 Choices, after which I will include shorter reviews of some other great alternatives…


One of the most exciting developments over the course of my piano career has been the huge increase in adults taking up lessons. I have lost count of the number of adult beginners I’ve had the pleasure of teaching over the last three decades; at present I teach more than 30 adults.

I’ve seen adults taking up the piano for many reasons; some wish they had learnt when they were younger, while for others taking up piano as an adult is the next chapter in a growing musical interest.

Whatever the reason for starting lessons, the last thing most adults want is to be presented with  Jimmy Timpson’s First Piano Lessons for Tiny Tots, or a minor variation with the word “adult” cannily stamped on the front cover.

And that’s perhaps one reason why my round-up of the adult beginner method books was by far the most-read article on Pianodao in 2019.

Fully refreshed for 2021, I’m delighted to present this updated and expanded version, including two major methods not mentioned last year.

But we’ll again begin with my top tips (also updated!) about what to look for in an adult method book, and why adults learn the piano differently to younger beginners…

Continue reading Which Adult Piano Method?

Piano Star Theory

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
Supporting your teaching • PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING


ABRSM’s Piano Star series of books for children have been warmly received since their introduction a couple of years ago, their pieces regularly appearing in student concerts, festivals, the Prep Test and Grade 1 exams.

Last year the original series of three progressive books of fresh new repertoire grew to include a book of “Five Finger Tunes at the entry level, and a “Piano Star Grade 1 book at the upper end. And now there’s another addition: the Piano Star Theory primer is published this week. Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Piano Star Theory

Breathing with Bach

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
For lessons and advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


Lesson Notes is an occasional series of blog posts reflecting on specific lessons I have given and the particular issues that arose and were addressed.

Eva learnt piano as a child, but took a break in early adulthood. A few years ago she returned to playing. Since coming to me for lessons she has completed the higher ABRSM grades and gained a DipABRSM performance diploma.

Eva continues coming for a 90 minute consultation lesson once a month. Her focus is on expanding her repertoire, and at present she is working on Bach’s Partita No.1 in B flat major.

In this lesson, we address the importance of the breath in alleviating shoulder tension, using three dance movements from the Partita as example repertoire.

Continue reading Breathing with Bach

Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
Supporting your teaching • PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING


Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises is a new addition to the Lang Lang Piano Academy series published in the UK by Faber Music.

Subtitled, “Warm-ups, work-outs and scale routines to develop technique, the book is introduced by its global superstar author with this encouragement:

“Everything you play should be performed with love and musicality, so all of these exercises are designed to be satisfying exercise patterns that lead you smoothly through all the key centres. Enjoy your scale practice, and your piano playing will take off!”

Continue reading Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises

Slow Progress

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
Setting our piano journey in its living context.


”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!


PIANODAO is free to access and ad-free thanks to
generous DONATIONS from readers like you.
Supporters are welcome to join THE TEA ROOM.



Bartók: For Children

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES
Also Available • CONSULTATION LESSONSVIDEO FEEDBACK


Bartók’s seminal collection For Children is, in my view, one of the few absolute essential classics of the piano pedagogy repertoire: a work which has in equal measure both charmed and challenged generations of young pianists, and seems as popular with my students today as ever.

Two new versions of this milestone have appeared in recent months: a single-volume complete edition from Boosey & Hawkes, and a brand new urtext edition from Henle Verlag in partnership with Editio Musica Budapest.

In this review I’m going to present each, with some concluding thoughts on their relative merits, and recommendations of which edition will suit whom.

Continue reading Bartók: For Children

The Musician’s Tool Bag

Guest Post by Roberta Wolff

In my previous post, which you can read here, I considered the importance of reflecting, both in teaching and learning. As such, it was a thoughtful and ‘serious’ article. However, that is not necessarily the best way to approach teaching reflection to our students. Nothing engages the student and gets the message across like a bit of creativity and fun.

This article, therefore, is focused on incorporating reflection as part of the lesson and practice process.

The trouble with reflection is that it often seems long-winded. All the amazing advice along the lines of think 10 times play once is actually very hard to carry out. Whereas, it is very easy to get locked into a cycle of thinking with your fingers – at least then it sounds like something is happening!

In teaching students to incorporate reflection, unconscious learning with the support of tools to interrupt the spell of trial and error practice is immensely productive and enjoyable.

The Musician’s tool bag, The Box and the Language of Reflection are all ways to unconsciously build in reflection time.

Continue reading The Musician’s Tool Bag

The Intermediate Pianist

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
Supporting your teaching • PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING


The Intermediate Pianist series is a fresh and ground-breaking approach which is full of brilliant musical ideas. It’s sure to enable pianists to play with greater understanding and engagement, and comes very highly recommended.

Here’s the Pianodao review…

Continue reading The Intermediate Pianist