Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
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“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?

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
Supporting Your Teaching • PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING


In my article Teaching Adults to Play the Piano I explained how adults learn differently to children. It follows that we need a range of resources more suited to adult needs.

In this post, I will now present my shortlist of the best adult method books, updated for 2022, and with full reviews of my Ten Top Choices

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…

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Breathing with Bach

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
Lessons & 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 (not her real name) learnt to play piano as a child, but took an extended 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.

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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

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


”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!


Andrew’s essential handbook of practising tips:




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which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small donation.



Bartók: For Children

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


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 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

How much musical baggage do you carry?

Guest Post by Roberta Wolff

One of the things I love about teaching is hitting upon that perfect explanation, aural, visual or verbal, which offers immediate clarity. Sometimes the answer comes after much reflection and thought and sometimes it seems to hit, apparently, from nowhere.

This is what happened recently with an adult student. After a strong start to her piece she began scrambling, reacting to the notes on the score rather than working with control. I pointed out that to keep playing at her current speed would be to create musical baggage.

This was the first time I had used the term, but her comprehension was immediate simply because she already understood the common phrase, emotional baggage. The idea of musical baggage resonated with her and so has proven to be a simple but powerful aid to her practice.

Naturally, I developed the idea so it could benefit more than just one student…

Continue reading How much musical baggage do you carry?

The Art of Piano Fingering

THE PIANODAO BOOKSHELF
Books For Musicians, Educators & Enthusiasts


Rami Bar-Niv is one of Israel’s most acclaimed and sought-after pianists. He performs worldwide as a soloist with orchestra, recitalist and chamber musician, and has become an ambassador of goodwill for Israel.

Bar-Niv has made several well received recordings for CBS, several of his compositions have been published and recorded, and he is widely in demand as a teacher.


Art of Piano Fingering

Though some UK readers may not have come across Rami, those who are active networking on Facebook will have seen, and no doubt benefitted, from his erudite, constructive and generous support of other pianists. In short, Rami has won many friends around the world with his warmth, charm, and passion for the piano.

The Art of Piano Fingering

The Art of Piano Fingering is essentially a large manual for piano playing, published as a 212 page book via CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Several readers have asked me about it, and my opinion can effectively be summed up in just two words: Buy it.

Books about piano technique are rarely page-turners, and the idea of a large book that just deals with the nitty-gritty of piano fingering may not immediately appear enticing, but don’t be put off. In this review I will explain why I believe this book is an essential purchase for anyone who plays or teaches the piano…

Continue reading The Art of Piano Fingering

Dustin Hoffman’s Dream

The FERMATA SERIESby ANDREW EALES
Taking the time to pause and reflect


Ever wished you could be one of the top Hollywood movie stars of your generation? 

It turns out that Dustin Hoffman had a different dream, as he relates in an interview with the Radio Times magazine (5-11 March 2016):

“I always wanted to be a piano player.
I grew up studying piano, particularly jazz.
I just didn’t have the talent.
I had the desire. I had the feeling for it – and I still have it – but I didn’t have a very good ear.
I couldn’t just sit down and play something if you whistled it, like many musicians can.
I could not read regular classical music quickly; it was all laborious for me.
I still feel I missed my calling in life.
If God said today, “You will be what you always wanted to be, starting right now, and that is a really good jazz pianist”, I’d quit everything and be quite happy.”

This collection of thoughts and statements suggests to me many ways in which we use language quite loosely.

What, for example, is “a piano player” or for that matter “a really good jazz pianist”? Are these labels limited to those who can earn a living as a performer? At what stage in one’s development as a pianist is one allowed to use the term?

And then there is the question of “talent”. If ever there was a word that is used to convey so much, but actually conveys so little, “talent” is surely a contender!

Why did Dustin Hoffman believe that he “didn’t have the talent”? Did a teacher or parent take him to one side and gently break the news? Did he fail an exam or lose a competition? Or did he simply submit to the worst insults leveled at him by his own inner critic?

The answers to these questions are perhaps not for the knowing, but it is interesting that Dustin Hoffman goes on to talk about the ideas contained in Kung Fu Panda 3, the latest movie he is involved with.

Hoffman concludes the interview with this thought:

“One of the themes of Kung Fu Panda 3 is that they use the word “Chi”, in other words finding your inner self; the purpose of life is to find your inner self. Your essence.
And I think you spend a lifetime doing that.”

For me, being a pianist is a real part of my “inner self”, regardless of whether I have a successful concert career or not. And I suspect many readers will identify with piano playing in the same way – as a core part of our identity and means of self-expression.

If so, do not listen to your inner critic, to the teacher who puts you down, to the competition judge who overlooks you, or to the audition board that pass you over.

Be sure to pursue your dream, because the rest is just noise.


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.