It is said that one of the most eminent lady American pianists (Mme. Rive King) owes her great command of the resources of the keyboard to a somewhat strange and rigorous style of practice. The system seems to be also well calculated to help most pianists out of their slough of despond, and to enable the ambitious to acquire the needed self-control in playing before a company of listeners. In taking up a new work, most piano players go through it several times in as many different ways as they repeat it, giving each performance a different meaning, and introducing different notes.
But the system of the artist alluded to is very different. She first goes through the piece very slowly, sounding forth each note with great precision and distinctness, with apparently little regard for the composer’s meaning, but really analyzing every phrase, and above all bringing out plainly every note, just as the composer has written it, without adding or taking away in the slightest degree. The more rapid the passages in the work, the slower the practice of them. This practice is kept up for hours at a stretch, gradually increasing the tempo as the fingers become familiar with the windings of the labyrinthian passages and massive chords.
By this system of practice, the sensation of feeling the keys, no matter how rapidly the fingers may be required to glide over them, is acquired. And this desirable and very comfortable sensation is a certain guarantee of the successful performance of very trying productions, as all pianists know. It is the sensation of security, of success itself, so to speak, and is absolutely necessary to public performers. Without it the best effects of the composer may be lost, and the entire performance fall flat.
The aim of all practice is, after all, to bring the forces down to automatism. The pianist who cannot go through a piece twice alike cannot hope to acquire much mastery of the keyboard, and can never expect to be able to commit to memory anything worthy of public performance; and without the latter ability the needed presence of mind is all but impossible—Musical People.