In Every Good Boy Does Fine, renowned pianist Jeremy Denk traces an implausible journey. His life is already a little tough as a precocious, temperamental six-year-old piano prodigy in New Jersey, and then a family meltdown forces a move to New Mexico. There, Denk must please a new taskmaster, an embittered but devoted professor, while navigating junior high school. At sixteen he escapes to college in Ohio, only to encounter a bewildering new cast of music teachers, both kind and cruel. After many humiliations and a few triumphs, he ultimately finds his way as a world-touring pianist, a MacArthur “Genius,” and a frequent performer at Carnegie Hall.

Many classical music memoirs focus on famous musicians and professional accomplishments, but this book focuses on the everyday: neighborhood teacher, high school orchestra, local conductor. There are few writers capable of so deeply illuminating the trials of artistic practice—hours of daily repetition, mystifying advice, pressure from parents and teachers. But under all this struggle is a love letter to the act of teaching.

In lively, endlessly imaginative prose, Denk dives deeply into the pieces and composers that have shaped him—Bach, Mozart, and Brahms, among others—and offers lessons on melody, harmony, and rhythm. How do melodies work? Why is harmony such a mystery to most people? Why are teachers so obsessed with the metronome?

In Every Good Boy Does Fine, Denk shares the most meaningful lessons of his life, and tries to repay a debt to his teachers. He also reminds us that we must never stop asking questions about music and its purposes: consolation, an armor against disillusionment, pure pleasure, a diversion, a refuge, and a vehicle for empathy.

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Acclaim

June 4, 2022
Music, Denk almost makes you believe, is not something pristine and transcendent; it’s a lifetime of wrestling, repeating, crossing out and trying again.
May 24, 2022
A famously collegial musician, coming from a space as personable as it is personal, Denk has written a damn good book.
May 22, 2022
Bringing intelligence and insight to aspects of music, the memoir is shot through with humanity and wit. It's a joy to read.
May 22, 2022
Every Good Boy Does Fine stands as a refutation of the old saying, 'writing about music is like dancing about architecture'. Denk writes about music expertly and entertainingly.
May 19, 2022
An elegant, frank and well-structured memoir that entirely resists cliche. A rare feat... it makes the reader care about Denk beyond his talent for playing the piano.
May 11, 2022
In short, we get to experience Denk falling in love with music. His analysis of scores and his ability to articulate those tiny intricacies that represent the difference between notes on a page and earth-shattering emotion are both intellectually and emotionally stimulating.
March 18, 2022
At its heart, the memoir is about not the growth of the pianist but growth of the person...[Denk] writes with both great emotion and restraint...human imperfection, he concludes, is at the core of artistic perfection.
March 24, 2022
This lucid and bittersweet coming-of-age story takes place inside the humdrum world of the studio, where a succession of teachers guide [Denk] to musical maturity through pedagogical bluster, insistence and the odd Delphic aphorism.
March 24, 2022
By turns hilarious, original, and painfully revealing, “Every Good Boy Does Fine” is both an open-hearted coming-of-age story and a meditation on music’s inner secrets...a dizzyingly inventive writer.
“This one-of-a-kind musical autobiography by one of our most brilliant and perceptive classical musicians is part illumination of the essence of the musical discourse and part deeply personal, sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious confession of the long and tortuous road to maturity and mastery of a sublime art. Denk’s teachers, alternately inspiring, exasperating, demanding, adoring, and deploring, are evoked in delicious detail in a book that is as sophisticated as a Bach fugue and as American as Tater Tots and Kmart.”
“Among the many virtues of this funny and moving book—its frankness, its generous preservation of wisdom from mentors past, its breathtaking insights about how and why music affects us—one stands out above the rest: It makes me want to practice.”
“Sometimes you read the first paragraph and know you’ll read to the end. They say writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Jeremy Denk’s book reminds us that dancing about architecture sounds sort of great.”
March 10, 2022
"Throughout the book come breakthrough moments when Denk’s youthful mind has sudden flashes of insight and awareness on the magical nature of music. He expresses them so beautifully you want to circle the sentence or write it down somewhere."