A Fresh Perspective

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


Those who know me well enough to have observed some of my personal struggles often urge me to stop caring what others think of my choices, opinions, beliefs and work. Many of us become trapped in the mindset of the “people-pleaser”; manipulated or bullied by others, we can easily lose sight of our own core values if we aren’t careful.

A decision not to care what others think about us can be emancipating, and can empower us to be our more authentic selves. I’m not surprised that this sentiment has become a common theme in self-help manuals.

But wait. If we stop caring about what others think, how long before we stop caring about them at all? Mutual understanding of each other’s ideas, feelings and perspectives is a crucial foundation for building empathetic, honest relationships.

We may not always agree with the opinions of others, but shutting them out ultimately isolates us. Clearly a balance is needed, along with an ability to accept the perspectives of others without feeling belittled.

As in life, so too this applies in our piano playing…

Continue reading A Fresh Perspective

Welcome to Pianodao!

Welcome to the piano education website and online blog of teacher, published composer and author ANDREW EALES.

Andrew provides regular lessons at his private studio in Milton Keynes and consultations both online and in person. His Masterclass feedback service delivers detailed constructive written advice to players all over the world.

Pianodao features more than 600 articles and music reviews, all written to inform and support players, teachers and enthusiasts everywhere, and free to access thanks to the support of readers.


The Active Repertoire Challenge 2022

ACTIVE REPERTOIRE PROJECT
The Music You Enjoy Playing, Any Time, Any Place.



For 2022, many piano players are ready to embrace a fresh musical focus and revitalised piano goals. Whether frustrated by lack of playing in the last year or pleased with progress made, we all want to embrace the most motivated, positive version of ourselves at the piano.

Thankfully, there is an answer…

Continue reading The Active Repertoire Challenge 2022

Teaching Adults to Play the Piano

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


There has been an interesting and persistent debate in recent months about whether adult students can effectively teach themselves to play the piano (tapping into the growing plethora or apps, books, etc), or whether there is an essential ongoing need for a teacher’s involvement. I have addressed this in my recent article Who Needs Piano Lessons Anyway?

But while there’s no shortage of arguments for learning with a “good teacher”, many seem to struggle finding one who is sympathetic to their goals and in tune with the needs of adult learners.

In this post I will therefore share some of the strategies which have worked for me over the last three decades of teaching these enthusiastic learners.

Continue reading Teaching Adults to Play the Piano

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Musicians Who Teach

THE PIANODAO BOOKSHELF
Books For Musicians, Educators & Enthusiasts

All products featured on Pianodao are independently selected by Andrew Eales.
However, when you buy something through the site’s retail links, Pianodao may earn a small commission, without affecting the price you pay.


Faber Music’s latest publication is a slim book called The Essential Handbook for Musicians Who Teach.

Written by singing teacher, researcher and lecturer Dr. Kerry Boyle and Diane Widdison, formerly National Organiser for Education and Training at the MU, the book is aimed at any musician teaching in the UK, whatever the context, and offers a wealth of generic advice covering the many practical aspects of earning money from instrumental/singing teaching.

I’ll look at the content in detail, and let’s find out whether this new handbook is indeed “essential”….

Continue reading Musicians Who Teach

Who needs piano lessons anyway?

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
Get Expert Support & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


As Chair of the European Piano Teachers’ Association, Mark Tanner seems an unlikely cheerleader for shunning expert tuition in favour of “teaching” oneself to play the piano. And yet in his new teach-yourself-book for older beginners, The Piano in Black and White (Faber Music, 2021), this is the path he advocates, enthusing:

“Learning to teach ourselves gives us the advantage of becoming masters of our own universe.”

Tanner ignores the obvious point that our own universe, without the guidance and insights of those more experienced and knowledgeable than us, might well prove to be a rather limited, small universe.

Tanner’s teach-yourself book is just the latest in a plethora of new apps, YouTube channels, books and videos claiming that beginners can learn to play the piano without the help (and expense) of a teacher. Popular though these DIY attempts seem to be, and welcome though a diversity of educational resources are, most truthfully recognise that it is beneficial to have personalised guidance from an expert.

Certainly we can cite examples of those rare geniuses who succeeded as pianists without being able to access tuition due to geography, generation, genes or genre. But within most musical traditions, historically and globally, instruction from a teacher has been and remains the norm. There are many compelling reasons for this.

The idea of “going it alone” in preference to learning from an experienced practitioner is neither heroic nor wise. This is true in any field, whether basket-weaving, developing a good golf swing, or learning to play the violin. Piano playing is no lesser a skill, no mere “button pressing”, and must not be portrayed as such.

Those of us who have learnt from good teachers will appreciate and be grateful for that privilege. We naturally support the teaching profession, having ourselves experienced the elevating qualities of a good music education, and are eager for others to enjoy the same benefits as we have.

In this post, I will explore those benefits.

Continue reading Who needs piano lessons anyway?

RSL Classical Piano

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


It used to be possible to joke that piano exam syllabi, like buses, arrived three at a time. But with the addition of the Music Teachers’ Board to the mix and fresh arrival of a “classical” syllabus from RSL Awards (Rockschool), students and teachers have five fully and equally accredited UK boards to choose between.

A disclaimer at the start. Eagle-eyed readers will soon spot that in the nine RSL Classical Piano books the name Andrew Eales appears as a “syllabus consultant”. While I didn’t actually contribute directly to the syllabus, I did offer a little feedback in the later stages of its conception.

On the plus side this perhaps gives me particular insight, but at the same time I will try to maintain distance, as ever avoid bias, and focus on providing the independent factual outline that you need in order to evaluate for yourself whether the syllabus might be the right fit you.

So let’s take a look…

Continue reading RSL Classical Piano

A Piece a Week: “Initial Grade”

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


Regular readers will know that I am quite a fan of Paul Harris’s Piece a Week series from Faber Music, having found that using these books within my own teaching practice has helped many of my students significantly improve in their music literacy and ability to learn independently using notation.

My main review of the series is here.

Harris has just added a new book to the series, A Piece A Week: Initial Grade, which merits a separate review to the rest of the series for a variety of reasons which I will come to presently.

My first reaction to hearing about this book was admittedly mixed, on the one hand delighted that this wonderful resource has been extended to accommodate the needs of early elementary players, but the other hand stifling a weary sigh that in a year which has seen exam boards straining to dominate the music education agenda, yet more grade material has appeared for review.

But, extraordinary fellow that he is, Harris has an unnerving and seemingly inexhaustible knack for pleasantly surprising me, indeed, hugely exceeding my expectations. And I’m happy to report that he’s done it again…

Continue reading A Piece a Week: “Initial Grade”

ABRSM Piano Scales 2021

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


With the publication of their 2021-22 Piano Syllabus (reviewed in full here), ABRSM have given their scales requirements a significant overhaul, also publishing new scales books and resources.

In this review I will consider three main areas of this development:

  1. The new syllabus requirements
  2. The new ABRSM Piano Scales & Arpeggios books
  3. Scale Explorer for Piano – a new series of five graded books written for ABRSM by Alan Bullard

Let’s get straight to it…

Continue reading ABRSM Piano Scales 2021

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?

Paul Harris: A Piece A Week

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


Paul Harris’s series of A Piece a Week books have been appearing at regular intervals over the last few years. Faber Music have just released the Grade 6 book, so let’s consider the series as a whole…

I’ll start with a quick reminder that while the books appear in the best-selling Improve Your Sight Reading series, they are not sight reading practice books per se. Rather they aim to support the broader development of music literacy.

In this review I will first explain the concept behind A Piece a Week, give an overview of the actual material included in the books, and explain how they develop to offer superb material across the range of playing levels from UK Grade 1 to the new Grade 6 book.

Continue reading Paul Harris: A Piece A Week

Piano Teaching and the Art of Criticism

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


“Advice is like the snow. The softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon and the deeper it sinks into the mind”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

One of the key roles of a piano teacher is to help their students make direct improvements in their playing. To do this we must identify the priority areas that need attention, hopefully without turning into the scolding teacher in the photo above!

In this article I will share some suggestions on how to offer helpful criticism, encouraging positive progress and enthusiastic learning.

I will cover the following points:

  • Why Accuracy Matters
  • The Piano Teacher as “Critical Friend”
  • Golden Tips for Giving Constructive Feedback

Listening to our students play and offering suggestions for improvement is certainly not the whole of a piano teacher’s work, but in many lessons it will be a central feature…

Continue reading Piano Teaching and the Art of Criticism

More Piano Sight-Reading from ABRSM

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


Back in 2008, ABRSM published a series of books called Piano Specimen Sight-Reading Tests. Although deserving an award for having the most utilitarian and uninspiring titles in my whole music collection, they have nonetheless rarely been out of action in the intervening years.

In short, they were an essential purchase for any piano teacher preparing students for ABRSM’s world-leading piano grade examinations, and have seen very active service over many years.

Since 2008, many others have brought out alternative products to help teachers and students prepare for the sight-reading element of ABRSM exams. Paul Harris’s ubiquitous and respected Improve Your Sight-Reading series has been updated more than once, and now includes audio tracks. Useful and innovative alternatives have also appeared from Alan Bullard, Samantha Coates, e-music maestro and several others.

Now ABRSM return with a new series bearing the slightly-less scary title More Piano Sight-Reading, a suite of eight new books, one to tie in with each of their grades.

A superficial look at the eight books suggests that these aren’t radically different from their predecessors (which, I should add, are still valid, as the syllabus itself remains unchanged). However, a more detailed look reveals several tweaks and changes to the format which, between them, make the new books a step-improvement on the older ones.

For this review, I will focus on five specific improvements which I think make this new series a superior alternative to the previous books.

Continue reading More Piano Sight-Reading from ABRSM

Fun Games and Party Pieces

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


A couple of years ago I reviewed Rosamund Conrad’s Delightfully Easy Duet Books, (your can read the review here) and concluded:

“I would highly recommend having a look at the two books – I don’t think you will be disappointed!”

At the time I also received a copy of Rosa’s beginner piano book Fun Games and Party Pieces, which I was equally impressed with but didn’t manage to review. Now however, Rosa has brought out a “Second Edition” of Fun Games and Party Pieces, including 50% extra, new material!

And again, it is well worth a look …

Continue reading Fun Games and Party Pieces

Simple fixes for easing piano pain

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.

Bernice is a 76-year-old learner who took up the piano about 5 years ago. She has made steady progress, is now early intermediate level, and particularly enjoys playing traditional classical favourites.

Bernice’s Wrist Problem

Bernice has recently developed some physical problems in her wrist area. On the right wrist, she has a large ganglion close to the base of her thumb, which cases mild discomfort. The surgeon she has consulted is going to remove this soon.

On the left wrist she has a more chronic problem. Here there is a ganglion just below the fifth finger, not noticeable to the eye, and a scan has revealed that it is pressing against a nerve. There is possibly also minor swelling in the tendon. The medical specialist cannot operate, but has suggested that with care and anti-inflammatories the problem may dissipate.

The mention of tendons might be enough to convince some that piano playing should be avoided altogether. It is natural that we teachers don’t want our students to experience pain, and most of us will be aware of the real danger that tendonitis presents to pianists.

However, the medical advice here is that it is fine for Bernice to continue playing the piano, provided she is careful and exercises moderation. The hospital specialist has pointed out that such problems, as well as arthritis, might become an ongoing issue, but that these need not stop her from pursing her love for music (which is real and important to her).

Happily then, we can assume that Bernice’s medical problems are essential “minor” at present. But this doesn’t diminish the discomfort she reported when coming to her lesson, nor her fear that she might not be able to continue playing.

Continue reading Simple fixes for easing piano pain

Do you believe in classical music?

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


Great news: the latest figures from the BPI reveal that sales and streaming of recorded classical music grew by 10.2% in 2018 compared to the 2017 figures.

Taking a closer look, classical CD sales grew by 6.9%, while most other genres saw a decline. Meanwhile, online streaming of classical music grew by a whopping 42%, compared to the 33% rise in the overall market. These figures are presented and discussed in this BBC News article.

Some will no doubt quibble over the specific artists and composers featured in the statistics, and the categories formulated by salespeople and marketeers rarely tell the whole story.

But those of us who believe in promoting classical music won’t be surprised by its upsurge and enduring popularity. We know that once people encounter good music, it can wield its transformative power.

It is odd, then, that some piano teacher would seem to largely avoid classical music unless and until it is specifically requested by a student or required for an exam. Why is this?

Continue reading Do you believe in classical music?

The Piano Student’s Humiliation

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


The other morning, while enjoying my first cup of tea for the day, our puppy Bella Bardóg decided to keep nudging me for attention, distracting me from reading the book in my hands. I rather thoughtlessly responded with,

“If you want the book, how about you read it to me?”

Bella looked somewhat forlorn, and my wife Louise chipped in with,

“Don’t humiliate her! You know she can’t read!”

This slightly daft domestic anecdote illustrates a hugely important truth: when we ask somebody, anybody, to do something we know they are incapable of, we humiliate them.

How often, perhaps inadvertently, do we do this to our students?

As well as an aspiring dog-whisperer, Louise is a clinical specialist in child and adolescent mental health, and it is only fitting to credit her for many of the thoughts which follow, emerging as they did from our discussion that morning…

Continue reading The Piano Student’s Humiliation

Parents, Partners & Supporters

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


When I started teaching a quarter of a century ago, the bulk of my students were children. They and I depended on their parents for payment and support, which sometimes also meant direction.

And the crucial (if at times complex) triangle relationship between teacher, pupil and parent was a fundamental in almost every private lesson context.

Today the world has changed considerably, and one of the many differences for teachers is that the network of relationships around the private lesson context has become a far more complex and diverse one.

Continue reading Parents, Partners & Supporters

‘Rote Learning’ – a waste of time?

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


“Very young beginners, of five years or under, sometimes appear to make remarkable progress at first, and can be taught up to a point by imitation or ‘rote’. A large part of their lesson is taken up with rhythmic training and singing.
In actual piano-playing they progress a certain way and then they appear to stand still and, very often, to lose interest.”

Joan Last
The Young Pianist (Oxford University Press, 1954, 1972)

Rote learning seems to be very much back in vogue, and the remarkable progress which Joan Last writes of is something many teachers will be familiar with. Indeed, it is perhaps because of this ‘quick win’ progress that a number of prominent writers and trainers recommend teaching “by imitation or rote”.

The benefits would seem to include:

  • Building pupil confidence and ongoing enthusiasm;
  • Playing more advanced, expressive, interesting and impressive music than the pupil can presently read;
  • Exploring keyboard geography and developing physical freedom;
  • Developing musical memorisation ability;
  • Providing an inclusive option for students who struggle with reading;
  • Focussing more on technique and ear training;
  • Delivering quick results that impress parents and encourage students.

With such wonderful benefits, shouldn’t we all embrace rote learning as a core element of our teaching practice?

Certainly there are many who would answer that question with a resounding “yes”, but Joan Last points to a significant fly in the ointment: after progressing a certain way, players “appear to stand still and, very often, to lose interest”.

Martha Beth Lewis, a US pedagogue with more than 50 years experience teaching children, puts it far more bluntly on her advice page for teachers:

“Position playing and rote learning are mostly wastes of time. I think such methods are used by teachers to convince the parents that the teacher is doing a good job because the child can “play a tune” very soon. Such systems do NOT serve the student.”

So let’s take a deeper look at the subject, and consider why such esteemed writers and experienced teachers have spoken out against this approach…

Continue reading ‘Rote Learning’ – a waste of time?

The Foundation Pianist

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


Around this time last year, Faber Music unleashed The Intermediate Pianist series, co-authored by Karen Marshall and Heather Hammond. It was a solid success, warmly received by teachers and students alike, and in the Pianodao review I wrote:

“The Intermediate Pianist books get right to the heart of what learning music is really all about. This truly could prove a milestone publication – don’t miss it!”

As many readers will know, The Intermediate Pianist deservedly went on to win Best Print Resource at the Music Teacher Awards for Excellence 2018.

This Autumn, it’s a joy to welcome the arrival of The Foundation Pianist, two companion books in Faber’s growing Piano Trainer seriesThis time, Karen is joined by new co-author David Blackwell.

Let’s see what’s included, and consider how these books might fit into a rounded curriculum for young pianists…

Continue reading The Foundation Pianist

Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets

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


In a recent review I praised Gayle Kowlachyk and E.L. Lancaster’s Piano Studies for Technical Development books, and I’m pleased to say that the duo are back with another set of interesting and highly useful books, Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets.

This new series collects 59 original compositions, mostly from the pedagogy literature of the mid-late Romantic Era, in three progressive books. As such, it offers an invaluable source-book for teachers everywhere.

Let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading Easy Teacher-Student Piano Duets

Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


The name Melody Bober may be a new one to many readers here in the UK, but in North America she is well known for her popular Grand Solos and Grand Duets for piano series, among others, published by Alfred Music.

And based on her latest series of collections, Solo Xreme, perhaps it’s time for her to gain wider recognition here too! Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Solo Xtreme Books 1-3

Emil Hradecký: Two-Part Piano Miniatures

The PIANODAO MUSIC LIBRARY
Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES


The Czech composer and teacher Emil Hradecký (b. 1953) has devoted much of his creative output to children and the piano. His pieces are frequently inspired by dance music and jazz, and are distinguished by their fresh melodies and distinctive rhythms.

Several of his collections are published here in the UK by Bärenreiter, including his Little Jazz Album for PianoJazz Etudes for Young Pianists and the duet collection Jazzy Pieces for 20 Fingers.

His latest collection is called Two-Part Piano Miniatures on One Page…

Continue reading Emil Hradecký: Two-Part Piano Miniatures

Developing Fluency

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
Lessons & Advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


“I begin every lesson by having the pupil play the whole movement through without any interruption (no going back if you make mistake, as in practising). So we start with the experience of performance – and then turn to the details.”

Fanny Waterman: International Piano, Sept/Oct 2010

I vividly recall how, as a student at the Royal College of Music, my harpsichord teacher would ask me to play a piece, only appearing to listen to the first few bars. Indeed, he often seemed quite distracted, checking the room humidity, rifling through the paperwork on his desk, pacing up and down, and generally appearing to have other things on his mind.

Once I reached the end of the piece, however, he would invariably have the most perceptive comments to make about my performance – before turning back to the first page and looking at the piece in more detail.

My own approach as a teacher is not dissimilar (including my tendency to fidget!). I’ve always felt that if a student has practised a piece, I rather owe it to them to listen to what they’ve achieved and develop an overview of their progress before interrupting and interjecting with comments or suggestions for improvement.

I am perhaps unusual in this though; often when I have observed other teachers they have seemed ill-at-ease simply enjoying their student’s playing.

I once heard OFSTED’s Chief HMI for Music (at the time) say that one of the biggest problems observed by inspectors visiting music lessons in schools was that pupils rarely played a piece in its entirety, so neither working on structural awareness and pacing of the composition in their lessons, nor fluency in performing.

It is too easy to get so bogged down in the detail that we fail to observe the big picture, and no longer see the wood through the trees. And I’m sure there are still more clichés to describe this common problem!

Whether practising or teaching, let’s be more careful to develop fluency, without sacrificing accuracy in the process. In doing so we are more likely also to develop fluency in our appreciation of great art – and that’s a tremendous goal!

How often when you are practising do you play pieces all the way through, simply observing the music without criticism? Teachers – do you make it your habit to listen to pieces in full before commenting?


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