The Pianist’s Procrastination

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


Verse 64 of Lao Tau’s Tao te ching contains perhaps the most famous line in all Daoist philosophy (quoting here from Solala Towler’s rendition):

“The largest tree grows from a tiny shoot.
The highest tower is built brick by brick.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”

Preceding this great quote, and shedding further light on the philosophy of Daoism, we read in verse 63:

“Deal with the difficult while it is easy.
Create the large from the small.”

These words offer an important blueprint for how we might approach any task, including learning a new piece of piano music.

They also provide us with the ammunition we need in order to stop putting off our practice, and overcome procrastination.

Let’s consider each of these points in turn…

Dealing with the difficult

In order to “deal with the difficult while it is easy, we need to break a piece down into manageable sections (or “chunks”, as they are sometimes called), realistically identifying the easily manageable and creating measurable goals.

I frequently find when teaching a player that they are unable to pick up a piece mid-section, and want to play from the beginning. An obvious deduction is that they always tackle the whole movement from start to finish, “practising” without correcting mistakes or addressing problems as they go. But this merely “bakes in” persistent errors.

Patient work on short sections is almost always more effective, but requires the player to recognise the chunks which make up the whole. These can then be practised in isolation, in order, or using a more random or creative design. Once carefully learnt, they can be sewn back together to create the complete piece.

It may be easy to manage learning a piece with one hand at a time, or even breaking down the individual voices. Sometimes, starting with both hands but at a super-slow tempo proves more rewarding. An alert teacher can advise on the best approach for a particular piece and player, and one size certainly does not fit all.

You can also discover a lot of useful practice strategies in my little book, How to Practise Music (find out more here).

The universal truth here is that we must identify the easy as our starting point, rather than trying to deal with the difficult.

If the highest tower is built brick by brick, it’s important to understand that until one brick is aligned correctly, we should not attempt to lay the next.

Overcoming Procrastination

Faced with the task of learning a new piece, our initial enthusiasm might be laced with a sense that the task ahead is a daunting one. Overawed by the thousand-mile journey, we find ourselves paralysed to take the first step. Confidence dissolves, procrastination sets in.

Using Lao Tzu’s blueprint of looking at the difficult task and breaking it down into smaller components, however, we can begin to see those more manageable steps. It can be helpful to pursue this process until we find steps which are so easily approachable that we can achieve them in next to no time at all.

Completing a practice step which requires almost no effort is a “quick win” that brings encouragement, a positive feeling which generates its own energy and ongoing momentum. As we tick off the smallest tasks, confidence returns and we can see that progress is being made.

What music are you learning on the piano at the moment? Do you feel overwhelmed? Let today be the day to say “Goodbye” to procrastination. The first step can be taken, the initial brick laid; visible progress can be achieved.

Why not today?


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 Pianist’s Breathwork

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


Breathwork is a form of meditation that relies on the body, rather than the mind, to do the work of calming. It lowers stress by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system and increasing oxygen to the brain.

Breathing is the first and last thing that we do as humans. And yet most of us breathe in unconscious and restricted ways, leading to dire consequences for our bodies, physical health and emotional wellness.

But as Jennifer Patterson advocates in her brilliant The Power of Breathwork (2020, available here),

“Breathing happens unconsciously all the time, but it can also be consciously and intentionally engaged with. How present you are to your breath is how present you are to your life. By bringing consciousness to the breath you can interrupt automatic responses, reactions, thought patterns, and more.”

During breathwork practice we intentionally focus on and systematically adjust our breathing patterns. Such exercises have been a core element of meditation, yoga (pranayama) practice, and qigong for centuries, but have recently been popularised worldwide by the wellness movement and as a mindfulness technique.

Breathwork is now also recommended by the NHS here in the UK as a tool to overcoming stress. Many find that this practice promotes deep relaxation and leaves them feeling energised.

In this article I am going to consider the value of simple breathwork practice for pianists, explaining how and when it can be a helpful tool, and introducing you to some easy and popular breathwork exercises that you will be able to try for yourself, straight away.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Breathwork

The Pianist’s Limits

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


Some years ago, a highly successful man from the world of finance approached me for lessons. Essentially a beginner, he had previously tried a few lessons with another teacher locally, and I asked him why it hadn’t worked out.

His explanation amounted to a cautionary tale:

“I told her that I was only interested in learning Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, but she insisted on trying to teach me dull Grade 1 pieces. I had no interest in learning them, felt unmotivated and annoyed, and made no progress.”

Naturally I tried to explain (as undoubtedly the previous teacher had) that the Tempest is an incredibly difficult work, requiring a range of highly advanced musical and technical skills. It is possible to admire and be inspired by the achievements of the world’s greatest players while enjoying working at our own level.

Alas, he was not for turning, and within a short time the lessons stopped, my name presumably added to the list of stubborn failures who had been unable to teleport him directly into the Tempest without his needing to follow in the footsteps of those pianists who have previously made the journey with success.

Teaching with a sense of structured progression and an underlying curriculum is not a matter of professional hubris or a money-spinning scam; it is the means by which learners can progress towards their goals, realising their potential. It is an act of generosity.

Nor is it negative, lacking in faith or discouraging to recognise that as players we all have our limitations. On the contrary: it is foolish, arrogant and self-defeating to think otherwise. For a start, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Deng Ming-Dao reminds us,

“Every river has its banks,
Every ocean has its shores.”

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao Daily Meditations, Harper Collins

Continue reading The Pianist’s Limits

The Pianist’s Behaviour

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


With the majority of our interactions and interpersonal relationships evolving exclusively online over the last year or so, it’s no surprise that some are now expressing some anxiety about resuming our lives in the “real world” again.

I’m surely not the only one who has watched with a mixture of bemusement, concern, and at times mounting horror as friends, colleagues and forum folk have, over the lockdown months, become increasingly cranky.

Won’t it be a bit awkward bumping into that piano teacher who has spent the last year pedalling bizarre conspiracy theories?

How about those friends and colleagues who have been so rude to, or about each other, seemingly oblivious that their acquaintances were collectively grabbing the popcorn and reading along in stunned disbelief?

Whether we’ve been drawn into the fray, stood back in judgment, or remained completely aloof, none of us can honestly claim to have been entirely blameless through this period of adaptation. Sometimes, this pandemic has brought out the best in us. Sometimes not.

It is time for us all to take stock. When it comes to behaviour and relationships, there may be situations where we need to hit the “reset” button.

Each tentative step towards the “new normal” brings growing recognition that both in-person and online engagement are very much here to stay, and will contribute to a more complex reality in which the quality of our personal and relational behaviour will be as crucial, and more visible than ever.

Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

During my recent readings of the Daoist Classics, this passage from Laozi’s Daojeding leapt from the pages, and is I believe pertinent to this time:

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying too.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Dao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
Everybody will respect you.

Daodejing, chapter 8, Laozi.
translated by Stephen Mitchell.
“Tao Te Ching, An Illustrated Journey”.

It is hardly for me to instruct others in how to behave. Nevertheless, I believe that Laozi’s words present a fairly comprehensive and beautifully succinct manual covering the most important bits.

The sage’s insights on cultivating healthy priorities, resolving conflict, avoiding comparisons and turning away from competition speak incisively, and are as relevant and powerful today as they were two and a half millennia ago.

And perhaps it really is this simple, if only we take time to reflect upon and apply these teachings.

To save you scrolling back, here are Laozi’s words again, together with the suggestion that we all take time to read them slowly:

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying too.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Dao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
Everybody will respect you.


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 Pianist’s Self-Care

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


At the time of writing, most of us are feeling uneasy. We are, after all, in the midst of a global pandemic, concerned for ourselves, our loved ones, our finances, and fearful of what our world might be like in a few months time.

But as we spend more time away from our usual routines, we might also discover a deeper unease. A rock has plunged into the pool of our lives. The ripples are still clearing, and a lot of mud has been churned up. As the waters settle again, we are coming to see things that were perhaps unclear to us before.

As pianists we might hope to see glimpses of answers to life’s most profound questions sat before our piano, absorbed in our playing. And certainly, as I’ve written here before, piano playing can provide a sanctuary from all else that is unfolding around us.

But while some presently find they can use their piano playing as an escape from grim news, many others are experiencing frustration at their lack of motivation, focus and inspiration.

In this entry to The Pianist’s Reflections Series I will consider some basic elements of self-care from a Daoist (Taoist) perspective in the hope that readers will find some helpful suggestions, and that each of us can enjoy a piano journey that reflects an easier, more connected and settled experience of life.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Self-Care

The Pianist’s Imperfection

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


Recently, my wife Louise had a minor kitchen accident which resulted in her breaking my favourite tea cup.

As she tells the story (on her social media):

“So I broke Andrew’s favourite teacup.
I felt I should make him a new one in pottery.
It lists a little bit but it works!
Andrew said that it’s the best thing that anyone has given him. He then went on to say that most people would’ve given up and started again once they noticed the listing.
Clearly I’m not most people!”

As you can see from the photo above, my new cup is a thing of great beauty! But as Louise admits, it’s hardly perfect from a functional point of view. The “listing” perhaps doesn’t look serious, but when pouring tea into the cup it’s quite obvious that when one side is full to the brim, the other side is only two-thirds full.

There’s another problem too. Inside the cup, there are quirky recesses that somehow trap the tea, making it impossible to empty the cup when drinking from it in a genteel, civilised manner. Only tipping it upside down really does the trick!

Here, for comparison, is a cup that has none of these issues:


A bit boring, right?

The beauty of my new mug is in its imperfection: its quirkiness, vibrant personality, its energy. And central to all that, the fact that it was borne of relationship, made with love.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Imperfection

The Pianist’s Air

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


“Installing air filters in classrooms can raise children’s scores in tests by the same amount as cutting class sizes by a third, research has found… Mike Gilraine, author of the paper and assistant professor of economics at New York University, said the improved scores were equivalent to ‘roughly two-and-a-half months of extra learning’.”

So blazes a news story published in The Times on January 10th 2020. The article quotes from research suggesting,

“The results indicate that air filter installation is a highly cost-effective policy to raise student achievement “

And it goes on to point out that several London schools, having installed air filters in classrooms. have reported reductions in absence because of sickness, which teachers attributed to cleaner air.

Given my previous writing about the centrality of breathing in piano playing, regular readers will no doubt anticipate that none of this comes as a surprise to me; indeed, I believe that quality of air in my teaching studio is a paramount concern, and have encouraged players and teachers to take the issue seriously long prior to these new findings.

In this article I will offer some simple advice about air quality and the need to create a suitable environment for piano learning. But rather than focusing on the educational benefits in isolation, we need to consider the health benefits first and foremost…

Continue reading The Pianist’s Air

The Pianist’s Resolution

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


The start of any new year or season is for many a time for making resolutions: a time for ambition, grit and determination.

Whether it’s a fresh commitment to healthy eating and exercise, or a renewed self-discipline in setting aside time to practise the piano, this is a month where many make a decision to turn a new leaf.

But how can we foster perseverance and ultimately success?

Continue reading The Pianist’s Resolution

The Pianist’s Brew

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


I used to be a coffee addict. Seriously. I had several pots of fresh coffee a day, and when I tried to cut back I experienced acute withdrawal symptoms.

Unfortunately though, coffee has some fairly unhelpful side-effects; among other things, it is especially bad for us if we suffer from anxiety (which is so common among pianists).

Having read about the virtues of tea drinking, I decided to try a switch. My previous experience of tea was the warm, milky, teabag variety. I realised that this is not exactly the drink that the great Daoist sages spoke of, so I jumped into the deep end and started to explore the wide variety of Chinese leaf teas that are available without straying too far from the beaten track.

To cut a long story short, switching to tea has proven one of the best choices I’ve made. Aside from tea drinking being better for my health (physical and emotional), my exploration of different Chinese teas has become a fascinating and absorbing journey in its own right.

It may seem odd to encounter an article about tea drinking on a piano site, but I will explain some of the reasons why tea might actually be the perfect brew for all pianists (and, well, people in general). Also bear in mind that Pianodao addresses my interest in Daoist philosophy and practices; hence the “dao” part of the site name. Tea drinking is so embedded in Daoist culture and practice and that it might as well be described as a core tenet of the Daoist worldview.

As the contemporary Daoist master Zhongxian Wu explains:

Pin Ming Lun Dao is a commonly used Chinese phrase which means ‘to discuss and understand the Dao through the taste of tea‘. This phrase embodies the lifestyle of the most traditional Chinese sages and scholars, whether they be a master of Daoism,, Confucianism, Buddhism, martial arts, music, calligraphy, and/or Traditional Chinese Medicine.”

foreword to Daniel Reid, The Art and Alchemy of Chinese Tea, Singing Dragon, 2011.

With all this in mind, this article will address the following questions:

  1. Why is tea good for pianists (and people in general)?
  2. How does one get started with drinking Chinese tea?
  3. What different types of tea are there?

Tea is by far the single most popular beverage on earth today, so chances are that many reading this are already tea drinkers.

I hope that for those readers, the article will add to your enjoyment of tea, while for those who haven’t yet considered this fascinating subject my hope is that this article will pique your interest, and give you good reason to try something new!

Let’s start by going back in time….

Continue reading The Pianist’s Brew

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

The Pianist’s Overthinking

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


“Leave your thoughts in a place you will not visit …”

Most of the pianists that I have met are easy to describe as “deep thinkers”, and I would argue that an aptitude for analytical thinking is an essential skill for the advanced piano player.

But the jump from analytical thinking to overthinking is a small one. And here’s the problem. In recent years, we have become increasingly aware that overthinking any problem can break rather than solve it, and can often lead us to bizarre conclusions. Overthinking is inextricably linked to anxiety.

If we overthink an upcoming performance, this can undoubtedly contribute to performance anxiety. And in the same way, if we overthink life in general, this can have a significant and debilitating effect on our whole lives.

A growing body of research supports our suspicions that many physical health problems are rooted in the activities of the mind. Overthinking can be associated with anxiety, fear, paranoia and mental instability, all of which can have serious physical as well as social consequences.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Overthinking

The Pianist’s Handshake

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


Do you ever feel a bit uncomfortable about shaking hands with people when you meet them? Concerned about hygiene, and all those germs you’ll pick up “pressing the flesh”? Worried about having your piano-playing fingers crushed by the over-enthusiastic clench of Mr. Assertive?

Then read on, and I will go over a few points that might help!

Continue reading The Pianist’s Handshake

The Pianist’s Emotions

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


Emotions are an essential aspect of our basic humanity.

But when they are out of balance they can become dangerous, with the potential to leave us feeling shipwrecked and adrift.

The Problem for Pianists

Of course this is true for everyone, but for piano players (and for musicians and performers in general) there can be some additional challenges, and the swing from over-excitement to terrible disappointment and back can become our daily emotional currency:

  • We are exposed – even for hours on end – to powerful and profound emotions, communicated wordlessly by some of the most creative people in history
  • To play well we must engage with our own emotions, those of the composer, and in performance with those of our audiences
  • We work often in solitude, with few alternative emotional outlets other than our musical expression
  • The touring of the concert pianist, and the long (often antisocial) hours of the piano teacher can put additional strain on our physical and social wellbeing
  • The piano world is a hyper-competitive one (often in my view, destructively so) leaving many players with low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and a crippling sense of failure

We contend with all these issues as an added factor on our journey through life, which of course includes the same emotional challenges in our personal lives, family, security, and health that everyone else has to cope with.

It is little wonder that so many pianists sustain significant emotional damage and suffer from mental health problems. A recent survey by The Stage reported 7 out of 10 musicians report mental health problems, while a study conducted in Australia by Entertainment Assist found that musicians are up to ten times more likely to have mental health problems than the general population.

What we need is “emotional wisdom” – the self-awareness that helps us keep our emotions in check, balanced and healthy.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Emotions