The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces

THE PIANODAO BOOKSHELF
Books For Musicians, Educators & Enthusiasts


Before the last rays of summer settle into the colours of autumn, let me tell you about this wonderful book, my summer holiday read, but equally suitable for the cozy evenings ahead, or for that matter as a Christmas gift.

Indeed, whether you find yourself wanting inspiration for fresh beginnings, a reboot in your piano journey, or simply a brilliant read, Susan Tomes’ The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces is poised to perfectly hit the spot and deliver the tonic you are looking for.

It’s a book which very much delivers on the promise of its title, giving a chronological survey of the storied history of the instrument and, more particularly, the development of a glorious repertoire that is surely one of the pinnacles of human achievement.

So let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces

The Advanced Pianist

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


Karen Marshall’s Piano Trainer Series for Faber Music, which includes The Foundation Pianist (with David Blackwell, reviewed here) and The Intermediate Pianist (with Heather Hammond, reviewed here), has reached its conclusion with the publication of The Advanced Pianist (Books 1 and 2, with Mark Tanner).

Taken as a whole, the complete series of seven books can be used as a core curriculum that can be interspersed with the eight grades of the UK examination boards, or used standalone by those skipping exams.

In this review I will firstly take a look at The Advanced Pianist before drawing a few conclusions about the Piano Trainer series as a whole…

Continue reading The Advanced Pianist

A Rising Crescendo of Hope

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


Walking in Linford Wood this morning, it was such a joy to hear the blazing chorus of birdsong, and among it all the unmistakable sound of a determined woodpecker tapping in the trees.

Birdsong seems to me the sound of life continuing as usual, the forces of nature and energetic cycles of the universe triumphing over turmoil. And at this time of year, as spring arrives in the forest, there is daily new life, fresh growth and ever-present hope.

Hope. And how precious is that, as we find ourselves embroiled in incessant change and entangled in our transient insecurities?

Just as birdsong can convey hope, connection and continuity in an uncertain world, so too can our music. As we sit to play at the piano, we tap into the song of generations, and there is a sense of connectedness which can be palpable.

Continuity: because whether alone or playing for others, we can explore and keep alive the music of former generations. Their music is a bridge across time and space, allowing communication, empathy and a sense of connection to endure and to thrive.

All music belongs indelibly to the great human narrative, but we are required as players and listeners to step onto that bridge in our imagination, discerning and joining with the voices of the musicians of old, sharing in and recreating their thoughts, experiences and emotions.

New music, whether our own improvisation or the compositions of others, joins humanity’s own Dawn Chorus, fanning the flames of mankind’s song until they grow into a deafening crescendo of hope and lasting connection.

I appeal to readers and all my musician friends: let’s each of us embrace positive intentions as we play the piano, eschewing doubt and keeping vanity at bay, ensuring that our music is empowered by a sense of connection and continuity.

Let’s be the creators and sustainers of hope.


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.



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:




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.



The Way We Believe

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


“It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.”

Lin Yutang (1895-1976), The Importance of Living (1937)

I have long subscribed to the view that, as the old saying goes, “as a man thinks in his heart, so he is”. It makes absolute sense that our beliefs about ‘life, the universe and everything’ will significantly impact and mould our daily behaviour. Indeed, self-esteem and understanding of our place in the world must surely have a huge impact on our reflexes, responses, and attitudes.

Lin Yutang offers a more nuanced, deeper insight. He points out that it is not so much what we believe as how we believe it: the way we go about acting out our beliefs.

It is easy to see how this idea might apply to our religious, political and social beliefs. Do we use our beliefs to divide, or as a means to bring people closer together? What action, if any, results from our beliefs?

But I think that Lin’s words are still more profound – can they not to be applied to any and all aspects of our lives, including our piano journey?

•  What do we believe about ourselves as piano players?
•  How about our beliefs about our teachers and teaching?

Could it be, for example, that we think our personal approach to piano playing favours certain composes or styles?

If so, does this belief help us to select Active Repertoire or does it limit our willingness to try new music?

Or could it be that we believe our talent is limited, and that our playing will never rise above the mediocre?

If so, does this belief help us enjoy playing without competing, or does it limit our fulfilment and leave us frustrated?

There are perhaps no ‘right or wrong answers’ here, but taking time to consider Lin’s words, and to question the way in which our beliefs are manifest could prove fruitful as the starting point on a fresh journey of reflection and discovery.


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.



Garreth Brooke’s “Upright” Project

“Upright” is a piano project with a difference.
I spoke to project coordinator, Garreth Brooke to find out more…

Continue reading Garreth Brooke’s “Upright” Project

Your Stories: Paul Harris

YOUR STORIES • Readers tell us about their own piano journey
READ MORE STORIESSHARE YOUR STORY


Paul Harris is one of the world’s most respected music educationalists. His compositions have delighted players and audiences around the world, and he has over 500 publications to his name. Paul is in great demand as a workshop and seminar leader in the UK, USA and the Far East.

Here he shares the story of how he discovered the piano as a child.

Continue reading Your Stories: Paul Harris

The Pianist’s Motivations

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
Setting Our Piano Journey In Its Living Context.


  • What is it that motivates us as pianists?
  • Why did we start learning to play the piano? ..
  • And why do we continue to play?
  • What are our piano goals for the future? ..
  • And how do they excite us?
  • How can we motivate and inspire our students?

Ask these questions to a hundred pianists, and there’s a good chance you will hear a hundred different answers – but some common themes will most likely emerge.

In this article I am going to consider the many and complex motivations we all experience in life, focussing in on the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and how each pertains to our piano playing.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Motivations

The Pianist’s Kindness

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
Setting Our Piano Journey In Its Living Context.


As I write this I am in India on a two-week yoga retreat, in which each day has started with a reflective discourse on the ethics outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the classic text from which yoga theory subsequently developed.

The first, foundational ethic presented by Patanjali was Ahimsa, which can be literally translated no harm, and essentially means be kind.

Without kindness, there can be no true yoga. And yet, as our teacher rather decisively noted:

“There are plenty of people in this world who can touch their toes, but who are still basically arseholes!”

As usual, what is true in one field can equally apply in another, and certainly from my own observations of pianists, both in online forums and the ‘real world’, there are plenty of very fine piano players and teachers who it would seem somewhat lack kindness towards others.

So how can we encourage the piano community to be a kinder one? As always, the answer must begin with ourselves …

Continue reading The Pianist’s Kindness

The Pianist’s Generosity

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • by ANDREW EALES
Setting Our Piano Journey In Its Living Context.


As I write it’s December, and in keeping with the season, I’m going to consider generosity

Let me start by sharing this brilliant quote from my good friend Paul Harris, which nicely sets the scene for my thoughts on generosity:

“Performing is an act of giving.
If we perform with artistry and skill – at any level, and with unconditional generosity – then everyone is the better for it.”

Continue reading The Pianist’s Generosity

Your Story: Rachel Rowles

YOUR STORIES • Readers tell us about their own piano journey
READ MORE STORIESSHARE YOUR STORY


I live in Devon and teach piano alongside a career in the NHS. I am currently a student on the Piano Teachers’ Course UK, so have been reflecting a lot on my piano journey this far, and on what comes next! Here’s my story…

Continue reading Your Story: Rachel Rowles

Returning to Learning

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


What can piano teachers learn from stepping into the shoes of the beginner and taking up a new skill or pastime? Quite a lot, in my experience…

Like many adults, I periodically look to introduce a new discipline or hobby into my life. And as a teacher, it is always fascinating to put myself in the position of student.

The latest activity to find its way onto my list of exploits is Pilates, the exercise system developed by Joseph Pilates and often mentioned in the same breath as Yoga (though I think, quite different!)

This lot are learning Pilates too. They look happy, don’t they?

Pilates-1

And certainly I was hoping that I would find Pilates enjoyable – and hopefully beneficial for my health and fitness too.

And inevitably I also hoped that putting myself in the shoes of the complete beginner, there would be teaching parallels that I could reflect on, and which would give me fresh insight.

In this post I am going to list a few observations I made, followed by questions for self-reflection which make connections to piano teaching.

Continue reading Returning to Learning

What Can You Play?

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


One of the major stumbling blocks for players is that we too often feel that we are struggling, making little progress, and perhaps just haven’t got what it takes to become a “good player” (however we define what that is).

To enjoy playing an instrument, we need to move beyond this negative self-talk. And I suggest that one of the most easy and powerful ways we can achieve this is to adjust the balance between working and playing during our personal piano time.

Which brings us to the question,

“What can you play?”

Continue reading What Can You Play?

Is Mindfulness relevant to piano playing?

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • Guest Post by DOUG HANVEY
Setting our piano journey in its living context…


Doug Hanvey is a highly qualified and experienced educationalist and teacher of both piano pedagogy and mindfulness. Here he discusses the link between the two…

Continue reading Is Mindfulness relevant to piano playing?

Andrei Gavrilov’s concerns

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


Andrei Gavrilov is one of the world’s finest concert pianists, who has in recent years dedicated himself to giving master-classes to upcoming players around the world. So when he comments on the current state of music education and piano playing, it is certainly worth listening.

Some of his latest comments could prove controversial however. Gavrilov has provided a lengthy list of the “major mistakes” that he feels are “obstacles to artistic development”.

You can read his comments in full on the Cross-Eyed Pianist page here, but the overall impression he gives is that teachers and young pianists are neglecting artistic development, musical analysis and cultural understanding.

He concludes that in four years of giving master-classes, he met:

“…nobody who could even be able to touch a single serious composition without destroying it in all senses.”

While it is beyond doubt that Gavrilov’s robust observations offer genuine insight, I feel sure that he must be overstating his case!

I personally know of many leading players and teachers who go out of their way to place music in its proper historical and cultural context. Nor is there any shortage of upcoming players able to communicate great art with profound depth, with younger artists like Benjamin Grosvenor, Daniil Trifonov, Igor Levitt, Jonathan Biss, Alice Sara Ott, Khatia Buniatishvili, Sunwook Kim, HJ Lim, Beatrice Rana, Conrad Tao, Louis Schwizgebel, Federico Colli and others firmly proving the point.

That said, Gavrilov is not the first, and nor is he alone, in expressing concerns about current trends in music education and performing.

Speaking to International Piano magazine (Jan/Feb 2014) the internationally revered pianist Maria João Pires suggested that in her view it is the “competitive world” that has destroyed a lot of the transmission of our culture, and she sees a clear connection between piano competitions and marketing.

She says:

“To compete always damages your soul. If you compete you are not a musician any more.
We old musicians should perhaps give the new generation alternatives. I think our mission is to transmit what has been transmitted to us. This competitive world, this marketing world, has destroyed a lot of that transmission.
Competitions are not the way, that’s for sure!”

Piano competitions have certainly come to dominate the commerce, marketing and performing culture of our time, especially for aspiring professional players. Given this context, is it really any wonder if teachers encourage competition participation and focus on the aspects of their students development most likely to turn them into “winners”?

According to Pires, competing “damages the soul”, strong words indeed. This is one of the many issues that Pianodao will need to look at in more detail over the coming months. For now it is sufficient to note that for too many players, their experience even at an early age irrevocably equates performing with competition.

Some refuse to play at all in later life, even exhibiting significant anxiety reactions to any request to play in front of others. The field is thus left clear for the “winners” to scale ever greater heights of technical virtuosity, continuing their tour of the competition circuit in the hopes of making a reputation for themselves.

Whether or not Gavrilov’s concerns and those of Pires are connected, there is no doubt that he has touched on important issues that pianists and teachers will want to ponder. It will certainly be very interesting to see how his colleagues around the world respond to his critique.


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.