Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

“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 consider why, and how useful goal setting actually is…

Continue reading Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

Spring Repertoire Challenge

The Spring Repertoire Challenge is ideal for players of all ages, and offers a great starting point for developing and building an Active Repertoire at the piano. Are you up for it?

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Which Adult Piano Method 2020?

Sheet Music Review

For 2020 I am pleased to present an updated feature on the adult method books I most highly recommend.

I’ll start with in-depth reviews of my TOP 5 CHOICES.

After that I will also 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 2020, 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 2020?

Piano Star Theory

Sheet Music Review

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 (reviewed here).


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

Lesson Notes

Please note: “Eva” is not this student’s real name.
However, her story is told here with permission, and with my gratitude.

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

Sheet Music Review

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!”

Let’s explore the book …

Continue reading Lang Lang’s Daily Technical Exercises

Slow Progress

”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

Continue reading Slow Progress

Bartók: For Children

Sheet Music Review

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

Sheet Music Review

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

Building a Library

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. He 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

Time to rethink Practice Notebooks?

Educational Resources

As a child learning the piano, almost all of my teachers used a notebook to write down practice instructions, and more often than not included messages to parents and assessment of progress.

As a teacher I have generally adopted a similar practice, asking each student to bring a simple shorthand pad (or more special writing book) to their lessons. Whether or not they read my notes (and in most cases I doubt it!) the notebook has always been a useful reminder during the lesson itself, and make it easier to track progress towards specific goals.

Quite apart from whether pupils read their notebooks (according to Paul Harris, research indicates that 85% don’t) the use of a basic writing pad can be problematic. I often find that student practice notebooks have been used for other purposes, with pages missing, doodles, shopping lists, inexplicable messages and stains of unknown provenance.

On one occasion a child even brought a notebook that included his mother’s sums working out the cost of her next cannabis order!

So the case for using a special bespoke notebook is a strong one – especially if it incorporates additional information to help students…

Continue reading Time to rethink Practice Notebooks?

Dustin Hoffman’s Dream

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.


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