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General Advice on the Method of Practice.

1. What are the most important general recommendations to be given pupils?

The most important recommendations are:—

1. Place the fingers close to the keys in striking.
2. Sink them completely.
3. Always keep the forearm absolutely flexible.
4. Practise slowly.

This last recommendation must be applied to everything connected with mechanism— exercise, étude or piece—whether advancement is made or not, whether the music is difficult or not—in a word, in everything and always.

2. How should a piece be learned?

The time devoted to the learning of a piece should generally be divided into three periods. The first should be devoted exclusively to the mechanism. In the second, the study of mechanism should be joined to that of the shadings. The third should be given to perfecting the piece, and committing it to memory.

It should be well understood, that a piece ought to be divided up into parts, and these different parts practised successively, in such a manner that the final ending may be still in the first period of practice, while the beginning will already be in the third.

3. Why not make these three periods into a single one and devote three times as much time to it?

Because in studying the piano, before attempting the musical interpretation, the mechanism of the instrument must be done. This material part of the practice represents the framework of the piece, and it is necessary to establish this firmly before attempting the shadings.

4. How should a piece be studied during the first period of practice, that is to say, in the beginning?

The piece should be divided into short fragments, (say four measures) and each one of these passages should be repeated mechanically* from four to six times consecutively, in proportion to its difficulty. This preparatory study has for its object absolute accuracy in the notes, time, accents and fingering. Each passage or fragment of a passage, each measure or fragment of a measure, containing any difficulty of mechanism whatever, should next be repeated alone and mechanically, in the form of an exercise, from five to fifty times. This practice must be done rigorously every day during all the time of the first period, and continued in a smaller proportion during the other two.

5. Is it a matter of indifference whether the passage be repeated ten times each day for eight days, for example, or forty times for two days? The sum is the same.

No; it is not a matter of indifference. Time ripens the progress obtained daily, and precision is acquired little by little. It is then essential to practise daily all the passages of the piece, or that portion of the piece that is being studied.

6. What is meant by playing mechanically?

To play mechanically, the following conditions must be observed :—

1. Play slowly.
2. Articulate vigorously.
3. Accent likewise.
4. Play ff whatever shading is indicated.
5. Give to each note and to each rest its exact value.

7. In what kind of movement should the passages be repeated?

Very slowly. In one of the movements comprised between No. 76 and No. 100 of the metronome, a beat on every note (if the passage is in equal notes).§

8. Is it necessary to practise exclusively ff during the time of the first period?

Yes, generally. However, in the case of a piece whose character is rather melodious, after some days of ff practice the proportionate sonority may be observed,¥ on condition that the mechanical practice of all the passages be continued at the same time.

9. What is meant by observing the proportionate sonority?

By observing the proportionate sonority is meant, giving to all the themes the importance of a first plan, by playing them uniformly ff while the accompaniments are played uniformly pp.

10.   How long ought the first period of practice to last?

During a third of the time devoted to the learning of the piece.

11.   How should the passages be separated from one another, so that each may be pratised (sic) as an exercise ?

All passages generally have a more or less fixed plan: a scale, a fragment of a scale, an arpeggio, or part of an arpeggio, five-finger movement, or a compound of these different forms. Each one of them should be practised separately; then joining two together, always going back to the last, so that each passage will have been practised in its connection with what precedes it and what follows.

12.   Should the hands be studied separately or together?

There is no absolute rule in regard to this. It is well to separate the hands:—

1. When difficulties appear in each of them at the same time.
2. To ascertain more easily the faults in the mechanism of a passage, where the execution is considered defective without its being known to what to attribute it.
3. It is also well to practise the left hand alone in all parts where the two hands move in contrary directions, to establish equality in execution; the mechanism of the left hand being almost always inferior to that of the right.
4. It is useful again to separate the parts at first in the study of passages where the hands are crossed. (The hand that is displaced must pass over the other.)

13.   Why, in the practice of passages, is it necessary to play slowly and loud, instead of observing the proper shadings and the correct time?

Precision and equality are acquired by practising slowly. Clearness and firmness are acquired by loud practice.

Any passage played pp will always have more roundness and brilliancy if it has been practised ff.

14.   Should the passages of a piece be practised just as they are written?

Yes; generally. However, it is sometimes useful to increase the difficulty of a passage in the practice, so as to make it easier to play as it is written.

When the hand is not displaced and the fingers are not all employed, the free ones may be held down.

Example.—The held notes added :—


When there is a displacement of the hand the passage is either ascending or descending; and it can be practised in two ways (preserving strictly the same fingering).

Example.—An ascending passage :—

pract_002.jpgWhen the accent falls upon a strong finger, it can be changed to a weak one.

Example.—Change of accent:—


15.   Cannot the phrases in a piece be practised with a view to applying them further than to one particular piece, and so make them typical to a certain extent?

Yes; they may be studied for general application. To do this, it is necessary to separatÉ™ (sic) each passage that contains a special difficulty from the phrase, and make an exercise of it, repeating it in all the keys, if the context will permit.

16.   How should the piece be studied during the second period?

The practice of mechanism, to which the first period has been devoted, must be continued, and at the same time each phrase should be practised with the shadings, just as each passage has previously been practised, then connect the phrases as the passages were connected.

17.   How must the piece be practised during the third period?

The work of mechanism must be continued, also the shadings which were observed in the second period, the details blended into the whole, and then the piece must be committed to memory.

18.   In this third period of practice, must not the piece be played in its proper time, and how is this to be accomplished if it has never been practised rapidly?

The only way of reaching a satisfactory execution of a quick movement is through slow practice. However, if from a very slow tempo one attempts to pass without transition to a very rapid one, embarrassment and trouble will evidently result from it. It is better, then, to attain the point by degrees.

By means of the metronome all the intermediate movements which separate the beginning from the finishing will be passed successively.

The end attained without sudden transition, the slow practice should be resumed, and the piece played in its proper time, only that the whole may be appreciated.

19.   Is the use of the metronome advisable in daily practice?

The metronome may be either an excellent or an objectionable thing, according to the use to which it is put. It ought only to be employed to fix the proper tempo of a piece, or to avoid the irregularities in time which destroy the rhythm.

It is well to practise with the metronome all passages where there is a tendency to retard or to accelerate. (Exercises enter into this latter category.)

The piece might also be played through with the metronome from the beginning to the end, that the rhythm be fully understood. But it should never take the place of counting or be used in the practice of passages when the notes, the time, and the fingering are not thoroughly learned. In the first place, the faults in time may be concealed, but will not disappear; in the second, the rhythm is necessarily sacrificed to precision, or precision to rhythm.

In playing with the metronome, whenever one gets out, it is not well to try and get in again by hurrying or retarding; better stop short, count one empty measure, and commence the defective passage all over.

20. Must all pieces be submitted to this division into three periods?

It is only absolutely necessary to conform to this division as far as concerns the first period of practice; the duration of the other two may be increased or shortened according to the character of the difficulties in the piece. Occasionally the order indicated may be even inverted, and the piece be learned by heart before studying it with the shadings. It is particularly advisable to do this when the music is not of such a nature as to be easily retained by ear. It ought then to be committed to memory by reasoning, and in this case it requires some time to perfect the work of the memory.

21.   How must the études be practised?

In the same manner as the pieces. However, for finger exercises the first period should be greatly prolonged, even to the detriment of the others.

22.   How should the exercises be practised?

 (sic? - story ends here)


* See No. 6 for what I mean by this word.

f This explanation does not imply that it is necessary to practise with a metronome (consult on this point No. 29), but only that by this means the movement for study can be controlled.

J See No. 9 for what is to be understood by this term.

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