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Common Sense Suggestions To Teachers.


Music teaching is a trade; simply a business. Some of us know very little about it, and then the minority of all the music teachers find out a few facts by the experience of years. It has been my particular endeavor to simplify the work, and to reduce it as far as possible to the same basis as that on which we could apply common sense to almost any pursuit. A number of years ago I attended a reception of the Art Club, and while there admired a picture. The artist, Mr. Payne, happened to be standing there, and I remarked to him that I did not believe I could ever paint a picture. “Why of course you could,” said he. “But,” said I, “I can’t even draw a cat.” “A cat is a pretty hard thing to draw,” he said. “Now if you will go to work systematically and do what I tell you for three years, I will enable you to sketch almost anything at sight, to draw a correct picture, and if you have any imagination or inventiveness to furnish quite an artistic production.”

Now I honestly think I can make anybody play the piano. I cannot make an artist of everybody, but I believe that I can, within a not too long period, say three years—I don’t mean three Chicago years, where the pupil commences about the first of October, and then goes at the first of November to attend a wedding down in Indiana; then when she comes back she goes to work on her Christmas presents and takes a vacation; after Christmas she comes back all broken up, and perhaps a neighbor gets sick and she stops a couple of weeks on that account, and by that time spring calcimining commences; then Easter; the first of May gets pretty warm, no use commencing now. That is a Chicago year,—very lucrative to the music teacher. But I mean the year of twelve months at the rate of three or four hours a day—I believe that anybody can, within three years, learn to play well enough to play a Mendelssohn Song without Words, perhaps one of the easiest of Beethoven’s Sonatas, and the Bach Inventions, and that would probably be plenty to most people. The work, however, would have to be very practically done.


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Now then in regard to practice. I think that each pupil who comes, to take lessons wants to learn. I really think so, and the majority do learn. I think that the American girl (I have taught too few of the American boys to speak in a general way) will learn quicker, will learn what they learn better, than the girls of any other nation; they are more intelligent; they are very quick to learn, and they have a most stupendous technical talent, undoubtedly a great technical talent. I was two years in Berlin, and while there taught the advanced classes of Kullak’s Conservatory. I had about forty pupils. Now those girls didn’t begin to play as well as our girls here. Then I attended a public examination of the Vienna Conservatory, and their playing was fair, average, commonplace playing. They played concertos which they had studied during the entire school year, not a bit better than you will hear them here. The great point that remains, and the most important, is to tell the girl how to practice, what to do.

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Here comes at once the question of scales. Now every pupil has this experience: She goes to a new teacher; first question, “Have you taken scales?” “Yes.” “Play one.” Sits down and plays the C Major scale, which of course is the most difficult of all scales. Every division of three or four notes distinctly heard. “Well,” the teacher says, “that’s very bad.” He doesn’t tell her why it is bad or what she must do to get it better; says, “you must practice scales.” “How much must I practice scales?” “The more the better.” “Which scales?” “All the major scales.” Well, she comes the next time. “Have you practiced scales?” “Yes.” Sits down and plays a scale, but in another key. “Well,” he says, “that’s a little better. You must keep on.” The third time the scale isn’t heard at all, and that’s the end of it. Now, as a matter of fact, scale playing ought to be done every day. It is, however, only one of many things.

A pupil must be made to connect a certain idea with a certain kind of work, then having something definite to think of she accomplishes a definite object, whereas if it is all indefinite, nothing can be accomplished. Let one pupil practice the scale of C that way ten times, tell her that it is done for the purpose of developing the fourth finger, to guard against pushing from the arm, keep the fingers curved well up among the keys, guard against any excess of force—you can carry anything to excess—that excess is very liable to damage the hand. Raise the fingers very slowly, very firmly, then stop a moment. Then let her do the very opposite thing, instead of raising the fingers high and striking firmly, and in the moment of striking exert an appreciable amount of pressure, let her keep close to the keys and not strike heavily. This is a different mode of playing and it stands to reason it will produce a different result. It will develope (sic) variety and smoothness.


The first object of practice is clearness. This can be accomplished by a light staccato touch. Staccato work in scales is very useful, and it is this staccato work which has given to every pianist his technique, from Joseffy down. They all practice that way. It is one of the singular things in piano playing, that in order to play a legato passage clearly and cleanly, you must practice it very slow but staccato. You must take any passage whatever and play it slowly, long enough with a staccato, then play it legato, and all your passage work will have a brilliancy, a clearness, a touch, which nothing else will produce.

We will say that we practice our scales in three different ways, and with the average pupil we advise an hour in the morning of scale practice, usually taking major scales, the relative minor and with more advanced pupils double thirds.

I think a good way to practice arpeggios, and a very simple way is to take the first common chord in its three positions. Where pupils have small hands, omit the octave, and so on. Practice the arpeggios in the three positions, also this way. Return in the opposite way. If you will remember how much of all the classical music consists exclusively of scales and arpeggios you will see the importance of this. A person who can play a good scale and a good arpeggio can really play most of the Beethoven sonatas, because there is very little octave work in them. After playing the ordinary common chord in the arpeggios, I give to the pupil the diminished chord in its fourth position. There are only twelve positions in all, and then dominant seventh.— Music.

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