• Graham Yates

The Five Best Books About Piano Playing

Updated: Apr 23

Whether you find yourself with extra time to read or you are looking for some inspiration to complement your piano lessons, look no further than these five wonderful books. All of them are accessible to non-professionals though they are perhaps a little too dense for young children. Still, even if the piano student in question is a child in your care, there is much value for them if you are inspired by what you read.

The Great Pianists:

From Mozart to the Present

By Harold C. Schonberg

So much of the history of the piano is conveyed through the personalities who stirred the public’s imagination with their mesmerizing and evocative performances. Most books on music history, however, focus on the composers rather than the performers. This book fills in these overlooked but fascinating gaps. It covers the development of the instrument itself, the early period when composers and performers were virtually the same person, through the societal upheavals that created public concert halls and the celebrity circus that motivated the showmanship of the 19th century.

You’ll learn important historical names, how nearly all contemporary piano students can trace the lineage of their teachers back to either Liszt or Leschetizky (and both of these go back to Beethoven!), and discover the pervasive struggle to make a singing instrument out of what is essentially a tuned drum.

An excellent book to let simmer and to savour in doses!

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank:


Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier

By Thad Carhart

An breath-taking memoir of an American living in Paris who takes up piano lessons as an adult and is swept into the romantic world of music. If you are looking for something to make your heart soar while filling your mind with broad musical considerations – look no further. I received a copy of this book from my teacher as a college graduation gift and it is still one of my dearest treasures.




The Art of Practicing:


A Guide to Making Music from the Heart

By Madeline Bruser

The classic! Far from a book of practicing rules or even a scientific treatise on practicing (these kind of books are great, too!), The Art of Practicing is an inspirational collection of thoughts and anecdotes on the topic of motivation, practical considerations, finding your tribe and stopping to smell the roses as you keep your eye on the prize. Am I being too cliché? Yes, in the most wonderful way possible!




Evening in the Palace of Reason:

Back Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment

By James Gaines


For world history and philosophy fans, this book examines the crossover period from Baroque to Classical from the perspective of two towering figures. Bach, the absolute master of an increasingly outmoded artistic style, and Frederick the Great, a powerful ruler but pompous dilletante, clash over democracy and monarchy, complexity and simplicity, science and art, and how they will shape the future, modern world.

A highly entertaining way to learn about the culture of the times surrounding Bach’s music and how that culture tipped into the next great periods of western art history.





The Inner Game of Tennis:

The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance

By W. Timothy Gallwey


Personally, I enjoyed this original “Inner game” book more than the one adapted for musicians. Though it is certainly merely popular science, it taught me to think of my two “conscious” and “unconscious” selves and how they can be antagonists or collaborators in my efforts to translate musical messages from my brain to my body. The book has much to say about “choking” – i.e. performance anxiety in its many forms. Novice and developing musicians will certainly relate on many levels to the lessons learned on the tennis court.

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