Whole Notes

Ed Ayres

Whole Notes
ABC Books
29 September 2021

Whole Notes

Ed Ayres

How can we pause long enough to repair ourselves? How can we make space and time in our lives to know ourselves?

One way is through music - learning music, listening to music, being open to music. Because music consoles and restores us. Through music, whether we are listening or playing, we know ourselves more intimately, more honestly, and more clearly with every note. And with every note, music offers us a hand to the beyond.

Through music, we can say what we didn’t even know we felt.

This book is an ode to music, and a celebration of humanity’s greatest creation. It is not a call to arms, but a call to instruments.

In music, Ed Ayres finds answers to the big questions life throws at us. Using personal anecdotes - including those relating to his transition from Emma to Ed - and observations from teaching and learning music, Ed finds hope in our desire to become whole, with some simple music lessons along the way.


Writer, musician, teacher and broadcaster Ed Ayres had the idea for his fourth book, Whole Notes: Life Lessons Through Music, long before the pandemic. Yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a book more fitting for these uncertain times than this one. With his collection of essayistic reflections on the beauty of music and what the process of learning it can teach us about life, Ayres has gifted his reader with something truly generous and utterly joyful.

Whole Notes is deceptive in its simplicity – this beautiful book is vast in scope but effortless to read. Structured in seven chapters (following the seven musical notes of the major scale), Ayres considers seven gifts that music offers us to make our lives whole: bravery, knowledge, resilience, kindness, wisdom, hope and love. At first glance that may seem a little sentimental, but rest assured, while Ayres does consider music somewhat of a miracle, his writing style is chatty, vulnerable and often laugh-out-loud funny. Ayres is a natural storyteller, and reading Whole Notes feels like having a string of fascinating conversations with him, listening to anecdotes about his students (including many adults learning music for the first time later in life), stories about composers, and, most affectingly of all, reflections from Ayres’ own colourful life – including his transition a few years ago.

In Whole Notes, Ayres suggests that through learning music we may know ourselves more intimately. As a music teacher, Ayres instructs from a place of love, and the warmth, curiosity and humour he brings to his lessons is present in his writing too – joy jumps straight off the page. Reading this book made me feel as lucky as I imagine those who learn from Ayres, or listen to him play, must feel – and it made me seriously think about picking up an instrument.

Stella Charls is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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