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Reflections on the 48 - an ongoing series

1.  Prelude and Fugue in C major from Book 1


AND I HEAR THE MU-SIC                 (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject


Education (from the Latin e-ducare) means to draw out from. In other words, good education is not about putting knowledge into someone, but about drawing out the wisdom that is already there. How does this relate to teaching the piano? Firstly, think of the act of teaching as a wake-up call to yourself. A wake-up call to be in a space of good listening. A wake-up call to be fully present. One of the key things to observe is how mental tension leads to physical tension. If you can be aware of this in yourself it will inevitably help your own playing. But it will also give you a clue as to what you can see happening to your pupils. People tighten up physically in many different ways at the piano - some hunch their shoulders, some lock their jaw, some tighten the forearms or the wrists, some generate tension in the lower back. Behind all of these there will be some mental movement. Maybe a movement of fear as a difficult passage is coming up - maybe a block of dense black notes - or a change of key to A flat minor. Or maybe a movement of contentment, of feeling good that things are going well only to then stumble across something which is in fact much simpler. As in ‘Pride comes before a fall’. This is like the danger of thinking that you are meditating well - that very movement of the mind is itself fixing something as a solid experience rather than allowing it to be a dynamic process. To play the piano really well requires a clear intention to be fully present in the sound. The sound is continually changing like water flowing over a rock in the river. So to be present in the sound means to allow the sound to go. As soon as we hold onto the sound - as in thinking ‘I did that passage really well’ - then we have stopped being present. The deep wisdom of knowing that everything is changing, that everything is flow, that nothing is fixed, nothing is solid, is deep within us. It is something that we are born with. The ultimate meaning of education, then, is to help someone draw out from this natural wisdom which is hidden or dormant. One of the great joys of teaching the piano is to see in microcosm this process of awakening. When someone experiences a letting-go of ‘trying’ and a sense of real progress in the sound, this is the place of enlightenment, the place of joy for teacher and pupil alike. None of this can happen without the simple act of showing up. It is no good just waiting for the moment of inspiration for that may never arrive. We have to show up to practising regularly, and work on our intention regularly. We have to put in the time in faith that something will happen. It is like planting seeds in the garden in faith that somehow in the darkness of the earth transformation will happen and the plant will emerge into the daylight and grow. In this, learning the piano is very much like meditation. If we only practise once a week - maybe before we have a lesson - then we are not going to get the same opening up, the same transformation as if we practise every day. Even if the total amount of time is the same. Again, it is like the seed in the ground. Imagine if it was only light for one day a week - even if it was light for a full 24 hours that day, it would not compensate for the darkness the rest of the week. Showing up to practise sounds really simple - but what we are confronted with again and again is the inner critic, the inner distracter, the inner ego personality doing its best to fill our minds with excuses for moving our attention somewhere else. Learning the piano, then, is not so much about learning an external skill but about exploring and coming to terms with the internal landscape. Coming to feel at ease with both the demand to show up and practise, and the freedom to let go of chasing after a particular result. It is both incredibly simple and extraordinarily difficult at one and the same time.


2.  Prelude and Fugue in C minor from Book 1




AND RECEIVE               (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject

The journey of composing the Musical Remedies, the set of pieces matching the energies of the 38 Bach Flower Remedies, was essentially one of discovering and receiving emotional resonance. I did not set out with a project of something to achieve; indeed I really didn’t set out at all. I simply went to the piano and started improvising early one morning. When a clear melody emerged I sketched it down in the traditional way with pencil and manuscript paper along with a few chord symbols. I had no idea what it was or where it was going. As new melodies revealed themselves in the days that followed all I remember now is the clarity and the speed. When after nine days I saw the chart of the Bach Flower Remedies lying on top of the piano something clicked. I realised at a conscious level what I had been receiving in a different part of the brain. From what I understand now I might guess that what was happening was a heightened sense of hypnopompic awareness in which I was experiencing the clarity and creativity of that place between half-waking/half dreaming and being fully awake. But instead of lying in bed dozing I had been propelled upright and was sitting at the piano receiving these new melodies. The Musical Remedies are not at all radical musically; they are not at all avant-garde. They are for the most part tonal easily accessible music. Where they are radical is in their touching the roots of the emotional states associated with the Flower Remedies. At the time my knowledge of these emotional states was very sketchy - I knew Olive was for help with exhaustion and Gorse for help with feeling depressed and uncreative, but that was about all. The journey proceeded through the next nine months. I can remember the sense of urgency as the time went by - how I knew that it had to realised by the end of the year. What I did not realise at the time was how this process resonated so strongly with that of pregnancy and giving birth. The initial flood of energy, not knowing what was happening; the sudden realisation of what it was; the emotional ups and downs as the project grew and took clearer shape; the feeling stuck at quite a late stage; the rush of energy which finally resulted in the last five pieces being written down between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, just over nine months after the first morning at the piano. Maybe this parallel with pregnancy and giving birth is the clue to understanding the significance of emotional resonance. The thirty eight Flower Remedies seem to contain the full range of mental states, the full spectrum of possibilities, both negative and positive, and the full range of potential for transformation. When we think of Impatiens, the journey is from irritable tension to patience and empathy. With Clematis it is from daydreaming to a rooted creativity. These are the qualities that I resonated with in the new compositions - and these are the qualities that I resonated with several years later when I found the Bach to Bach connections. I was practising the Prelude and Fugue in C minor from Book 1 of the 48 when it suddenly hit me how similar the energy of this piece is to Impatiens. The sense of irritable tension in urgent need of resolution. Immediately I thought of the Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor from Book 1 and thought how similar that is to the daydreaming energy of Clematis. Now Impatiens and Clematis were the first of the Flower Remedies that Dr Edward Bach discovered so there seemed a real clarity in the fact that these two links revealed themselves first to me. The Bach to Bach creative journey had begun.


3.  Prelude and Fugue in C sharp major from Book 1




THROUGH THE WORLD               (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject

In one way, numbers appear to offer a limited number of possibilities. After all, including zero, there are only ten of them : 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Every other number is formed from this finite simple group, even such exotic numbers as 3/4 to the power 5/2. But from a different perspective in the human mind there are an infinite number of possibilities in the number world. There are even an infinite number of very special numbers like prime numbers and Fibonacci numbers. When it comes to music we find a similar paradox. It seems at first glance - or maybe first hearing - that there are only twelve different notes, and all the pieces of music in the world are simply different combinations of those same twelve notes. For the vast majority of Western music this is in the theoretical sense true. But in a more subtle sense you only have to talk to a violinist to learn that an A sharp in the key of B is not the same sound as a B flat in the key of F. For the pianist maybe, but not for anyone able to use their ear to create different pitches on their voice or instrument. Sound is physical vibration - notes sound ‘good’ together, what music theorists call consonant, because their vibrations match up mathematically. Notes sound ‘bad’ together, or what music theorists call dissonant, because their vibrations do not match up mathematically. Harmony is created out of different combinations of consonance and dissonance. If you play a major seventh interval, e.g. C and the B above, together on the piano the energy of the sound is harsh and is interpreted by many, perhaps most, people as being quite unpleasant. But now if you add the E and the G in the middle and play all four notes together the sound is quite different. The major seventh chord which results is a familiar jazz harmony and is interpreted by many people as mellow, cool, sophisticated. Many people who insist that they cannot understand or enjoy ‘modern music’ (which sadly for some includes most of the last 100 years) because of the dissonance will nonetheless accept and enjoy the ‘same’ dissonance, e.g. a minor ninth, in Bach or Beethoven. In other words, context is everything. Numbers, like musical notes, do not fascinate in isolation but in the way that they combine together, the way they hold memories, the way they make promises for the future. People belive in lucky numbers, they will choose birthday and anniversary date numbers for lottery tickets. They also believe in unlucky numbers - I was fascinated as a young child in suburban Birmingham by the absence of the number 13 from the house numbers in every road. Some numbers gain mythic significance very rapidly in the modern world. What do you first think of in relation to 42.................... 13 3/4 ............ 9 3/4............. 9/11............... * Equally some numbers can have multiple signifiers - does the number 111 make you think first of cricket or Beethoven? The two images for me - one of the cricket umpire David Sheppard standing on one leg until the batsmen scored another run; the other the extraordinary use of unusual time signatures like 12/32 in Beethoven’s last piano sonata - are both strongly connected to the number 111.

It has often been suggested that musical and mathematical ability go together, but in some ways they seem to come from very different areas of the brain. In my experience it is often the case that people who are very competent at sight reading and music theory are also good at mathematics. But these skills in themselves do not guarantee that someone is really musical. A good ear for music in terms of awareness of sound, pitch pulse, dynamic, articulation and phrasing does not appear to come from the same part of the brain. The result is that it is possible to be really musical whilst still finding the more mathematical skills of sight reading and music theory quite elusive.


*  My guess is for most Westerners : Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Adrian Mole; Harry Potter train platform; New York 2001


4.    Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor from Book 1




I used to have a profound mistrust of anyone who told me that they enjoyed practising scales - but now I hear myself explaining to others how interesting they can be! What is happening? Well one thing is very clear. To practise scales in a way that you want to, when you want to, and with some real sense of purpose is quite different from the common experience of having to practise scales in a tightly proscribed way in order to be tested on them in the course of an examination. One of the most interesting and beneficial ways of practising scales on the piano is as a tool in discovering a true independence of touch between the two hands. Play as slowly as you want to, left hand legato and right hand staccato. Be aware of each sound beginning and ending. Be aware of the different physical sensations in the two hands. Change around - play the left hand staccato and the right hand legato. Next, try playing loud and soft - left hand forte,right hand piano; then right hand forte, left hand piano. Even if you stay resolutely on C major this routine will show you how slowly you need to go to experience real independence of control between the two hands. Giving a few minutes each day to this routine will pay huge dividends when it comes to playing real music, whether classical, pop or jazz. If you feel comfortable playing scales in lots of different ways with lots of different touches you will find that your journey into the heart of what a new piece is really about will proceed much faster. One of the key elements to getting inside the positive scale experience is an understanding of the circle of keys. It still saddens me to realise just how many people have practised scales for years without anyone ever explaining the circle of keys to them satisfactorily. I have also met many people over the years who have passed their Grade V examination in Music Theory who seem to have little if any practical knowledge of how the circle of keys actually works at the piano. On the other hand, however, I have had the positive experience of teaching practical music theory to many people who have suddenly seen how everything works at the piano and how it can indeed be an enjoyable experience to play patterns, both melodic and harmonic, in all twelve different tonalities. Practising scales with different touch between the hands and understanding the circle of keys at the piano are both excellent preparation for the journey through the 48 Preludes and Fugues. This journey embraces all the keys, including the very obscure D sharp minor with its C double sharps (ignored even by the examination boards in favour of the identically sounding but differently notated E flat minor). This journey embraces a wide range of dynamics, a wide range of effective articulations, and a wide range of fingering challenges to sort out. but more than all this, the journey embraces a huge range of emotional resonance and colour. This has been the driving force behind my own exploration, both in terms of playing and also in terms of relating some of the pieces to my own Musical Remedies, a set of compositions based on the Bach Flower Remedies. Understanding and practising the scales relates to playing and experiencing the 48 Preludes and Fugues in the same way that understanding the structure of the plants helps an appreciation of the possibilities of the various Bach Flower Remedies. In the case of the scales there is a simple finite structure which underpins an open field of musical experience. In the case of the plants there are clear tendencies about how particular plants flourish which give all the clues as to how the Remedies can help the subtleties of the ever-changing mental state. This is all explored in great depth in Julian Barnard’s wonderful book Bach Flower Remedies : Form and Function. It was a few years ago now when I was practising the C minor Prelude from Book 1 of the 48 that I was suddenly struck by the similar emotional resonance to that of the first of the Bach Flower Remedies, Impatiens. There was something about the incessant semiquavers and the way they lead into an even faster section near the end that led me to link the two together. Soon afterwards I was practising the Prelude in E flat minor from Book 1 and was very struck by the daydreaming quality of the music and a similar emotional resonance to the second of the Flower Remedies, Clematis. And so this journey of mine continued until I had identified twelve Preludes and Fugues from the 48 matching up with the Twelve Great Healers, the first set of the Flower Remedies which Dr Edward Bach discovered. The resulting Bach to Bach programme which emerged from this is something I have performed four times now. It is a deeply meditational programme, transforming and intertwining sounds and energies in a fascinating journey of discovery. For those who are interested, the full set of connections is as follows : Impatiens Prelude and Fugue in C minor (Book 1) Clematis Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor (Book 1) Mimulus Prelude and Fugue in G minor (Book 1) Agrimony Prelude and Fugue in D minor (Book 1) Chicory Prelude and Fugue in A minor (Book 1) Vervain Prelude and Fugue in C sharp minor (Book 1) Centaury Prelude and Fugue in F minor (Book 2) Cerato Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor (Book 2) Scleranthus Prelude and Fugue in E minor (Book 1) Water Violet Prelude and Fugue in E major (Book 1) Gentian Prelude and Fugue in A flat major (Book 1) Rock Rose Prelude and Fugue in B flat minor (Book 1)


5.  Prelude and Fugue in D major from Book 1






IN SOUND                        (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!

Many years ago I had the idea for a research project which would philosophically and psychologically explore the communality of the experience of great music. Concerts which create such a strong and powerful experience that the usual stream-of-thoughts present in each member’s consciousness is overtaken by the communal experience of the music. On a few occasions in my life I have been present at concerts which felt as if they were world-changing events – I remember as a teenager a performance of Steve Reich’s Drumming in Oxford, long before he was well known in this country. There were only around fifty people present but it felt as if a whole new world of musical experience was opening up before our very eyes. In 1988 I saw Abdullah Ibrahim perform his composition Mandela live in London soon before Nelson Mandela was released from prison. The power and commitment of his playing convinced me that music could make real political change possible. These experiences have been a profound influence on my life. In the world of art therapy there is a word for this powerful shared experience – intersubjectivity. Experience which is shared at a deep level and which resonates in a similar way with different people at a level other than that which words can articulate. I went on a songwriting course once where three out of nine people on the course, myself included, were all writing challenging songs about our fathers at the same time. Not a word had been spoken in the group or to one another about our fathers. It was only when the songs had been written and we came to sing them to the whole group that the ‘conicidence’ became apparent. But was it coincidence? Or had we become more open than usual to accessing a deeper layer of the collective unconscious. There will always be some people who are more sceptical than others about the ‘reality’ of shared experience at this level – but there is understandably a communality of descriptions of mystical experiences across cultures, across centuries, across different stages of life. In the Orthodox Christian Liturgy the stage of moving from the individual-subjective experience is mapped out clearly. In the singing of the Cherubic Hymn we put aside ‘all cares of this life’ and place ourselves alongside the invisible orders of angels in worshipping the divine reality. When we receive communion the deep level experience is then of unity with the very essence of life, Christ as the divine DNA. In the light of this experience, the perennial questions in Western Christian history as to the nature of the Real Presence become irrelevant in much the same way as the sceptics’ questioning of the efficacy of homeopathy becomes irrelevant when you have seen a baby being transformed from a dangerously high fever to a calm sleep within twenty minutes of taking some Belladonna... When we approach the piano from this angle anything is possible. We teach well by being open in heart and mind, by allowing space for the angels to play with us and our pupils, and by immersing ourselves in an intersubjective experience of the music. By giving our ‘small self’ up we receive our ‘deep Self’ again and again. And while we cannot MAKE this experience happen for anyone else we can at least facilitate the conditions in which such experience is possible.


6.  Prelude and Fugue in D minor from Book 1




(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!


Experiencing links between apparently unrelated phenomena and ideas has always been a big part of my life. If we take on board at some level of consciousness the mystical oneness of all then finding connections or emotional resonances between different phenomena does not seem at all surprising. Yet in fact this Bach to Bach project has already surprised me twice over. Firstly, as I have already said, when I started to compose the pieces which have become the Musical Remedies I had no idea what the pieces were. The moment of revelation when I suddenly saw the chart of the Flower Remedies on top of the piano was like thick clouds blowing over very quickly to reveal a pristine cloudless sky behind. The clarity of the connection had on some level been there from the beginning but it needed the parting of the clouds to clear the mental obfuscation. Much of life seems like this in fact. It’s like St Paul’s ‘seeing through a glass darkly’ rather than ’face to face’. For the most part it’s definitely the darkness but when the light appears it is extraordinary. I was truly amazed by the clarity of the connection of my music to the Flower Remedies and that undoubtedly gave me the determination and will to complete the writing of all thirty-eight pieces rather than just the first nine. The second surprise was several years later when I first sensed a connection - an emotional resonance - between the Bach Remedies and some of the 48 Preludes and Fugues. I had been practising some of these pieces for a few months without seeing hearing or dreaming any connection with the Flower Remedies. But the day when the connection was revealed was again like the sudden parting of the clouds. The fact that it was the first two of the Flower Remedies, Impatiens and Clematis, is really interesting because they are so different from each other. And yet Dr Bach put both of these Remedies into his most famous and most used Remedy of all, the Rescue or Recovery Remedy. So although the irritable impatient energy and the detached daydreaming energy appear so radically different, Dr Bach had the wisdom to see that our mental and emotional confusion in times of crisis can be in need of both at the same time. So many of our confusions in the contemporary world seem to stem from our inability to see that we need opposites at the same time. All our obsessions as a culture and our prioritising either/or philosophies over and above holistic experiences lead us into further confusion. We so often feel compelled to align with one view or another as being ‘right’. Insights into the necessity of both/and do not come from propositions made by the head but from holistic experiences of body, mind and spirit. The path of interconnection opened up by holistic experiences can take us beyond male/female, beyond light/dark, beyond science/religion; it can bring much joy. Exploring life with an openness to finding connections to the bigger picture we find that we see what we need to see, meet who we need to meet, hear what we need to hear. This is not about false optimism or about being fatalistic. It is about finding a real balance between discipline and freedom. Playing the piano demands a real discipline, a clear intention, a being emotionally and intellectually present, a physical awareness of the present moment. When all these are realised then there can be a genuine experience of freedom. The freedom to hear the inner intended sounds become externalised as sound vibrations; the freedom to experience the flow of physical energy connecting mind body and piano together; the freedom to communicate emotionally without the perennial linguistic dangers of being misunderstood. Once again we see how playing the piano can be seen as a spiritual discipline, the deep purpose of which is to experience and communicate freedom.


7. Prelude and Fugue in E flat major from Book 1




THERE ARE TWO PRELUDES AND TWO FUGUES       (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!

There are twelve different notes in the chromatic scale, and then we return to the opening note again, an octave higher. The octave always sounds in harmony because the frequencies of the notes match up in simple mathematical ratios. Similarly the fifths in between the octaves. For instance : - //A 110 /E 165 /A 220 E/ 330 A/ 440 E// 660 Each of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale is the base note for two scales, one major and one minor. The Well-Tempered Clavier consists of two pieces - a Prelude and a Fugue - for each and every major and minor key. One collection of pieces was written in the 1720s; the other in the 1740s. In total, then, we have 12 x2 x2 x2 = 96 short pieces of music. But the collection is always known as the ’48’ because the Prelude and Fugue are always played consecutively as if they were different movements of a single piece. Other composers have written sets of pieces in all the twenty-four keys. For piano, the most famous are Chopin’s set of Preludes, Op 28 and Shostakovich’s sets of Preludes Op 34 and Preludes and Fugues, Op 87, inspired by the composer’s hearing the Bach ’48’ performed by Tatiana Nikoleyeva in 1950. But why not symphonies? No-one as far as I know has ever tried to write a symphony in all 24 keys. The largest collection of symphonies is that of Haydn, which at 104 is unlikely to be surpassed. There are, nonetheless, several keys that he left untouched. There are many practical difficulties tuning string and wind instruments together in more complex keys, and so the majority of symphonies in the classical and romantic eras were written in keys with no more than three sharps or flats. Meanwhile, the piano plays equally well in all keys - or equally badly in all keys if you happen to have the sort of perfect pitch that most of us are glad we don’t have! When I think of the number of symphonies written by famous composers I think immediately of 1,4,7,9,15,41 and 104. Of these numbers the 9 is famously important for proving an end point for several composers. Mahler, indeed, was so nervous about writing a 9th symphony in case it was his last that he famously titled his major symphonic work Das Lied von der Erde instead of Symphony No. 9. Now, in the spirit of making unlikely connections, if we take this special symphony number, 9, and multiply by the special chromatic scale number, 12, we arrive at one of the most powerful sacred numbers in all the world, 108. In the Tibetan tradition as indeed in many much earlier Asian traditions the number 108 takes on a special significance - the number of beads on a mala, the number of mantras chanted in one cycle of prayers. Astrologically, 108 is 9 Heavenly Bodies x 12 Signs of the Zodiac. It is 27 Lunar Mansions X 4 phases of the moon. In Buddhism it is also 6 (consciousnesses) x 3 (preferences) x 3 (times - past, present and future) x2 (virtuous or non-virtuous). It also happens to be the case that the distance between the Earth and the Sun is 108 times the Sun’s diameter, and the distance between the Earth and the Moon is 108 times the Moon’s diameter. The Sun’s diameter also happens to be 108 times that of the earth. Why are numbers so important to us? Clearly in some ways they correspond to things that we understand - or think that we understand - very dimly. They are a tool for creating patterns of order in the chaos; they give us a framework for seeing and interpreting the world.In other ways, they seem to correspond to material reality - there is this particular number of children, this particular number of musical keys. From a slightly different perspective, however, we can see that the numbers we think of as ‘normal’ are in fact the exception. On a sliding scale of all numbers, 1,2 and 3 are all extraordinary exceptions just as on the sliding scale of all musical vibrations, what we on the piano call C,D and E are extraordinary exceptions. A violinist can understand this more easily than a humble pianist, for the latter can only play the notes which are set in front of him/her whereas the violinist can make an infinite number of notes between for example the D/ and E/ of the piano. Where does his leave us? Maybe with a sense of wonder that we really understand so little. The numbers that we love to make sense of our lives are only a tiny fraction of the whole. Just as the physicists are discovering that the very stuff of the material cosmos is for the most part emptiness rather than solidity. Just as the mystics of all traditions have always known that the reality we think we understand is but a tiny fraction of the big picture.


8.  Prelude and Fugue in E flat/D sharp minor from Book 1



TO RELAXATION    (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!

One of the most powerful obstacles in practising the piano is the demon of trying too hard. Most of us have been told at some point in our young lives that we must try harder, that we cannot expect to succeed if we don’t try harder, that we must always try to do our best. Maybe even that it is more important to try than to succeed. It is difficult to run counter to all this well-intentioned advice and say ‘No, I am not going to try harder. I am going to try less’ But unless you do, piano practise will remain a struggle rather than a joy. I have watched this process so often in so many people, myself included. The harder you try to master a tricky passage on the piano, the more physical tension is created in the body. This increase in physical tension - be it in the shoulders, arms, wrists, back of the hands or wherever - makes the very fine level of coordination that is necessary more and more difficult to attain. This in turn leads to an increase in the mental frustration which then ratchets up the physical tension until it is counter-productive to go on practising at all. How to break through this vicious circle? The simple answer is by easing up on the trying - trying too hard is counter-productive. We have to find a balance between clear relaxed thinking and a strong sense of being present. Our ‘trying hard’ energy needs to be chanelled or converted into a commitment to staying with the process in the present. Then within this presence, this commitment to staying with the process, we can relax. We can observe the details of fingering, the details of hand movements, of hand coordination. We can repeat the series of movements that are necessary - slowly, in a relaxed way. Gradually, relaxed mind leads to relaxed body. We start to see, hear and feel that our energy is flowing, our hands are moving easily, the music has a quality of movement, gentle connection and flowing breath. The movement from trying too hard to allowing the music to breathe is a journey that we embark on every time we practise the piano. It is not something we can tick off like a shopping list but a way of being that we need to remember again and again. Understood like this, practising the piano is a spiritual discipline in the same way that running can be. The instrument and the music are not demons to conquer or master, but allies to make friends with. And just as we don’t tend to make friends in life by trying too hard, we cannot expect to make friends with the piano by trying too hard either. During my many years of teaching the piano I have watched and guided this morvement from ‘trying too hard’ to ‘relaxed awareness’ so many times in so many people - and it still brings a real sense of joy to see it happening.


9. Prelude and Fugue in E major from Book 1



RIGHT FOOT FOR-WARD              (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!

      Pulse is perhaps that most universal musical parameter. We feel a pulse in our body and we feel the way that changes when we rest, when we exercise, when we are emotionally agitated, when we meditate. We have at the same time an awareness that the rate or speed of pulse can change. Musically speaking, there is no doubt that some people find it much easier than others to hold on to a steady pulse. I still have little idea as to why this is so but I do know that it is very difficult to teach someone a good sense of pulse if they don’t have one. Metronomes are a useful aid of course but I have found over many years of teaching that many quite accomplished and musical people find it near to impossible to play consistently in time with a metronome. Of course there are many layers of complexity in playing even quite a simple piano piece and it seems clear that as the layers of complexity expand the brain becomes more aware of some layers than others. Pulse would appear to be one of the simplest layers but if awareness of the pulse goes there is next to no chance of creating a satisfying or successful musical performance. Often in working on a classical slow movement I have seen people master a complex passage in demisemiquavers only to falter when it comes to playing a bar with two crotchets and a rest. What is needed is not just an awareness of the pulse but an awareness of the inner division of the pulse. It is worth spending a lot of time on this, being absolutely clear what the difference is between 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 on the one hand and 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 on the other, assuming that the pulse always remains the same. Clapping these rhythms creates an aural, physical and structural awareness of the difference between 4/4 and 12/8 time; for many people it can also help to develop an awareness of the difference between straight and swung quavers. This is a very practical approach to understanding music theory; also to feeling the relationship between ‘classical’ and ‘popular’ musical languages. In my experience, though, it is much easier to teach this to youngsters than it is to adults who often need to ‘unlearn’ much of what they have fixed in their minds. And that I think is the real crux of the problem - having clear knowledge and ideas about pulse is not the same as hearing and feeling the pulse. To feel at ease playing music this knowledge needs to be embodied. For some people this is very obvious but for others it is way out of their comfort zone. In my now extensive experience of teaching piano I would say that the lack of an embodied sense of pulse is the biggest obstacle to more musical playing. It is more of an obstacle with adults because they tend to think that they must surely be beyond the stage of clapping pulses and dividing them into 2s and 3s. But the fact is that a couple of minutes spent on this every day will save months of frustration and wasted effort. And the great thing is that this is something that you can practise anytime you are walking. Simply treat each step as a single pulse and internally divide the steps into 2 and then into 3 and then into 4. Repeat as many times as you want! 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a 4 and a 1 er and a 2 er and a 3 er and a 4 er and a Do this while you are walking every day for a month and hear what a difference it makes to your piano playing!


10. Prelude and Fugue in E minor from Book 1





 HEAR THE MU-SIC FLOW-ING          (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject

Improvisation is something that we all do every time we have a conversation, every time we answer the telephone, every time we go into a shop. It is a fundamental part of normal human experience. So what is it that happens when as a teacher you ask many ‘classically’ trained musicians to improvise? The panic which often ensues suggests that they might have been told to stand in front of the class with all their clothes removed. To some people who have learnt music from the ‘dots’ on the page rather than by ear the instruction to improvise undoubtedly starts alarm bells ringing in the head. The demons of terror are let loose, the inner critic is laughing with scorn before a single note is played, the hands become paralysed with fear. Fear of ‘getting it wrong’, of not being good enough, of not being in control, of being laughed at, of being put down… And yet sometimes within fifteen or twenty minutes these same people are happily and successfully improvising with a pentatonic scale with their right hand while I play a simple chord sequence underneath. They are amazed to find that they really can improvise after all. So what has changed? On a physical level there is no doubt that there has been a relaxation of tension – the chronic tension which was preventing flow has relaxed sufficiently to allow flow to happen. And preceding this there has been a mental shift, a shift in thinking which has allowed a ‘solid’ problem to dissolve. The way of effecting this shift can be as simple as breathing – when in doubt, breathe out! Some other pupils – those who have learnt music much more by ear – improvise so naturally and easily that to begin with there is nothing to teach. Yet sometimes here the panic arises if I suggest that they might play from some written music. I have seen and heard wonderful flowing musical players become like wooden statues when attempting to play from written music. Their natural musical confidence is knocked aside and replaced with the fear of getting it wrong, of not being good enough, of not being in control etc. There is no reason why someone cannot be a good ‘reader’ AND a good ‘improviser’. These are not either/or abilities but both/and abilities like reading a language and speaking it. If we think of many of the great composers of the past – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt – it is immediately apparent that they were equally at ease with reading and writing music and also ‘speaking’ it through improvisation. A good teacher needs to have worked through their own demons of fear in order to help pupils work through theirs. The musical benefits of working in both directions are great – a balance of freedom and discipline, an increased sense of presence in the sound, an increased sense of opening mind, heart and body to the experience, and engaged sound which draws an audience into a performance. Both the journeys from confident improviser to confident music reader and vice versa depend on an increased appreciation and understanding of musical structures. To read piano music well you need to understand about chord structures. Then you find that you do not need to read every note individually. To improvise well you need to understand scale patterns. Then you find that you do not need to register every note that you play as an individual entity. The resulting flowing whole is always more than the sum of the parts. Enjoy!


11.  Prelude and Fugue in F major from Book 1





 MINDFULNESS          (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject

The practice of mindfulness is both very old and very new in human consciousness and experience. Very old in that long before any modern religions developed - only within the last five thousand years - it is clear that people were practising mindfulness. Hunters and gatherers, nomadic people, people from the Arctic to the tropical rainforest, from the savannah to the desert. Mindfulness - being aware of what is happening while it is happening - was essential for survival. It has only been in more modern times, in what are commonly called more ‘civilised’ societies, that survival has NOT been so dependent on the cultivation of mindfulness. Yet in our contemporary Western society there is no doubt that mindfulness also has a very new dimension. Short courses in mindfulness are now available everywhere as more and more people learn something of the cost of our modern high-tech left brain dominated culture and how the practice of mindfulness can help to restore some balance and sanity. Most meditation practices depend on some sort of support or anchor, something to which the attention returns every time it wanders off. One of the meditation supports is a simple awareness of sound - sound arising, sound remaining, sound ceasing, particular sounds morphing into other sounds. Mindfulness practice increase your awareness of sounds that are actually here and now just as the traditional hunter would have been acutely aware of what sounds were actually present and what they would mean in terms of the presence of animals. We are now only just beginning to understand how important this awareness of sound is even for living creatures in the depths of the ocean - and how easily their survival is being threatened by the extraneous noise of ships above. John Cage’s notorious composition 4’33” - the so-called ‘silent’ piece - has been ridiculed by many people. But in some ways it is one of the most important musical works of the twentieth century because it makes us listen with much greater attention than is usual. It takes us into a mindful space where our ears are more open and our perennial left-brain analysis is quietened down. Seeing the piece performed live, in all of its three short movements, is an experience which can teach us how we might approach our own music making, whether performance, group work rehearsing, or solo practising. In my experience practising piano immediately after meditating makes this sort of awareness much easier to attain. Being aware of the arising of each sound, the morphing of each sound into another sound, the intensity of each sound, the tone colour of each sound, and the decay of each sound - all this is very much like putting a mirror to the use of sound as a mindfulness support in meditation. Attention to this whole constantly changing process means that our attention is present, and the constant change frees us from the need to fix our attention on one point rather than another. The experience of playing through an entire piece in this state of presence is that there is no effort required. When we contrast this with all the times we were told in life to make more effort, to try harder, we can see how absurd our ‘normal’ ways of thinking are. Every time we suggest to someone else that they should ‘try harder’ we are directing them AWAY from mindfulness. Every time we bring people’s attention in practising back to the actual here-and-now sound we are encouraging them TOWARDS mindfulness. In most pieces that we learn at the piano there are one or two passages which we continue to think of as ‘difficult’. And usually we manifest physical reactions to our fear of the difficulty just as we might do if suddenly put into a hunting situation where we have to work out how to survive in the presence of a wild and potentially dangerous animal. if we can stay really present we realise that the fear comes and goes, the physical manifestations of fear come and go, and that all we need to do is to stay present. Good piano practise is good mindfulness practise. And developing a good mindfulness practice will help you to develop deeper and ultimately more productive ways of practising the piano.


12.  Prelude and Fugue in F minor from Book 1




WHERE THERE IS LIGHT                                        (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

It might be said that across all traditions the archetypal mystical experience is one of merging. Losing the sense of separate individual consciousness and merging with the greater whole. From the mystical perspective not only individual ego-consciousness but also couplex religious systems dissolve in an experience, however fleeting, of cosmic unity. I first remember this experience myself in Christ Church meadow in Oxford at the age of eighteen. It was a beautiful sunny November morning,; the different clocks were chiming out their eleven o’clock call for the two minute Remembrance Day silence. All the autumn leaves seemed to merge with the living and the dead together and time stopped. It was a breathing through into another dimension and I have never forgotten this initial experience of ‘how things really are’. Many years later on, at the end of the Drubchen on Holy Isle in Scotland, I was telling a Tibetan Buddhist nun about an extraordinary encounter that had occurred during the Drubchen with my father who had died nineteen years earlier. ‘How amazing this was’ I said. ‘On the contrary’ was her reply, this was ‘how things really are’. most of the time we only perceive a fraction of the reality around us. When Jesus takes his three disciples up into the heights of Mount Tabor and they see him transfigured into dazzling light the disciples enter a different dimension, a different space, where they see ‘how things really are’. it seems that for most of us most of the time we prefer to retreat behind the illusion of solidity rather than stay in touch with the free-flowing non-dualistic flow of how things really are. We have a psychologically strong need to believe in the survival of the separate personality. Ultimately though it is surely not the separate personality which survives death but the merged consciousness of the mystical experience. I once had the privilege of being on a Greek island for the celebration of the service known as the Lamentations service (Great Saturday Matins.) At one point in the service the congregation walked all around the village in a funeral procession for Christ. On returning to the church everyone entered in by passing underneath the cloth known as the epitaphs representing the tomb of Christ. This was an unforgettably powerful experience of passing through death into the glorious life and light of the Resurrection. This experience - whenever and however it happens to you - is not a symbolic experience but a visceral one. It is a taste of how things really are. I have been lucky enough to find several pieces of music in my life which have also led to this place. The Cavatina from Beethoven’s String Quartet in B flat, Op 130; the slow movement of the Schubert String Quintet; the final movement of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony; the 19th movement of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus; Stockhausen’s Mantra for two pianos; Shostakovich’s Viola Sonata. Experiencing music in this way is not something that can be anticipated; neither is it something that can be repeated because of the desire to experience it again. It is something which can only be received with gratitude when it happens and let of with gratitude when it ceases - in the knowledge that this is a taste of how things really are. Music can function as an ‘intimation of immortality’ in the same way as can a mystical experience of nature. If you approach practising, performing and teaching from this perspective you are opening to the big picture - the place where the indescribable beauty and terror of the world dance hand in hand. The place where separate solidified consciousness ceases and unified consciousness abounds.


13.  Prelude and Fugue in F sharp major from Book 1



(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)


At the heart of the Bach to Bach project is the conviction that it is interesting to map one system onto another to see what arises in the way of interillumination. When we consider two systems together, such as the 38 Flower Remedies and the 48 Preludes and Fugues, connections arise which did not previously exist. This sort of mapping is always radical and creative. Radical because it demands going back to the roots; creative because it unearths connections that were not previously seen. Going back to the roots is a particularly striking image here. With the Flower Remedies we consider the way in which particular plants root themselves, seed themselves, propagate themselves in order to illuminate our understanding of how human thoughts, emotions and physical symptoms are all so clearly connected. Dr Bach’s work of mapping the world of plants onto the world of the human mind was an immensely rich, radical and creative act whose significance we are only just beginning to acknowledge. We can consider roots in a different sense with the Preludes and Fugues. Each of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale takes its turn to be the root note for four pieces, two major and two minor. The function of the root note is to give a point of stability, a home base, a reference point. Some of the pieces wander well outside this home base but the knowledge that they will eventually return creates an emotional; ‘safe space’ in which other layers of feeling can be experienced. Each piece presents a journey, and just as physical journeys in the external world eventually end by returning home so these musical journeys bring us back to the roots which we recognise. The whole journey through the ‘Well Tempered Clavier’ takes in all the roots in turn. It is not surprising, then, that the emotional range covered is vast. For the pianist to be able to bring these emotional connections alive there has to be a lot of disciplined work on making connections happen physically. Any pianist will be acutely aware of the fact that when you put two hands together there are difficulties of coordination which seem much greater than that posed by either hand separately. I sometimes consider this mathematically and explain to people that the level of difficulty is more like multiplying numbers together than simply adding them. So if the left hand part of a particular piece is say difficulty level 3 and the right hand difficulty level 4 (levels to be imagined or interpreted by each individual according to their experience) then putting the two hands together may well be more like difficulty level 12 (3x4) rather than difficulty level 7 (3 + 4). This is only discouraging if we hold onto the mindset that we ‘should’ be able to play the hands together because we can play them separately. If we can let go of that sometimes pervasive thought then we can open up to the fact that in learning to coordinate all the fingers of both hands for playing the piano we are going way beyond what we have learned to do through millions of years of evolution. The thumb to index finger opposition evolved for using tools to help us survive, but the precisely differentiated use of all our fingers is not about survival and it has to be learnt through long hours of practise. If we can get through the block that it ‘should’ be easier - and if we can take on board the fact that the increase in difficulty level involved in putting the two hands together means that we have to go much slower - then the whole process can become really fascinating. The key thing is the slowing down because that gives us the space to observe much more closely what is actually happening. Practising a piece with two hands together really slowly may not sound particularly musical, but it is absolutely necessary to achieve a real physical clarity about what the combination of fingers is doing. There are always more layers of observation to uncover. In learning a Fugue in three, four or five parts everything is even more complex - the brain, the ears, the fingers are all being challenged to map several things together at the same time. But the beauty of the Fugue is that this always starts from one simple voice. The Fugue as a form thus presents us with the perennial paradox of the One and the Many, the Simple and the Complex. We all make our maps through life, and in doing so we all have to map one system onto another in order to function as social animals. It is because we are creative beings living in relationship with other creative beings that we are able to find new interilluminations to move us forwards. Our life is ever in the process, not in achieving goals. Applying that to practising the piano transforms our fear of failure into the joyful experience of flowing energy.


14.  Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor from Book 1




GO                                        (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

At the beginning of the Liturgy in the Eastern Church the deacon says quietly to the priest ‘It is time for the Lord to act’. There have been a lot of preparations before this moment with material things such as the putting on of vestments, the cutting of bread and the lighting of candles. But it is now as if all that human activity can be put to one side and space created for the one thing which is really important - it is time for the Lord to act. Later on in the Liturgy, in the middle of the Cherubic hymn which is sung at the point known as the Great Entrance, we sing the phrase ‘lay aside all the cares of this life’. Once again we have the sense that what is really important needs to be given space beyond the undercurrent of our own mental chatter. What can all this mean to someone who feels no connection with the language of religion, indeed someone who might feel quite alienated by religion? I think to me these particular moments are so important because they make it clear that we are not in control of what happens, that we do not grow in awareness by trying too hard to do things, to get things right, or by worrying about things which have gone wrong. There are always things which are going wrong with our lives and in the lives of others that we love - but in accepting that and letting go of our need to change and control external events we find the simple joy and truth of being present in the richness and fullness of the present moment. In contemporary secular mindfulness practice an emphasis is often placed on setting the intention. What is the inner intention behind our desire to practise mindfulness? Are we able to both see and to see through our desire to practise in order to achieve more control, more happiness, more wisdom for the ego? Are we able to find a deeper desire - to practise in order to let go? In the end, happiness and wisdom do not come from trying too hard, from what most people call success, from wanting things to be different from how they are. Rather from finding a practice which brings you more fully into the present. In old fashioned religion this was called the ‘practice of the presence of God’; in the even older language of the Buddhist sutras it was called satipatthana - the practice of mindfulness. When we sit and prepare to play the piano, whether it is just on our own at home or in a hall with an audience listening, we can learn from all this. If we set our intention to open up to receive then we at once move away from the idea that we are trying to achieve something. In response to this mental movement, our physical and emotional responses relax. This makes a huge difference to our ability to receive. It’s like tuning a traditional radio receiver to get rid of the crackle and interference. So often I see that this is the real key to people enjoying their piano playing more. The inner demons which assail people when they learn the piano are not so different from the inner demons in other areas of life. But somehow in this particular activity they can seem very exposed - especially when playing in front of someone else like a teacher! I have known an adult pupil tell me that they were anxious about practising at home in case someone heard them make a mistake while walking past on the other side of the street. And I have never had an adult pupil who hasn’t told me - usually in every single lesson - that they played the piece better when they were at home only a few hours or days ago. It is hard as a teacher to convince someone to let go. This becomes a warning to the teacher. The desire to persuade someone else to let go also has to be let go of. This is analogous to the realisation in meditation of the need to compassionately accept instead of fighting the wandering nature of the mind. When we sit at the piano and have the simple intention of receiving the sound rather than making something happen then we enter into a different space. This is the ‘time for the Lord to act’, the time to ‘lay aside all the cares of this life’, the time to be simply present in mindful awareness. When you have the privilege of attending a concert where the artist or artists are able to enter this space your experience as a listener will be qualitatively different from a concert where the artist or artists may dazzle you with their technique and control but do not take you any deeper. As a reflective exercise, think of the three most memorable concerts you have ever been to and ask yourself what were the qualities that made them so memorable.



15. Prelude and Fugue in G major from Book 1






THAT IT’S EA-SY                               (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

There’s no such thing as a difficult piece on the piano. Either a piece is impossible – or it is easy. The way in which it changes from the one to the other is by practising…..

I’m not sure which famous pianist first said this, but it is fact maddeningly true to experience. The only problem is that we don’t have  - or don’t think that we have
Enough time
Enough energy
Enough patience
Enough clarity of mind      and
Enough physical and mental coordination to engage in
Enough practise.

But if we did we would find that it is true. And even if we only find that it is true for one piece then we have discovered an important truth – that there is nothing to fear.

Einstein was once asked what he felt was the most important question for humanity. His answer was to find out whether the universe is essentially friendly and benign. If it is, he said, we have nothing to fear. We can therefore focus our energy on tuning into the universe’s positive field instead of putting up walls of defensive armour and protecting ourselves from endless imaginary tigers.

A lot of the blocks that manifest for people learning the piano are to do with imaginary tigers. There are so many excuses not to practise. There are so many feas about playing wrong notes – especially in front of teachers! There is so much tension which manifests in the body – shoulders, jaw, neck, forearm, wrist, even big toe (as I have discovered myself) But where does all this tension begin? Quite clearly it all begins in the mind –in the movement of fear which comes from anticipation of a difficulty which has not yet arisen.


Take a short passage which at present is impossible for you to coordinate.
Slow it right down, analyse every movement of the fingers which is necessary in this passage and clarify in your mind the exact order of those movements.
Remain emotionally detached from the results; simply observe what happens when you repeat and repeat and repeat.
 Relaxed mind makes for relaxed muscles.
 And one day without warning the light switches on in your mind – this is easy!

The bad news is that sometimes this state is achieved once and then appears to go away again. I have often seen and heard a pupil play something which they thought they couldn’t  - but then not be able to repeat the success. The way the mind tightens up is very subtle – the very thought that success has been achieved can produce a tightening in the muscles which makes it difficult to repeat the success.
Endless patience is needed – but if you persist you will find it is true. As long as you think something is difficult you will tighten up and it will remain impossible. When you have dissected it and analysed it and slowed it down and practised it again and again one day it will be easy.

16.  Prelude and Fugue in G minor from Book 1



                    (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

When we moved, for any number of sensible practical reasons, from a romantic Tudor cottage to a suburban town house, the one consolation to my sense that this was a regressive step was the house number. 49 is a special number because it is a square number. Not just any square number, but the square of one of the most magical, mysterious and mystical of all the numbers, the number 7. The seventh movement of Messiaen’s Quatuor pour le fin du Temps depicts rainbows - with their traditional seven colours - for the angel that announces the end of time. In the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, at the beginning of John’s vision on the isle of Patmos we read : I turned round to see who had spoken to me and when I turned I saw seven golden lamp stands and at the centre a figure like a Son of Man….In his right hand he was holding seven stars. The most common musical scales have seven different notes. There are seven different letter names in music which countless generations of music students have remembered in the order FCGDAEB maybe using a mnemonic such as Father Christmas Gave Dad An Electric Blanket. This gives the order of the keys in the circle of fifths and also the order of sharps as they appear in key signatures. If, for instance, you see a key signature with three sharps those sharps will be F,C and G. If you see a key signature with six sharps they will be F,C,G,D,A and E. The beauty of this sequence is that the reverse works for the flat key signatures. So even if you never learnt a reverse mnemonic (such as Blanket Exploded And Dad Got Cold Feet) you can generate the order of flats simply by reversing the order of letters. Thus, for instance, if you see a key signature with three flats they will be B, E and A. If you see a key signature with six flats they will be B, E, A, D, G and C. In other words this simple sequence of seven letters can reveal the whole structure of the circle of fifths, the fundamental building block of the key relationships in Western music from the Baroque period onwards. Another fascinating musical journey involving the number 7 lies in exploring the different types of seventh chords. Most theory books will give you charts of five sets of seventh chords to learn; that is five for each of the twelve chromatic notes, i.e. a total of sixty different chords. This can be rather daunting until you really understand the patterns involved. The ‘simple’ seventh chord, the one notated as C7, G7 etc. , is in a way not that simple at all. It always contains one note, the seventh, which is NOT present in the root scale. So a C7 chord includes a B flat, not a B natural. I always explain this by way of linking the C7 chord to the key of F. The scale of F of course DOES include a B flat, and so understanding the C7 chord belonging there makes perfect sense. My experience is that once people really understand this, it is quite easy to develop a theoretical understanding of the whole circle of fifths: C7 belongs to F F7 belongs to B flat B flat 7 belongs to E flat E flat 7 belongs to A flat A flat 7 belongs to D flat D flat 7 belongs to G flat G flat 7 (= F sharp 7) belongs to B B7 belongs to E E7 belongs to A A7 belongs to D D7 belongs to G G7 belongs to C Of course to have a real practical knowledge of this at the piano means spending time learning the physical connections between the adjacent keys and chords. This work will prove to be of enormous benefit with playing not only classical repertoire but also playing jazz standards from lead sheets. The minor seventh chord, notated Cm7, Gm7 etc. , is puzzling to many students in the early days because the difference between C7 and Cm7 is nothing to do with the seventh of the chord at all but to do with the third. C7 has a MAJOR third, Cm7 has a MINOR third. How confusing is that? No wonder many people despair of the wonders of music theory! The major seventh chord is the one which DOES include the seventh note which is present in the root scale. Thus C maj7 includes a B natural; G maj7 includes an F sharp. Another way of thinking about the major seventh chord is that it combines the sound of the major and the minor triads. Thus a C maj7 chord can be heard by playing a C major triad and an E minor triad simultaneously. And whereas the C and B sounding together are jarring to most peoples’ ears, once you place the E and G in the middle the sound is quite mellow. The half diminished seventh is another common jazz chord and it is particularly useful in a minor key where it is the key built on the second degree of the scale. This can be understood as a minor seventh chord with a flattened fifth and indeed can be annotated as for instance Bm7(b5), the chord on the second degree of the A minor scale. The diminished seventh chord is built out of a series of minor thirds; all the distances between the notes of the chord are equal. This chord, much loved by silent movie pianists, creates a dramatic sense of tension more easily than anything else in music. It was also used to great effect by Bach (e.g. with the choir shouting Barabbam in the St Matthew Passion) and Beethoven (e.g. the transition into the finale of the Appassionata Piano Sonata, Op 57). So why stop at five seventh chords? Why not seven? The chords C-E flat - G -B natural and C - E flat - G flat - B natural are also seventh chords. I think it is time to proclaim the full seven - seven system of chords. A suitable creative venture to come from house number forty-nine!!


17.  Prelude and Fugue in A flat major from Book 1



                    (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

Education is one of those topics which gives scope for seemingly endless dialogue, discussion and disagreement. A perennial political hot potato where everyone wants to be seen and heard expounding the best solutions. As we have seen already, If the etymology of the word is taken seriously, education is about drawing out from not about filling up an empty vessel. The teacher’s role is to draw out from the student an ability to focus on the sound being produced, a relaxed alertness which physically makes the playing easier and a clarity of intention which is enhanced by an understanding of the structure of the music being played. This threefold model of how people learn music is something I have always found very useful. There is first of all learning from the sound, as can be developed for example by being able to accurately reproduce a melody or rhythm which has just been heard. Some people are amazingly good at this without having any ability in music reading or music theory whatsoever. They need to be encouraged to believe that they are good musicians already; that they have the most important aspect of music learning already well developed. Secondly there is learning from the physical memory. Everyone needs to be encouraged here to practise by mindful repetition. Not repetition for the sake of repetition but repetition with awareness to create a stronger physical memory. On piano the physical memory of a piece is a very complex dance between the hands where there are thousands of very fine precise movements. Thirdly there is the mental clarity of the musical structure. This informs the clarity of the intention behind the playing. Some clear knowledge of the architecture of a piece is necessary to have a clear intention behind the sound in terms of pulse, harmonic movement, dynamics, phrasing and articulation. The teacher is a guide, a coach, a confidant, a trusted ally in the journey through this threefold way of learning. but ultimately of course you have to find your own way through. You have to forge your own relationship with the sound just as with your own body and mind. You have to forge your own understanding of the different possibilities. One of the most interesting factors here with the piano is the use of the sustaining pedal. Many pupils want to know exactly when they should use the pedal, but my view is that the teacher needs to throw the question back with the challenge to listen attentively to the sound and pedal as little or as much as is necessary to make the sound match the intention. Pianos vary so much, as do the rooms in which they live, so in a way all you can offer as a teacher are a few guiding principles and encouragement to listen more attentively. There can be no safety net of knowing exactly what you are going to do with the pedal in a particular piece because as soon as you play it on a different piano in a different room you may well need to do something different. If as a teacher you approach each lesson with the view that you can learn more than the pupil then you will not often be disappointed. It is like meditation - staying present with open heart, open mind, listening, acknowledging the presence of inner demons (both in yourself and the pupil) without either suppressing or projecting them. Awakeness, alertness and openness to experience will keep you listening and learning. And if it doesn’t work for a particular lesson because you are simply too tired or too wrapped up in your own thoughts or feelings then learn from that experience too - and be kind to yourself as well as to your pupil! The best way to develop good listening in your students is to model good listening yourself. The best way to develop better coordination in your students is for you to model good coordination yourself. The best way to develop clear intention in your students is for you to model clear intention yourself. And if you do all this then this will also be the best way for you to learn from the experience and continue to grow on your own path.


18.  Prelude and Fugue in G sharp minor from Book 1




                    (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

Good teaching conveys presence and commands attention. it brings life, energy, clarity to the task in hand, the present moment. In the case of the piano it brings a sense of adventure, of risk, but with the support of sound technique. Like rock climbing with proper equipment and a balanced mind. (or should that be sound mind. Sound technique, sound mind, sounds good….) I remember very clearly once struggling climbing up a scree slope on a modest hill in Lanzarote. Struggling because I was trying too hard, because I was end-gaining, wanting to be at the top already instead of staying with the process, because I was labelling the experience as one I would rather not be having. My partner, who was scampering easily ahead as usual, came back down to me. ‘Imagine the challenge’ she said ‘as a run of demisemiquavers on the piano’. Immediately my attention went to the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in A flat, Op 110. I felt the relaxed focussed energy needed to play that hand-swapping section in flowing demisemiquavers. The climb became easy - nothing externally had changed, but my internal landscape was transformed by virtue of the inner hearing of a piece of music. Good teaching demands good self-awareness. As a Reiki or other alternative practitioner will protect their boundaries before giving a treatment, the good teacher will protect him/herself from being too affected by the pupil’s own inner demons. Demons that make endless excuses, that are harsh critics, that sabotage the joy of being present with the sound now with a fear of making a mistake in the future. The good self-awareness that the piano teacher can offer in a lesson is like the ‘holding the space’ that a meditation teacher will give to a group sitting in silence. But paradoxically this ‘good’ self-awareness means developing an ability to let go of self-awareness altogether! The negative inner stream of thought in some lessons is very familiar - how can this person be so slow/so disinterested/so rude/so unable to hear/so unaware of the sound etc. etc. Don’t they realise I’m giving them MY time?!! This is indeed self-awareness - with a vengeance. But it can be turned around as quickly as my experience on the hillside in Lanzarote. If the internal change of intention can happen so quickly for the teacher then of course it can also happen for the pupil. For example, the pupil is getting flustered about getting a passage wrong repeatedly. Check out what is happening physically as a result of the mental anxiety. Get their eyes off the music. In fact, get them back into a simple awareness of their body in terms of the rhythm of breathing with the eyes shut. From this place, get them to play the passage in question really slowly with real attention to the sound. Sound technique, sound mind, sounds good…… Relaxed mind means relaxed body; tense mind means tense body. It is no more possible to play the piano well with excessive tension than it is to do rock climbing.


19.  Prelude and Fugue in A major from Book 1

STOP ___



                    (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

It is very clear from our experience of life that different people experience the same events in very different ways. After seeing a film it is always fascinating to read a selection of people’s reviews online. I remember a film a few years ago called The Tree of Life where I found reviews expressing the full range of responses from ‘one of the most moving/outstanding/brilliant films I have ever seen’ to ‘don’t waste your time on this pretentious crap’. Ostensibly the same external artefact - in this case a film - can bring forth a huge range of human reaction and opinion. Some people are very happy to go along unquestioningly with the emotional trajectory of a film, something which is often made all the stronger by the musical score, whereas others start from a point of view of extreme scepticism about anything which they feel is trying to generate a particular emotional response. Sometimes film scores are so lavish, so intense, that they really dominate the experience. But in other films, the scoring can be quite minimal but deeply effective in creating space for the audience. I remember the amazing power of the music in the film Vera Drake in spite of the fact that it is only present for something like six minutes of a two hour film. To my mind the best films always leave space for different responses from different people, and indeed raise different questions for different people. Moving across to the world of teaching music it is not surprising then that people learn in very different ways. One of the great learning points for a teacher is that a way of explaining something to one pupil does not necessarily work for another at all. In my experience we all have ‘blind spots’, connections in the brain which don’t appear to light up just as we have areas of illumination, connections where everything seems totally clear. As teachers we need to keep on trying to open doors, open connections for different people from different angles. It is also useful as teachers to reflect ourselves on areas of life where we need other people to open connections for us. For instance I have always struggled with understanding diagrams for assembling things together. I need someone to explain the diagrams to me in a clear calm slow and non-judgmental way just as I realise others need various aspects of music theory explained. Just as the seeking for perfection bedevils so many human interactions, it creates a real challenge for music teachers. The pursuit of perfection could be described as a seductive illusion, and yet paradoxically as music teachers we have to keep up the journey, the seeking towards perfection whilst knowing that its attainment is impossible. A good aim for us to have is to nurture this awareness of paradox in our pupils. It is a very subtle balance to steer someone to see that it is worth aiming for something which is impossible to attain. The deeper lesson is that piano playing, just like life, is about the process of flow and energy, not about end-gaining a particular objective. From this sort of perspective, a pupil can really start to make their own connections between their piano playing and the rest of their life with more confidence and awareness. Responses to particular pieces of music, like films, are of course very personal. The music that I have composed relating to the Bach Flower Remedies does not aim to set out an experience which people should have of the particular Remedy but rather a journey which people are invited to take in their own way at their own speed. A few years ago we ran some Musical Remedies sessions which combined art exercises with the Flower Remedy music. The art exercises also proved to be very personal and gave people space to find out what was already present in - or just beneath - the surface of their current awareness. Just as Dr Bach intuited the connections between the way the plants grow and the way mental states arise, the music and art exercises of the Musical Remedies retreat enabled people to intuit their own connections more directly. In the Philokalia, the Desert Fathers talked repeatedly of the need for prayer to move from the mind to the heart. In contemporary mindfulness practice we reflect on the similarity between our mental, emotional and physical experience of constant change, and the fact that we don’t need to identify with any of these changes. Our deeper level of connection is with flow, not with solidity. There is ultimately in Ken Wilber’s phrase ‘no boundary’ between us and the world. In mystical language we already live and breathe ‘in Cristo’, in the universal divine energy. We live in a society where the mental dimension has been given an exaggerated significance. The power of contemporary technology adds to the tendency to strive for perfection. So many more things are possible for us now than even twenty years ago that we start to feel that this perfection is both desirable and achievable. Before we know it, this mentality then gets inside the creative acts of composition, film making, drawing and painting. The Musical Remedies sessions aimed to restore some sense of balance, to use our mental emotional and physical senses in harmony, to see more clearly what is happening in the undercurrent of thoughts which move along with us just underneath the surface, and to realise that our true identity is not with any of this at all. Certain themes keep coming back through these writings in much the same way as themes recur during pieces of music. Through all my years of teaching people on the piano, the most important recurring themes are : BREATHE LET GO STOP TRYING SO HARD BE MORE AWARE OF MENTAL TENSION BE MORE AWARE OF PHYSICAL TENSION AWARENESS - AWAKENESS


20.  Prelude and Fugue in A minor from Book 1






                    (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

I think the intention to write twenty-four Preludes and Fugues must have been there in Bach’s mind from the beginning. The project is so bound up with the desire to write a piece in every major and minor key to demonstrate the possibilities of the newly discovered equal temperament. I have no idea at what point the twenty-four turned conceptually into forty-eight. As Bach used Book 1 as teaching pieces in his own practice it has been suggested that the impetus to write a second book of Preludes and Fugues twenty years after Book 1 may have been simply that he wanted to listen to some different pieces when teaching. What is clear is that the decision to write a new book immediately implied the number twenty-four. With Dr Edward Bach and the Flower Remedies the situation was rather different. The journey begins with Impatiens, Clematis and Mimulus. There is no clear sense that this journey will end up with thirty-eight different Remedies. Indeed for a few years Dr Bach was convinced that the number was going to be twelve.The first set, known as The Twelve Healers, gave Dr Bach the view that he had found a complete set of remedy types. He developed the view that every person could be matched with one of these Remedies as a Soul Remedy and that finding the correct Soul Remedy for a particular person would have a profound transformational effect on that person’s life. After working for a few years with the Twelve Healers Dr Bach’s view changed inasmuch as he realised that many blocks in people’s lives needed other energies to work with. Some states of behaviour had become so chronic, so set in people’s lives that knowing the correct Soul Remedy was not in itself sufficient. He discovered the remedy Oak worked well with people who had a chronic tendency to keep going until they collapsed in illness. He discovered the remedy Heather worked well with people who had a chronic tendency to buttonhole people and pour out their whole life story because of a deep loneliness. He discovered that the remedy Olive worked well with people who were so spiritually and emotionally exhausted that the Soul Remedies didn’t appear to work. The ‘Seven Helpers’ that Dr Bach discovered added to the Twelve Healers made a total set of nineteen Remedies. Even at this stage, there was no intimation that a second set of nineteen Remedies were still waiting to be discovered. The journey of discovering what are often known as the ‘Second Nineteen’ Flower Remedies was a much more compressed one, encompassing only a matter of nine months. The mind states that the Second Nineteen deal with are darker and more extreme. When I was composing the Musical Remedy pieces some of them proved difficult to access. In some cases I found that taking the Remedy myself was necessary as a catalyst for tuning into the energy. With other Remedies the musical outline emerged very easily as had happened at the beginning. However, some of these pieces where the outline appeared easily proved more challenging to develop into performance pieces at a later stage of the creative process. The 12 + 7 + 19 way of understanding and grouping the Flower Remedies is not the full story. Near the end of this life, Bach himself organised all thirty-eight Remedies into seven groups - remedies for : loneliness uncertainty fear lack of interest in present circumstances overcare for others oversensitivity despondency and despair Another classification, developed by Phillip Salmon and Anna Jeoffroy relates these seven groups to the classical seven energy chakras in the human body : crown third eye throat heart solar plexus sacral base In contrast to this there has been surprisingly little imagination with regard to grouping the musical pieces in the forty eight Preludes and Fugues. Printed music copies and recordings always seem to follow the standard major - minor pattern and chromatic ascent from C through to B. It is interesting though that when Shostakovich came to write his own set of twenty-four Preludes and Fugues in 1950 after being inspired by hearing the Bach performed live by Tatiana Nikoleyeva he arranged them in the order following the circle of fifths, i.e. from C major and A minor through in the sharp direction and finishing with F and D minor. A few years ago I began to discover energetic links between some of the Bach Preludes and Fugues and some of the Bach Flower Remedies. The initial breakthrough was when practising the Prelude and Fugue in C minor from Book 1 and being struck by how similar the energy was to that of Impatiens, the first of the Bach Flower Remedies to be discovered. Immediately the energy of the E flat minor Prelude and Fugue from Book 1 presented itself as Clematis, the second Remedy that Dr Bach discovered. The Flower Remedies are as contrasting as the two Preludes are contrasting pieces of music. Numbering, grouping, classification - there is always a fascination in the human mind. However I see this not as an end in itself but as a stage on the journey. For me personally with the forty-eight Preludes and Fugues and the thirty-eig


21.  Prelude and Fugue in B flat major from Book 1






                    (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)


One of the most substantial misgivings I have towards mainstream modern Western culture is the idea that language works primarily on a conceptual level. The idea that precision in terms of meaning or semantics is the most important aspect of language, and that if we moved towards a more exact conceptual understanding of language we would be closer to the ‘truth’. I remember when I was still a teenager discovering the Duino Elegies of Rainer Maria Rilke in German. There was no way that my German was up to reading his poetry and understanding it conceptually. But this poetry had an extraordinary effect on me, opening up new landscapes and new depths. Years later I remember attending an Orthodox service in Oxford for the first time. The service was all in Church Slavonic and conceptually I understood very little. Yet the overwhelming sense of the acceptance of the dark alongside the light in our experience came through the language at a much deeper non-conceptual level. More recently in my life two other experiences with languages have confirmed my view that the resonance of language communicates at different levels. At the Drubchen in Holy Isle in 2006 I had very little idea or understanding of what was going on. Continual chanting in Tibetan formed the backcloth of an intense experience of ‘re-ordering’. The whole ceremony was dedicated to the removal of obstacles both seen and unseen. It was in the middle of this chanting that I experienced my own ‘re-ordering’ and removal of obstacles. On the nineteenth anniversary of my father’s death I was suddenly aware of his presence in front of me. He had come to tell me that it wasn’t my fault that I had not been there when he died and that I did not need to hold onto this pain and grief any longer. I don’t pretend to know exactly how this happened, but I do know that the chanting in Tibetan had somehow opened up the liminal space within which it could happen. More recently still I attended workshops on the Aramiac Lord’s Prayer and Beatitudes with Neil Douglas-Klotz. Neil is a great scholar and has done a lot of work on the Aramaic language, unravelling layers of meaning which expand the horizons of the more familiar English - or Greek - texts enormously. But for me the experience of chanting the Aramaic was and remains different from chanting in a language which I understand conceptually. The Aramaic opens up a different layer, a different field of energy, which brings the inner living content of the prayers to life in a new way. My experience of music runs parallel to these experiences of different languages. Music speaks to different layers of the psyche, and it is not necessary to understand music conceptually in order to experience its power. Indeed the opposite may be true - that too much emphasis on trying to ‘understand’ music conceptually actually inhibits the human ability to receive the deeper layer of connectedness. To some extent this is true even for the creator of the musical experience, the composer. There is a qualitative difference between mastering various musical techniques of composition and having anything to really say through the musical medium. A good composer will use the techniques they have mastered at the service of a musical vision which goes beyond what can be conceptually explained. In the case of the Bach ’48’ this is particularly relevant and explains why the famous Donald Francis Tovey analyses of the pieces are so dry and soulless to anyone interested in articulating their experience of the inner vision of the music. There is a considerable unanimity of experience amongst people who have really listened to certain pieces of music such as the slow movement of the Schubert String Quintet, the slow movement of Beethoven’s A minor string quartet or the sixth and final movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. With works such as these music functions as a meta-language in the way that once upon a time meta-physics showed people the possibilities and depth of physics. Maybe we are moving back in this direction again now that the languages of contemporary physics and mystical non-dual consciousness are seen to have so much in common. If we move through life as a flow with open mind and open heart then non-dual consciousness is always present as a possibility. If we approach composing, playing, listening to music with the same openness then here too there is always the possibility of breaking through. I have been very conscious when teaching adult music classes that often what people think they want to or need to know or understand is very different from what they actually want and need at a deeper level. So many people are still put off by the world of ‘contemporary classical’ music because they don’t think that they will be able to ‘understand’ it. Yet often the breakthrough comes by persuading them to ‘stand-under’ the music, allowing the music to flow over them and let go of the ‘trying to understand’. Reflecting back myself, this was exactly my own experience with the German, Slavonic, Tibetan and Aramaic examples I have given. There are more amazing things in the universe than are ever dreamt of in our philosophies……


22.  Prelude and Fugue in B flat mInor from Book 1




                    (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)


The illusion of control is very clear to anyone who starts to meditate. Until that point we may genuinely have thought that we are in control of what we think; after that point such a thought can only be delusional. It is so clear that the mind ‘has a life of its own’ and connects ideas, memories, fantasies and fears together in a dream-like way regardless of whether we are physically awake or asleep. In a similar way the illusion of solidity is very clear to anyone who starts to understand even the most basic things about post-Newtonian physics. Until then we can act with a sureness in life that the tables and chairs, the bricks and walls around us are solid objects; afterwards, such a thought is once again delusional. The Uncertainty Principle is clear that at the microcosmic level we cannot know at the same time where a particular particle is and how fast it is moving. This leads to the clear and well-established scientific and philosophical truth that the observer changes that which is observed. In other words there is no separate ‘me’ looking at an independently existing and separate ‘world’. There is rather a flow of energy between constantly changing energy-carriers. There is a profound sense in which ‘life’ cannot be pinned down by science any more than it can by religion. Indeed the popular idea of there being a great dichotomy between a scientific and a spiritual understanding of the cosmos is also revealed as delusional. What we have is a constantly changing flow of energy which defies being pinned down and labelled or captured for long enough to say what it is. Like the ancient apophatic theology which refuses to define God in any positive terms but uses language such as ‘inexpressible, incomprehensible, unknowable’, contemporary physics now talks about the vast majority of matter - say 98% - being filled with ‘black holes’. From the pianist’s point of view the relevance of all this is that music is created by the coming together in energy-flow of the composition and the performance. The player can change the sound by the slightest change in intention. When I ask pupils for the first time how they think you make a note louder on the piano the answer is usually something along the lines of hitting the key harder or with more force. The reality is that hitting a note harder or with more force will produce a harsher sound, but the dynamic or decibel level of the sound is dependent on the speed that the key is depressed. The faster you press a piano key down, the faster the corresponding hammer hits the string, the louder the resulting sound. The change in intention here will immediately produce a change in sound. Louder but not harsher, with the added bonus of much less physical energy being expended. Even more striking is the change of sound in a really soft chord once the player really understands their intention is to depress all the notes evenly and slowly. The sound then really sustains and has depth. From here it is just another small step to understanding the significance of weighting notes differently in a chord. A simple three note chord can be played in very different ways by making each of the three notes stronger in turn. This sort of practise of chords is invaluable in developing a more acute ear and a deeper awareness of the impact of intention on the resulting sound. Other aspects of music also come alive in a new way once you begin to look more closely at your intention vis a vis the sound. Articulation, phrasing, inner awareness of pulse - all make so much difference to the resulting experience. One of the most common lapses in awareness among amateur pianists is a difficulty of keeping the pulse steady during rests. In classical music the shortening of rests can completely ruin the architecture of a piece. The way through this is to feel the pulse living and breathing, right through the silence. Maybe like the black holes in the material cosmos which in a mysterious way are holding everything together, silence in music creates the necessary containing structure. The silence immediately before a performance begins and the silence at the end are vital. Think how powerful the silence is at the end of a work like Mahler’s 9th symphony if the audience holds back for a few seconds before releasing into applause. Think how powerful the silences are between the final chords of Sibelius’ 5th Symphony. Try making silences an essential part of your practising - before you play and after you play. And if there are silences in the middle of pieces that you play then always treat them as an essential part of the music.


23.  Prelude and Fugue in B major from Book 1



GROWS                    (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

Once as a teenager I spent two whole days tracking the use of the four instruments in the first movement of Mozart’s String Quartet in G, K387 onto squared paper. It was the sort of exercise that now could easily be done by computer, working out the exact percentages of time that the various possible combinations of instruments in the quartet play for. I remember being totally absorbed in this self-set and by most criteria utterly futile task. And I also remember a real sense of pride and well-being that emerged with the completion of the task. I suppose many people might have developed a whole career from this obsessive tendency. From archers to code breakers to computer programming geeks to cricket statisticians there is probably no limit to the human fascination with order and pattern in numbers. With ‘the 48’ there is a simple satisfaction with the fact that there are twelve notes in the chromatic scale, two modes (major and minor) and two books, making a total of exactly 48 Preludes and Fugues. Repetition of patterns are everywhere. Although we may sometimes think of the universe being chaotic and unpredictable, in fact the same mathematical pattern occurs in a myriad of forms. This is the spiral pattern based on the Golden Ratio which connects with the Fibonacci series of numbers 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144 etc. The power of fractals, where the macrocosm mirrors the microcosm. Take a look at the link below before reading on….. It is not surprising that when it comes to being creative, human beings have also discovered the power of this particular pattern and ratio. And so it is that this pattern is hidden away in a lot of musical compositions, as in the note lengths in the sixth (unison) movement of Messiaen’s Quatuor pour le fin du temps. As people become older it seems that the need for pattern, for order, for regularity, becomes greater.Any disruption to routine, however slight, can become a great burden. It is as if we imagine that if we hold on firmly enough to what we ‘understand’ - which is order and pattern - then the business of decay, chaos and death will somehow not affect us. And yet in contrast to this the experience of anyone who has spent time meditating is very different. The mind here does NOT follow orderly patterns, will NOT be tamed into order and controlled to move along pre-set pathways. No, the mind wanders freely, and sometimes very fast, between all sorts of fragments of the past and the future. Meanwhile, the observer watching this movement continually tries to latch onto some events because they seem pleasant or desirable; tries to escape from some other events because they seem unpleasant or undesirable; and otherwise judges the content that arises as bland and boring. This internal mental chaos is the raw material of meditation, and is of course the reason why so many people claim to be ‘no good’ at meditation. They imagine that it should be about having experiences of calm and orderly beauty and simplicity like we see in the Golden Ratio in the natural world. It seems then that the human condition is forever in the midst of chaos and forever seeking order. No wonder the order and pattern of numbers are so desirable. No wonder the music of composers which express order and pattern are so popular. No wonder that lots of people remain resistant to music that they hear no pattern in. As a piano teacher I am used to many people’s fear of improvisation. The way to encourage people here is essentially to build confidence by limiting the possibilities. Thus for instance using three pitches only to improvise is a good starting point, then when people are both confident and starting to feel bored adding a fourth and then a fifth note. Structured improvisation around simple chord sequences, modes and rhythmic patterns can be taught and learnt quite easily. Totally free improvisation, however, is quite a different animal. This is indeed music making thrown into the reality of listening to what is really going on right now, however chaotic it might be. It is not often that totally free improvisation makes for a coherent listening experience, but for the players it can be the most liberating of all forms of music making. We all need to find a balance between discipline and freedom, between order and chaos. We need this to experience both the extraordinary beauty and the immense fragility of the planet that we inhabit. We also need it to connect with one another at a soul level. Music is without doubt a great medium for developing this balance between discipline and freedom, between order and chaos. Enjoy!


24. Prelude and Fugue in B minor from Book 1




I WILL FIND THE FLOW                     (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

Imagine being lost in a forest where there is no clear path through from one side to the other. Several different paths appear, at first glance looking much the same as each other. They go in different directions and you do not know which one to follow. You have a map but you cannot find the key to understand the symbols. This is like the first stages of learning one of the difficult Bach fugues. Seeing notes on the page but not hearing the music is like seeing all the paths in the forest but not seeing how they link up with each other.

Gradually through slow repetition more of the landmarks start to make sense – not just the main subject and countersubject but the way that they sound together. With more repetition you start to hear how three strands work together. It is like seeing how three different paths through the forest all start and finish in more or less the same place yet go on very different ly shaped journeys in between.

The satisfaction of learning a fugue is like the satisfaction of understanding connections – between people, places, emotions, physical sensations, abstract ideas. Countless descriptions of mystical experience across different cultures come back to the sense of an enhanced awareness of the connection between all things. To find this while playing a Bach fugue needs a lot of patient groundwork to be done – because you have to be so sure of all the notes first that you are no longer thinking about notes but are really immersed in the music.

Music is flowing – it is not in the dots on the page that represent isolated notes, but in the space between the dots. The space is where the sound flows, where the sounds join together, where the sense of solidity melts into an experience of fluidity.

Music does not inhabit the Newtonian universe that for the most part we imagine we live in. Rather, it inhabits the quantum universe where it is impossible to define time and position simultaneously. It inhabits the mystical universe where all things are connected without the need to see or understand all the pathways in a conventional way

Once you have learnt a fugue well you can enter the quantum mystical universe and enjoy the ever changing flowing connections that it brings to the ear’s attention. You have undertaken the journey from solidity to fluidity, and the vehicle that keeps you on the journey is that of mindfulness, a simple presence in the moment. No holding on, no holding back.

Take this back to the beginning.

Be mindful of the first steps in the forest, the first subject in the fugue.

Stay mindful during the practising process – 

Not trying

Not end-gaining

Just staying present








25 Prelude and Fugue in C major from Book 2




MEMORIES AND FANTASIES RIGHT NOW                     (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)

In one of the most paradoxical of Jesus’s teachings he says that it is only by losing yourself that you find yourself. Mystics and contemplatives through the centuries have expanded on this and in our own day there are many writers, of both religious and secular persuasions, that reassert the same fundamental wisdom. It is only by loosening our attachments that we can experience real freedom. Our attachments to possessions, to achievements, to other people, to tribal loyalties (football teams?), to religious loyalties, to ethnic identity, to the whole concept of self altogether. No wonder that it is so hard to loosen all those attachments, all those things which we spend at least the first half of our lives building up. Yet it is the moments - and for most of us it is only the odd moment here and there - in which we let everything go that we do indeed find ourselves at a deeper level. We find ourselves to be part of the continuous flow of energy that we call Life, or if we are used to using mystical language, cosmic consciousness. We find that there is in Ken Wilber’s words ‘no boundary’ between ‘me’ and everything else. We find ourselves by giving up all our attachments to false or partial selves and realising that we are part of the flow. ‘Go with the flow’ as Jesus might have put it in the contemporary idiom. Even the slowest piece of music has some flow to it. Even a single note is a vibration, a frequency where something is happening very many times a second. Even the lowest note on the piano is vibrating at something like 27.5 times per second whereas as pianists we are limited to playing something like 12 notes per second at full speed. To enter into a piece of music as a performer involves a lot of letting go. There are attachments to the visual representation of the music on the page - so often in teaching I have seen people lose their listening completely because they are focussed visually on the dots on the page. There are also attachments to eh position of the hands. Again and again I observe people arriving late on the ‘next’ phrase of music because one or both hands have been left behind, still holding on to something which has gone. more subtly than these examples are attachments to an idea of what the piece should sound like, maybe a memory of a particular recording. There are also attachments to the emotional resonances associated with a particular piece at a particular point in our personal history. (For me, the incredible power of the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony is made even stronger by the personal memory of listening to it on the radio as a teenager at the exact moment when my grandmother suffered a stroke in the next room. ) Only by letting go of all these various attachments will we open up the possibility of experiencing the flow of the music as it really is right now. When we go to a concert to listen there are also many attachments to let go of. Attachment to our expectations, to our memories of how we have heard this music before, to our projections about this particular performer, to how comfortable we are in our seat, to how organised we are about getting home afterwards. Only by letting go of all these will we open up the possibility of experiencing the flow of the music as it really is right now. There is no doubt in my experience that the quality of presence in the performers is the key thing which affects the quality of presence in the audience. When you have been at a concert with this sense of presence you will be amazed how short it all seemed, as if you had been transported beyond time and space. The language of mystical experience comes alive in such a musical experience even for people who have no background of reading mystical writers or any interest in religion. As a performer to an audience presence is the quality that you need above all else. However technically good a performance is it will not come alive to the audience if the performers are in effect playing from ‘memory’ rather than from presence. As a teacher presence is also the most valuable quality. Who are the teachers in your life, in any field, who have really received your attention and admiration? Which are the musical performances in your life that stand out the most? What is the thread that links these stand-out experiences together?



26. Prelude and Fugue in C minor from Book 2



(Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject)

One-to-one teaching can be so much more than the passing on of techniques and knowledge. The opportunity is there to open up to a wider sense of consciousness. The relationship between mind and body revealed very closely in teaching piano. So often what appears to be the difficulty is not really the difficulty at all. What appears to be a difficulty for the body - coordinating different combinations of fingers together - has to be tracked back to what is happening in the mind. Any tightening in the mind, any thought which is present explaining that this next passage is difficult, any appearance of the inner critic saying that this is not good enough, any solidifying of the experience - all these have a direct physical consequence. The muscles tighten and the physical coordination needed to play a particular passage is made more difficult to achieve. Seeing the close link between mental demons and the creation of physical tension gives the teacher a way in to open the student to a wider vision of consciousness. A simple image here is that of a flower gradually opening to receive the light. The pianist has to open gradually to receive the music. This is very different from any idea of ‘doing’ something or ‘making’ the music happen. It is more like thinking on a cloudy day, ‘OK - the sun is still there behind the clouds’. I can open up to receive this bigger energy which is coming from beyond what I can see. In approaching a new piece on the piano, have the idea of the music being behind the notes. The notes on the page are like the clouds in the sky; the music has to be trusted in, it has to be received from ‘behind’ the notes. It is not something to be forced, not even something to ‘do’, but rather something to receive. If enlightenment is understood as the realisation of the truth that everything is connected and ultimately united then any path or practice can be used as a vehicle to make the journey towards enlightenment. Teaching and practising the piano is one such journey. Its advantage is that it makes the mind/body connection very clear. It is a journey where sudden insights and disciplined work go hand in hand, a practise where there are rewards on many different levels. Some traditions envisage enlightenment being somewhere in the indefinite future, completely out of reach in terms of present consciousness. Fortunately some traditions see things differently - mystical Christianity, Sufism and Tibetan Buddhism all have an understanding that the experience of non-duality, the becoming-at-one in love is not something for the future but something for the present. The realisation of Buddha-mind and the Kingdom of God are not for some distant time and space, they are for here and now. This is not to say that we will be experiencing them very often. Rather to say that the possibility of experiencing them is always present. To return to our teaching and practising - if we open up to a bigger awareness of consciousness in both ourselves and our pupils we are enhancing the possibilities of breakthrough moments. When music is received from ‘behind’ the notes, when there is an experience of unity between performer and performed, then there is a direct experience, however brief, of the way things actually are. Having this experience even once is sufficient to change someone’s perspective of what is possible. To illustrate this, I share a personal anecdote. I only started teaching piano because of a chance encounter with someone whose name I don’t even remember and whom I never saw again. I was staying with a friend in Germany and we drove out together into the forest to a house where this person lived. While he was doing some business with my friend I played the piano that was sitting there in an adjacent room. After they had concluded their business, the person came through and said : ‘You should be teaching the piano’. That’s all I remember. But I know that when I returned from Germany I put up a few notices about giving piano lessons - and here I am thirty-eight years later still teaching. I am so thankful for this person that I don’t know at all but who clearly heard something and had the courage and clarity to speak. Everything in this book is a part of the fruits of that extraordinary moment.


30 Prelude and Fugue in D minor from Book 2

For a lot of people on the piano the problem is not so much about playing the right notes as about letting go of the right notes. It may seem very obvious but it is always worth pointing out that it is impossible to repeat a note on the piano without letting go. While a note is being held down the hammer is not physically able to hit the string again and therefore no further sound can be made with that note until it has been released. If you learn this from a single note on the piano then you can apply it to every note. Let go - release - allow the hand to be free - move the hand to be ready for the NEXT note - allow the music to flow like a river. Sometimes it feels that the verbal content of a piano lesson is just a succession of cliches : E_GO - LET GO - LET GOD

Or more prosaically…… Once you have a note sounding, release your intention towards the NEXT note so that your hand can be ready to PLAY the next note and keep the music flowing forwards.

Or more mystically……. Allow each sound its space without interference from the ‘solid’ intention of ego so that the music can reveal the underlying divine flow which is always present.

In meditation, sound can be used as a mindfulness support, something which the conscious mind can use to bring back the attention to the present spaciousness. The breath can be used in a similar way, something which the mind focusses on as a tool for restoring a spacious awareness of the present moment. But sound seems to me particularly powerful in this regard because it is always changing. Becoming more aware of the soundscape of the present moment is a great discipline for learning the piano - and an excellent pre-practise ritual. For thirty seconds before playing a single note tune your attention in to whatever sounds are present both in the room and entering in from outside. You will then begin your practise with your ears open and receptive. In this state you are much more likely to remember to let go with your fingers to hear the flow of the music moving forwards. Remember - whether you are practising on your own in your own house or playing in front of a large audience - you need to be an attentive listener, tuned in like a radio receiving signals at the right frequency open to the new reality of the present moment Letting go of the notes physically is a strong metaphor, a reminder to let go mentally. When you have really taken this on board you will be able to let go of ‘wrong’ notes as well as ‘right’ notes and not allow ‘mistakes’ to get in the way of the present reality of the piece as it unfolds. (Connecting directly with this point I would highly recommend reading the book The perfect wrong note - Learning to trust your musical self by William Westney ) Playing the piano can then become a metaphor for life itself, a microcosm of how different our lives would be if we continually practise ‘letting go’.




I HEAR IT                         (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject)


31. Prelude and Fugue in E flat major from Book 2

To some people there is a natural connection between mathematical and musical ability; to others maths and music seem to occupy very different parts of the brain. To someone who struggles with music theory but has an ear that can take a song in at one hearing and reproduce it note for note the maths will probably seem quite irrelevant. But to a composer fascinated by numbers the riches of mathematics are as infinite as the series of prime or Fibonnaci numbers.

I remember being astonished when I suddenly realised in the sixth movement of Messiaen’s great Quartet for the End of Time – the unison movement – that the apparently random collection of note lengths were actually composed and presented as a set of perfect palindromes. 3 + 5 + 8 + 5 + 3,  4 + 3 + 7 + 3 + 4, 2 + 2 + 3 + 5 + 3 + 2 + 2 and so on. In a totally different context, I remember the excitement of understanding that the well known West African bell pattern, which can be symbolised * - * - ** -* -* -*  actually has the beat or pulse on every third note  *--*--*--*--. When you hear these two together, there is this wonderful sense of two different metres being heard simultaneously even though the whole pattern can be understood easily enough in Western terms as a repeating pattern of twelve fast semiquavers. Try it for yourself and see – tap the bell pattern with your right hand on right knee, and the pulse with left hand on left knee. It’s fun!

For explaining the real difference between 3/4 and 6/8 time – which is something a lot of amateur students of music find quite confusing – there is no better example than the opening of the song America from Bernstein’s Westside Story. One bar in 6/8 with 2 beats followed by one bar in 3/4 with three beats. Same duration, but totally different feel. It’s always a great feeling as a teacher when you see someone suddenly understanding this directly. This is not paper knowledge, but real musical knowledge.

Many mathematicians through the ages have devoted years and years of their lives to discovering proofs which only a tiny number of people in the world understand., But for the wider population, surely the more important thing than proof is fascination. And one of the groups of people most fascinated by numbers are composers. This was as true in the medieval world as it is in the contemporary world. It is as true in the world of Indian music as it is in the West. The link between pattern in number and pattern in sound is a deep one in the human experience. Maybe it is a way of connecting with our own physical reality, the changing pulse rate of our material existence.






GATE            TO   HEAVEN)                    (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)


34. Prelude and Fugue in E minor from Book 2

There is no doubt that people approach the learning of music in many different ways. Listening to a recording several times over and then slowly working it out, phrase by phrase, on piano or guitar is a very different method from interpreting a complex set of visual symbols on a written page. And often people who are very good at the former are not at all good at the latter – and vice versa.

It took me a long time – and a lot of experience of teaching – to realise that the ability to read Western classical music easily is not in itself a musical skill at all. (I think it is has more in common with being good at algebra or playing bridge) Indeed it can be quite dispiriting to teach someone who reads all the notes and rhythms accurately but who has no feel for or even interest in the subtleties of dynamics, phrasing and articulation which make music come alive.

I often explain to pupils that there are three very different ways in which we learn music, and that ideally all three need to nurtured in parallel.

 First of all, we need to understand that music is in the sound itself, not in the symbols on the page. In that sense, the person who naturally learns music by copying what they hear has a head start over the person whose first way into music is from dots on a page. We will only produce the sounds – whether with our voice or on an instrument – that we can already hear internally. “Intention’ makes a huge difference to the sounds that we produce.

Secondly, we have to develop the physical coordination and precision to play a particular pattern of sounds. This can be very complex on the piano where several different notes are sounded together, and particularly in contrapuntal music like the Bach fugues where there are several different ‘horizontal’ pathways to coordinate at the same time as the ‘vertical’ need to voice chords so that some notes are stronger than others. The level of complexity can be quite overwhelming for the mind, but the physical body has a way of learning by gradually assimilating information and repeating the process over and over again. Small children do not ‘give up’ on learning to walk just because they keep falling over, but lots of people are prone to ‘give up’ on being better pianists because they don’t take enough ime to practise, to repeat a particular set of physical movements often enough and slowly enough for the body to assimilate what is needed.

Thirdly, learning music is made much easier by an openness to engage with understanding the structures involved in the composition. This may be as simple as understanding the alternating pattern of verse and chorus in a popular song. It may be as complex as unravelling a four or five part fugue. The important thing is not the level of complexity but the openness of the mind to engage with the process.

Of the three ways, the fhird seems the least important at the early stages of learning. Its importance increases in significance, however, as more musical progress is made.









TO MAKE THE MU-SIC       (Try speaking this in the rhythm of the opening of the Fugue subject!)