Every Good Boy Does Fine


no hurry, no pause.


Brief Summary

A great book by Jeremy Denk (2022). He started blogging and Anya Grundmann reminded him of his love for writing “why not try to be happy, doing what you’re good at?”. Jeremy Denk covers harmony, melody and rhythm in a format resembling a memoir. The former two are cast in stone in classical music but the latter is where he’s non-orthodox. He declares nothing is wrong being a little early or taking a little time to deliver the rhythm. After all his teacher(s) taught him music is not playing the notes but playing music between the notes. (N2S: From what I understand, why not do it that way for rhythm).

Key Takeaways

Miscellaneous Notes

p. 16: Avoid sudden lunges in dynamics.

Music should flow like toothpaste coming out of its tube… smoothly without abrupt, arbitrary lumps.

Dissonance stronger and resolution less.

The wrong chord (dissonance) is played with emphasis and the real chord is played quietly as an afterthought.

p. 31: Most convenient piano set up is an array of chords (harmony) in left hand and a free melody in the right. (many of Chopin nocturnes are in this format).

p. 33: Harmony lays the foundation for melody. People think they follow and love the melody. But it’s the foundation, i.e. harmony that sets the music up for enjoyment.

This is so common in life in general. Something you think you understand is actually governed by something you don’t understand. This is beautiful as long as you you don’t come to realize it.

p. 34: My job had shifted from problem solving to unresolveable politics.

p. 46: Do to practice merely with fingers but through the fingers with the brain.

Slow, hard practice on 16th note passages.

Careful phrasing.

Solid tone (even on soft passages) never weak

Hear every note.

Practice your scales, no matter how difficult or boring. This will pay off when you least expected it and probably when you most needed it.

You will slack sometimes and need a smack on the face. But discouragement should not exceed the benefits of downtime.

p. 62: Well-tempered Clavier (Bach) all chords and what to do with them in one place.

p. 78: Slurs are more than the notes that unveil the invisible in music notation.

Slurs create a forward motion, at the beginning of the arc there;s an attack and at the end there’s a release.

A simple mark that tells a lot, signifies continuity rather than concrete note like discrete data.

Slur: Start → Continue → Let go. The continuity is the essence of slur.

p. 130: Employ iterative process. Fingers first, then stumbling, then first taste of ease.

p. 159:

Norman: Jeremy, what’s the saddest thing you can think of?

Jeremy: He remembers what his parents told him to threaten him… the end of the piano lessons.…

Norman: Don’t tell us what it was but but just think about it and play the chords at a speed that won’t break the sadness, like a bay you don’t want to wake.

Jeremy’s other teachers never instructed him to use his emotions as resource as he played piano.

p. 171: Music faded into background, it became a job, almost like data entry.

p. 184: Bartok stood up for music, collected folk songs from people died in semi-poverty, unlike pompous Richard Strauss.

p. 196: When I entered Oberlin, it was the wider world, and now it wasn’t.

His pink was hurting badly, he panicked to the extent of possible end of career. But he managed a different fingering and played with grace. (He regretted not following the advice to cure pinky problem with simple exercises).

p. 198: Key speed, a concept… in piano very important, a subtle variable at playing. (N2S: In guitar, don’t just play the rhythm… bring the colour out of notes).

p. 199-200: Instead of going back to the root, arrive at one step away from home key, e.g. instead of going back to F, go to G#. (N2S: and spend some time there before going back to the home key).

p. 206: Read stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann.

p. 207: Beneath the comedy lies a moral.

p. 215: (N2S: Pay attention to your posture. Fine ways to play notes, chords, progressions in most natural way. Eliminate tension but strengthen muscles).

p. 218: György Sebők says: You don’t teach piano playing at lessons; you teach how to practice the daily rite of discovery where learning really happens.

p. 219: Remember to listen to the note after you played it. For practical reasons we tend to prepare for the next instead.

p. 224: György Sebők: Don’t play against gravity. (find the ups and downs of the phrases), it feels “unnatural” first, it might feel as if you aren’t doing anything… There is a Zen expression: “When nothing is done, everything is done”.

György Sebők wanted to find more, but by way of much less.

p. 231: Dotted rhythm: long-short-long (like happy birthday or wedding march).

p. 241: Schubert… A larger rhythm takes over, A rhythm of rhythms: one two. and one two. and one two three.

  1. set up a simple pattern
  2. repeat it
  3. introduce small changes

so the music become less about things themselves but process operating the dance is caught and crushed in forces larger than it knows. (Listen to Schubert’s Impromptly in A-flat Major, D 935 no. 2 by Arthur Schnabel).

p. 246: Never develop the fear to miss a note. Just shift a higher note, move this way or that way and you’re there.

You are running for the chord as if it’s running from you.

Don’t reach the note too late or worse too soon. (playing faster is worse than slower).

p. 328: György Sebők: The problem with you is that you’re a perfectionist. The desire for perfection could be a deadly weakness.

Bill Leland: There’s no end to the details one could strive for.

Also see The Art of Practicing


Denk, J. (2022). Every good boy does fine: a love story, in music lessons (First edition). Random House.