Speaking the Piano

June 2018
277 pages
21.6x13.8 cm
ISBN: 9781783273256
Format: Hardback
Boydell Press
BISAC MUS023030, MUS006000

Speaking the Piano

Reflections on Learning and Teaching

Susan Tomes

This is a book to appeal to a wide range of readers - pianists of every level from beginner to professional, piano teachers, musicians of all kinds, and the broader community of music-lovers.
In Speaking the Piano, renowned pianist Susan Tomes turns her attention to teaching and learning. Teaching music encompasses everything from putting a drum in a child's hands to helping an accomplished musician unlock the meaning and spirit of the classics. At every stage, some fundamental issues keep surfacing. In this wide-ranging book, Susan Tomes reflects on how her own experience as a learner, in different genres from classical to jazz, has influenced her approach to teaching. She tells us how her performing career has given her insight into what young performers need to know, and how discussions with students have fed into her own practice. She describes the brilliant and intriguing teachers whose masterclasses opened her ears to the many ways in which music can be brought alive and communicated. This is a book to appeal to a wide range of readers - pianists of every level from beginner to professional, piano teachers, musicians of all kinds, and the broader community of music-lovers. In a passionate contribution to the ongoing debate about the place of music in education, Susan Tomes argues that this most inspiring of arts can play a unique role in personal development.

This is a lovely, wise, elegantly written book, filled with tips and anecdotes which could be helpful and encouraging for any pianist, whether a beginner or a professional. Above all it is a book in which one senses constantly the deep love the author has for music itself, for its ability to inspire, touch and, indeed, change lives. STEPHEN HOUGH

SUSAN TOMES is a multi-award-winning pianist whose career encompasses solo, duo and chamber music playing; she has been at the heart of the internationally admired ensembles Domus, the Gaudier Ensemble and the Florestan Trio. Her lecture-recitals have enabled many listeners to engage with the classics on a new level. She is the author of four acclaimed books about performance: Beyond the Notes (Boydell Press 2004), A Musician's Alphabet (Faber, 2006), Out of Silence (Boydell Press, 2010), and Sleeping in Temples (Boydell Press, 2014).

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Keywords: Music

Table of Contents

Enlisting the imagination
Pretending to be other people
Why don't people play better?
Grappling with the instrument
Words and signs
Tempo is character
Connecting the beats
Sensing the style
Imagery, positive and negative
Different physiques
The inescapability of one's own nature
What we talk about in lessons
The benefit of hindsight
Fusion cooking
'You'll find the black notes play louder than the white ones'
'For me this is like jazz'
Is playing the notes enough to reveal the music?
To sway or not to sway?
How important is it to hear the sound?
Beethoven among the Alpine flowers
Not all those who wander are lost
The sound of two hands clapping
Music lights up the brain


Tomes is at ease with the paradox of writing about music, that most ineffable of art forms...language can be the key that unlocks a player's musical imagination. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

[T]he perfect book to read in preparation for another year of music lessons. Susan Tomes is an inspirational and transparent author who writes clearly and beautifully about her passions for music, education and life-long learning. . . . A teacher who is intelligent, curious and non-intimidated by potent powers of observation is bound to spark the same qualities in students of succeeding generations. Reading this book will be a catalyst for the generational transition. AMERICAN MUSIC TEACHER

This is the 5th book for renowned pianist and teacher Susan Tomes. After reading this one, I am eager to seek out and find the other 4! . . . . [Tomes] writes from the perspective of a professional performer but also that of a lifelong learner. It is clear that she is passionate about passing on her knowledge to others. From the first pages of the introduction I was captivated by Tomes' observations -- statements which sound obvious when first considered but with profound depth upon further reflection. . . .This is a gem of a book with . . . much to linger over, take notes, underline, and read again. I highly recommend it to any teacher or learner. THE CANADIAN MUSIC TEACHER [Dina Pollock]

A worthwhile read for music teachers, students and anyone looking for ways to enrich their own musical journey. LIMELIGHT

Drawing on her long experience, pianist Susan Tomes investigates, with crystalline clarity, some of the interferences that disrupt the flow between players and their music. The text is studded with gems of insight, encapsulating elusive matters that often defy articulation, including difficult topics such as unconscious biases against female teachers, or why some performers ham up their playing for the YouTube generation. A must-read for anyone who plays or loves the piano. SUNDAY TIMES, BEST CLASSICAL MUSIC BOOKS OF 2018

Learning to play the piano well is about more than getting the notes right. Drawing on a career in chamber music and teaching, Susan Tomes casts her eye over everything from classic TV comedy to Japanese cherry blossom in an all-embracing exploration of how to make music come alive. THE FINANCIAL TIMES, BEST BOOKS OF 2018

Tomes' curiosity leads her to some fascinating insights, especially the role of the imagination in music...underlining the magic of music and just how elusive some of its elements are. CLASSICAL MUSIC

Tomes draws on her experience as both a performer and teacher as well as her interactions with adult amateur pianists in the Piano Club... Her wisdom is evident on every page and her writing is, as always, eloquent and intelligent... and gives encouragement to those who may find learning the piano at once wonderful and also frustrating. An engaging and engrossing read for music teachers, musicians and music lovers alike. Fran Wilson, THE CROSS-EYED PIANIST

Susan Tomes's tone of voice is inquisitive, energetic, entrepreneurial, gently provocative... Above all - and this is the great value of 'Speaking the Piano' - she dispenses insight and information with grace and clarity. The precepts she articulates are equally applicable to all instrumentalists - and indeed musicians of every kind, professional and amateur. GRAMOPHONE

Susan Tomes's insights as a performer and teacher are fully matched by her literary eloquence: at the piano or on the page, her style is marked by undemonstrative, perceptive and elegant turns of phrase, in every sense...any music lovers would find fascination and entertainment here: there are gems on every page. Five Stars. Jessica Duchen, BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE

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