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Piano Teaching.


Of late years piano-forte instruction has made considerable progress. Formerly the study of music was regarded only as the privilege of a brilliant education. To-day it is no longer so. In all ranks of society, in nearly every condition of fortune, it is considered necessary that a young person should play the piano.

The number of teachers, also limited in the past, increases with the pupils and will increase still further. A profession with such wide prospects has awakened the ambition of many in search of an honorable means of subsistence, and thus an impulse has been given to a large number of persons in the middle classes to earn a livelihood by piano teaching.

With this end in view, a beginning is usually made by applying to some able master for the purpose of undertaking a thorough study of the instrument under his direction.

But having finished this study everything is not yet accomplished. To the young teacher a new difficulty soon presents itself, that of imparting with clearness to others an art of which he believes all the secrets possessed by himself.

A vast difference separates the artist from the professor. The merit of one does not necessarily include the merit of the other, and many an artist of unquestionable talent has confessed his inability to train pupils.

The success of a teacher lies in experience; but has experience its precepts, its rules, its method, its tradition? I do not hesitate to answer that, although the principles of the art are invariable, it is not the same with the process of teaching, which is continually modified in practice, according to the age and disposition of the pupil, the particular end that he wishes to attain, and numberless circumstances which it would take too long to enumerate. This experience, which is a strong aid to talent, and reveals to the master himself many things at first unperceived, can be acquired, no doubt, but only at the price of long practice, and only after many tentative efforts and trials too often unfruitful. May it not be affirmed that all hesitation, all danger of error would disappear, if in the beginning of his career, the young teacher met with a guide on the road to be traversed, some aid at each step, a solution of every doubt, and the fraternal counsel of an artist, who, thinking less of proposing himself as a model than of rendering some assistance, would tell what he has done and seen, and what time and reflection have taught him? Such is the thought that has inspired this little book.


It is difficult to determine with any degree of precision the age at which a child may begin the study of the piano. His greater or less precocity, his more or less delicate and nervous organization, his state of health, his strength, his character, his taste, all these things should be taken into consideration. As soon, however, as a child knows how to read fluently, whatever his age, it may be reasonably assumed that there would be no insurmountable difficulty in his beginning his musical studies. His progress may not be rapid, he will appear not to advance a step for a year, or two years perhaps, nevertheless if he has only been inoculated with music, as a celebrated professor has expressed it,* the time will have been well spent. A child has often been compared to a flexible twig, which receives and retains whatever bent is imparted to it; his essentially malleable nature yields easily to every impression. Thus he will learn to read without effort, almost without being aware of it, even in his play sometimes, while, on the other hand, an adult of uncultivated intelligence will have more trouble in simply acquiring the letters of the alphabet. This faculty of assimilation possessed in so eminent a degree by the child, should then be taken advantage of, for later in life the adaptability of his powers will no longer be the same, and obstacles resulting solely from the increase of his years will have to be contended with.

In general, a child’s taste is recognized by his ability to reproduce any rhythm, for instance that of a drum; by his pleasure in hearing the sound of any instrument, by his memory and by his desire to learn; and if he has besides a flexible and well-formed hand, if his fingers separate easily, he combines all the indications of talent, and his musical education may be undertaken with confidence. It is unfortunate that the first lessons are almost invariably given to a child before time is taken to inquire into his disposition. The study of music has now become obligatory, and all young girls, whether they display a taste for it or not, are taught to play the piano. This is a great mistake. Above all things, the child’s taste should be ascertained, and if his disposition seems to be opposed to music it would be wise to abstain from teaching him, for even the most insignificant results can only be obtained at the expense of infinite worry and weariness, of infinite time and useless endeavor.

To return to the happy facility of youth, beside the intelligence that grasps and comprehends the rules of the art, there is that precious faculty which acts like an instinct within us—feeling. If the child is happily endowed; if he enjoys a fine organization, nature will teach him full as much as either master or method; a false note will annoy him, and an uneven measures will bring him to a stop.

At every step new things will be revealed in him, and soon his youthful soul will be seen to unfold. The child in beginning is made happy by so very little; his joy is so great when the movement of his little fingers produces pleasant sounds; it is to him a day of triumph when he succeeds in playing the simplest melody without fault; and this success is not less enjoyed by the teacher who has led him.

(To be Continued.)

[1] Zimmermann; Enclyclopédie du pianiste compositeur.


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