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Questions & Answers

[Our subscribers are invited to send in questions for this department. Please write them on one side of the paper only, and not with other things on the same sheet. In Every Case the Writer’s Full Address must be Given, or the questions will receive no attention. In no case will the writer’s name be printed to the questions in The Etude. Questions that have no general interest will not receive attention.] 

L. O’C.—Reed-organ bellows may be defective from so many causes that it is impossible for us to advise you without further particulars. Can you not find just where it leaks?

C. E. W.—The use of a bowl of water in a room where there is a piano is to create sufficient moisture to counteract the dry heat produced by the stove. But to do this the water must be evaporated by heat, therefore, the water is useless unless placed on the stove; on no account place it on the piano. Rubbing the strings moderately with a chamois skin is the best and safest way of removing rust. Carbolic acid should never be used.

O. H.—In reply to your question in regard to plain song, we can recommend the work by Helmore, published in Novello’s series of music primers, also the article on “Plain Song” in Grove’s “Dictionary.”

M. R. W.—Your question in regard to position at the piano can be answered concisely by quoting from a recent article in an English exchange by C. A. Ehrenfechter, a well-known exponent of the Deppe method:

“If you sit high, the whole weight of the arm comes more or less to bear on the wrist and fingers, hampering the independent action of the latter. If you sit low, so that there be a gentle rise from the elbow to the wrist, then the position will be correct, the arm will assume its proper shape, and there will be no pressing on the wrist and fingers, while the muscles are in the prescribed state of tension. Deppe says, ‘You may have the soul of an angel, yet if you sit high the tone will not be poetic.’”

In regard to distance from the keyboard, we quote the following: “Neither too close nor too far from the keyboard, the latter most to be avoided. Often trouble arises from a strain on the spine. A hard cushion placed between the back of the pupil and the chair will remove stiffness and strain.”

L. P. E.—Landon’s “Writing Book” was compiled on the principle that each subject should be thoroughly treated before introducing the next, hence the bass-clef was not introduced until the beginner in music was well grounded in the notes of the treble-clef. Also, when the treble-clef becomes a fixed fact in the mind of a pupil then he has a foundation upon which he can build the notes of the bass-clef without confusion, learning them as a part of a great staff of eleven lines, with the middle line omitted except when notes demand its presence.

E. K.—Elementary harmony should be begun at about the fourth grade, on a basis from I to X. But much depends upon the mental maturity and brightness of the pupil when to begin harmony, for while it is not an especially difficult subject, yet it demands close study and the ability to think out the application of principles in independent work. Clarke’s “New Harmony,” now in course of preparation, to be issued by this house, will be especially adapted to student use, for while not a difficult method, yet it is an advanced idea. Your question about what to study; Why not begin the easier pieces of Schubert, Schumann, Chopin’s Mazurkas, and the best movements from Mozart’s sonatas; also, the better grades of modern sheet music, such pieces as Rubinstein’s “Polka Boheme,” his “Kamennoi Ostrow,” Godard’s “Au Matin,” Chaminade’s “Water Sprites,” “Flatterer,” and “Scarf Dance.”

V. S.—1. It is, as you say, true that beginners follow the fingering in their first reading rather than the notes. After more than thirty years of experience the writer can see no harm in this, for it is well for the pupil to know surely that fingering is important. It is difficult for an immature mind to do many things at once, and if the child can read easier for a few weeks by going partly by the fingering, he has gained that much. Later he will find that the fingering does not always mean a certain key, and he will be compelled to read notes instead of reading by fingering, and before the latter has become a fixed habit.  

2. The do, re, mi syllables are pretty generally used by vocal teachers. They help to give an individuality to the tones of the scale, and when used so that the same syllable indicates the same degree of the scale in all of the keys, the names are useful in sight-singing.  

3. The tonic sol-fa system is a method of teaching sight-singing and harmony by the movable scale and the use of the sol-fa syllables. Further than this, it employs a letter notation, which is simply the initial letter of each name, instead of the round notes upon the staff. The name tonic sol-fa was adopted by Mr. Curwen, the founder of the system, as a protest against Hullah’s system, then in vogue, which attached the sol-fa syllables to the absolute pitch of C, D, E, etc., without regard to changes of key. So that tonic sol-fa means the movable do vs. fixed do.  

4. Transposing into different keys by the ear alone is good, inasmuch as it gives a more vivid mental conception of the thing, and helps the hands to feel their way from key to key. By this means transposition becomes instinctive. But when the foundation has been laid, it is necessary that the score should be carefully studied, and that the changes of position in the notes should be reasoned out.

H. G.—1. When an accompaniment is in sextolets and at the same time there is a dotted eighth note with a sixteenth in the melody, play the last melody note nearly with the last sextolet, perhaps a very little before taking the sixth accompaniment note. The great mass of players make the sixteenth following a dotted eighth too long, often giving it the same length as that given to the dotted note, in other words, playing two eighths; yet they get in a rough staccato effect, a certain indecisive halting that they think gives each note its true time value; hence there is no harm in having a pupil make the sixteenth fully short.   

2. Your pupil that lacks animation and life can get a touch with some vim in it by studying the Mason “Technic” properly. She should give much attention to the exercises Nos. 3,5,20, and 22 of vol. i, and of the accented scales and arpeggios of vol. ii. These exercises demand a rapid and energetic use of the fingers. Also, give lively and vivacious music a part of the time, but not entirely cutting off the dreamy kind that is enjoyed by the pupil so much. Teach her the chord touches found in the latter part of Landon’s “Foundation Materials,” and then give her some of Scotson Clark’s marches, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” and pieces containing chords that are full of brilliancy.  

3. In reply to your question in regard to scales, we quote the following from a standard work on technic:

“The passing, in a connected manner, of the third finger over the fourth and fifth, the right hand ascending and left descending in scales of thirds, requires most scrupulous attention. The usual position of the hand is changed by turning it a trifle to the outside, thus assisting the fingering qa-01.jpg in giving a perfect connection. The connecting betweenqa-02.jpg is accomplished by the fifth finger only, which must remain down until the third is passed over and placed upon the next key. In like manner scales of thirds are to be connected, in the right hand descending and left ascending, by means of the thumb, the hand, however, retaining its usual position.”

E. M. G.—Pupils need to learn to play arpeggios on the common chords with the thumb on the tonic, even if the latter is on a black key, as well as using the thumb on white keys only. The best teachers require this in their daily work, hearing and seeing them played by pupils both ways. In an elementary work, the author of “Touch and Technic” thought best to give the thumbs to the tonic in all of the arpeggios made of the common chords, whether it began on a black key or not.

E. I. W.—As you say, there are many musical pieces that are so near the border-line that separates good music from trash that it is hard to decide sometimes whether to use them or not. The writer has recently been trying to get a girl interested in Schumann’s “Album for the Young,” but with poor success. He then gave her Leybach’s “Fifth Nocturne.” This piece was learned quickly and with evident interest. Slow-going pupils can sometimes be awakened into a spirited style by giving them Blake’s “Waves of the Ocean Galop,” or Ludovic’s “Galop du Diable.” In such cases these pieces serve a definite art purpose and are of value—yes, almost indispensable.

G. J. N.—The poor playing that your pupil is doing doubtless comes from her being allowed to play her first little pieces and exercises imperfectly, for, as you say, she loves music and has talent. Allowing a pupil to pass lessons imperfectly learned is a common mistake, thus hindering all real progress and meantime confirming a habit of half doing allotted lessons.

T. M. D.—Pupils should play well enough to do pieces in the fifth or sixth grade before beginning the study of the pipe-organ. Stainer’s “Organ Method” is excellent for the first lessons, for it requires the pupil to use his feet without looking at them or the pedals, and gives many pieces for the training of the feet and the left hand to be independent one of the other.

E. T. R.—Sight-reading in classes for the pianoforte, we learn from Carl Faelten, is taught in a large class-room with eight pianos, eight to sixteen pupils participating in the work. They play at sight, in unison, music for two hands and four hands. This, however, forms only a part of the training, which also includes training in transposing, memorizing, analyzing, keyboard harmony, etc., and is designed to develop the general musical faculties of the pupils. Children’s classes meet once a week for this exercise. Adults who study professionally meet twice a week. The work is very fascinating, and the results, not only in playing at sight but also in all-round musical proficiency, are excellent.

H. R.—You ask what material for work on the reed organ forms a good succession to Kuhlau’s “Book II of Sonatines,” or Clementi’s “Sonatines,” Op. 36, 37, and 38. We would recommend the reed-organ edition of Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words,” or Bach’s “Little Preludes.”

N. G.—Your question regarding staccato from fingers or wrist is left to the judgment of player. The shortest staccato is made from the wrist, also all double notes or chords. If not stated in the music, one must be governed by the character and style of the composition as to the degree of staccato—how quick, crisp, and emphatic. This refers to finger staccato. Portamento is a reluctant and lingering separation of the fingers from the keys and is properly done with stationary fingers and a pliable wrist, which detaches the fingers from the keys.

 L. R.— If your pupil is physically well, there is no good reason why she should not be able to keep her hands in position on the keyboard. If she can not keep the position when alone, she should only study when with her teacher, and then with each hand separately until the right habit is formed. Contraction of the muscles must not be allowed at all until perfect relaxation has been acquired, but a firm and stationary hand is not necessarily contracted. Long and patient endeavor is requisite on teacher’s and pupil’s part, and the wrist should be held up lightly with a pencil as long as it takes to form the habit.

W. B.—Short fingers are not in themselves any hindrance to good piano playing. I have put my hand on your drawing and find your fingers are the same length as mine, excepting that your third and fourth fingers are about an eighth of an inch the longer. Your little finger need not trouble you, provided you learn how to develop its possibilities correctly. The wrist should be trained to do half the work in piano playing, thus saving the fingers all unnecessary effort, especially in expanded passages. There are ways and means of developing every kind of hand for piano playing.

A. M. P. B.—The commonly received opinion as to the origin of the major scale is that it is a survival of what is called in the ecclesiastical system the Ionian scale, this being the only octave succession in which the half-tones fall between the third and fourth, and seventh and eighth, because no chromatie (sic) notes existed in the ecclesiastical scales. But the fact that the major scale exists in Asia, and has, probably, from time immemorial, would seem to render this opinion of little value. In fact, the major scale seems to satisfy, in some way that can not be explained, a necessity of our mental constitution.

The minor scale (natural) is a survival of the old Greek scale, but to satisfy modern ears there must be a half-tone between the seventh and eighth of a scale; but if seven is raised, there is the awkward interval of a tone and a half between six and seven,—therefore, six is raised,—and we get the melodic scale.

The harmonic scale is so called because all the notes in it may be harmonized by the three principal chords of the scale; whereas the raised sixth can not be harmonized agreeably without going outside of the chords natural to the scale.

Suspension implies that the suspended tone is foreign to the chord. There is a rule that the note on which the suspension revolves must, at least, be of equal value, but it is little regarded. As to the note that prepares the suspension, there is no rule as to its value.

F. C.—The key of C is called the natural scale or key, because it does not have any sounds in it modified by sharps or flats. It is, therefore, the easiest key for beginners to read.

Kindly tell me what is meant by the “great C,” “small C,” “one-line C,” and “one-line F,” and the “one-line G.”—E. S.

E. S.—By great C is meant sixteen-foot C, that is, two octaves below C, second space, bass clef. The octave of sounds from this C to C below the bass is called the great octave. C below the bass is one-line C, then the next C is two-line, and so on. As a system of nomenclature it is more used by organ-builders than any others. In modern usage, the great octave is generally called the sixteen-foot octave, from the fact that it requires an open pipe sixteen feet long to produce its lowest sound; then the next octave is the eight-foot octave, next the four-foot, and so on.

Radieuse means radiant, or shining.


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