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The reason Miss A. accomplishes so much is because she is always trying to work up to something. When given something new to study she has faith enough in her teacher to work at it, and with her work means getting as near the bottom as her capabilities will allow. She knows that study, or sonata, or piece is given for some particular purpose—it is going to improve her technic, or broaden her, musically, or perhaps it is another to add to her repertory, so she plans to get the utmost good from it. When told how to produce a certain effect she tries and tries; she listens carefully; she remembers how it sounded at the lesson when the teacher was explaining. Perhaps she will come to the next lesson dissatisfied; but her experimenting has been helpful, and she is nearer the result than she imagined; a few words and everything is clear. Her groping has given her knowledge she did not possess last week; with this she is able to comprehend fully.
In contrast to Miss A. is Miss B., who is afraid she is going to put time on something she will not like. The natural consequence is she seldom finishes anything unless it be some piece she has heard others play, so she never has anything she feels belongs to her and to her alone. She grumbles much at Miss A.'s progress and steadily growing repertory and wishes she could learn as easily. In vain the teacher tells of Miss A.'s faithful hours of study; in vain she contrasts the desire for real knowledge on the part of the one with the other's wish merely to know a few show pieces. Miss B. cannot see that working at scales, finger exercises or studies can make so much difference in the playing of these same pieces. She says she would give anything to be able to play a brilliant piece, yet she will not give the one thing necessary—time and labor required for training and strengthening the muscles. These two young women were given the trill exercise in a slow form with explanations of the final object. After a reasonable time Miss A. could trill, while Miss B. produced some kind of an uneven rumble that somehow made me think of a lot of Brownies whose legs were too short for them and who fell down constantly. This marked difference was naturally not entirely due to the different ways of practicing this one exercise; the conscientious previous work of one was of as much benefit as the lack of thoroughness was a drawback to the other.
Are you accomplishing anything from day to day? If not, why are you wasting time? The result is the thing. Know what you are trying to do, then set about doing it. Do you call that aimless wandering up and down the keyboard practicing a scale? Listen to Hofmann, to Madame Zeisler, or even some lesser light who still plays well enough to be an example, and then try to take some of the bumps out of your own runs. Is that half-hearted way of doing technical exercises working at them? Notice the immense power Paderewski possesses, and aim for strength in doing these same exercises. Hear the beautiful tones when Joseffy touches the keys, then listen to what you can do. An artist's playing is so much better than ours because his ideals are higher or because they are more beautiful ideals; the outcome of his own pondering and experimenting.
Even in children I notice the great difference in the realizing sense of what is to be accomplished. Some feel intuitively what is to be done with a composition or even with a finger exercise, with others there is a going over and over without much dissimilarity between the first going over and the tenth. I make a point of keeping before these children the true end of the work in hand. When they realize there is a definite plan in all that is undertaken, they begin to work out for themselves; when they find that each piece means something, they try to bring out this meaning. Often a playing for children, not the lesson, but rather interesting compositions within their grasp, will raise the ideals and improve the playing of their own simple pieces. Fluency, melody, rhythm are all bettered because their inner musical sense demands it.
A young girl after stumbling through a few measures of the Haydn Gypsy Rondo said it was not pretty, that she didn't believe she cared to use her time studying it! "How dare you," I asked, "how dare you pass judgment on the creation of a master mind without even trying to find what is in it; find the hidden meaning, resolve to make it beautiful, and you will become interested at once." This proved to be true for she now counts it among her treasures. I like Mr. Mabie's idea that nothing is really finished until it has been made beautiful. If music students would but bear this in mind what mountains of strain would be lifted from the teacher's nerves and what splendid results would follow? How purposeful and hopeful every hour spent at the piano?
Once I fired a rifle and tried to knock a can from the top of a post; I hit the post midway between ground and top. "Never mind," said one standing near, "you came nearer hitting the can than if you had aimed for the bottom; keep on aiming for the top!" This will be found to be excellent advice when aiming for things other than tin cans.
Aim to do something, then aim to do it in the best way. We may fall far short the first time, but surely that is no excuse for giving up. Out of weakness comes strength; success follows failures. Why? Because we are put on our mettle, because we are goaded into action. The failures are the refining fires; just so long as we recognize them as failures are we safe.

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You are reading Aims from the March, 1904 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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