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Thoughts Suggestions Advice - Practical Points by Practical Teachers



It needs tact, guided by common sense and ex­perience, to know when and how much to criticise a pupil for the pupil’s own good rather than for the teacher’s selfish satisfaction; to say nothing of the too common disposition to exaggerate the faults of others with the idea of showing up one’s own superi­ority. The pupil is generally painfully aware of his mistakes, and often makes them from nervousness caused by his teacher’s readiness to criticise. Point out and explain how to improve, and see that the pupil gives a perfect, although perhaps a slowly- played, example, but do not show him his faults too much, for it needlessly discourages him. It is better to show the correct way of performing the passage than to point out how he made his mistake.

A writer recently expressed the thought as fol­lows: “It is well to condemn error and denounce wrong-doing; but he who stops to criticise every fault he sees is not wise. The man who cannot resist the impulse to kick every cur he meets will simply cause a great howling and suffer all his days with a lame foot.”



Among the humorous and quaint legends of Ireland there is one of a certain Saint Kevin who had quenchless zeal in the building of churches. His work was maliciously hindered by Satan, who came and re­moved, during the night, the stones which the in­dustrious monks had laid during the day. This was easy to do if he came before the mortar was hard­ened. Many and many a time did the arch-enemy of man thus retard the work of salvation; but at last the cleverness of the Saint was equal to the emergency, and he outwitted his enemy. He divided his corps of monks into two bands, one to work during the day, the other during the night. Thus the work never ceased, and no malicious enemy could find the former opportunity.

The arch-enemy of the music-student is Hurry, and nothing is more fatal to real growth than the disposition to snatch at an idea, and to skim along, with a vague image of a thought in the mind. Make the increment small, but solid. Let it be microscopic if need be, but let it have time to harden. Bayard Taylor, the renowned American traveler, in one of his books mentions a wonderful lime-stone which is so soft when taken from the earth that it can be easily sawed or even cut with a knife, but after ex­posure to the air grows nearly as hard as granite. This is a symbol of the genuine knowledge of the true musician. The ideas of music seem simple and abstract, almost liquid, but they must be crystallized and solidified, until they are part of a firm structure.



A large repertoire can be kept up with a mini­mum amount of practice, if each piece be thoroughly memorized before it is practiced at the keyboard.

Memorize each hand separately by taking a phrase at a time, naming the notes aloud, and as each note is named mentally see its position on the keyboard. When a phrase has been memorized in this way, close the eyes, and, making a mental picture of each note, as it would appear on the keyboard, recite the phrase through many times at a gradually-increasing rate of speed. Work through a page in this way, phrase by phrase, hands separately, and do not attempt to practice it on the keyboard until it can be recited through with the metronome at a slow tempo, and without a break.

When a page thus learned has been taken to the keyboard, and practiced hands separately, the hands

may be played together, and if the piece is within the pupil’s powers it is surprising how little actual practice the fingers require. When the mind can go clearly through a piece the fingers will readily follow. A piece thoroughly memorized in this way and worked up to a finished performance can be kept up by once a week thinking it through, then playing it hands separately and together.


F. S. LAW.

It is something of a problem to know how to get the greatest good from the use of studies, in view of the

ever-increasing mass of such works. Almost all of them have some good points, but it is impossible to use more than a small fraction of the number, and even then it is easy to fail in drawing as much benefit from them as is warranted by the time and labor spent on them. I find that the use of a few well-selected etudes, kept in practice for a long time, is much more beneficial than the superficial skimming over a large number in the same space of time.

Friedrich Wieck, in his little volume, “Piano and Song,”—a rich mine of suggestion to teachers and students,—explains his practice as regards etudes. He required his pupils to play daily a certain com­position for the purpose of remedying mechanical deficiencies; and this he changed only at long inter­vals, choosing it with reference to the works they were studying. His three daughters, one of whom was Clara Schumann, the most noted woman pianist of her day, never gave up playing Czerny’s Toccata—a study in double notes—even if they did not play it every day. This was in line with the maxim of von Bülow, another celebrated pupil of Wieck’s: multum non multa—much, not many: i.e., to learn much about one thing rather than a little about many things.

Moreover, it generally happens that a composer gives his best in the earlier numbers of any given set of studies; those that follow are apt to be repe­titions of what has been said already. In Czerny’s “Etude de la Vélocité,” for instance, the first three studies practically contain all that follow. The pupil will gain more by being kept on them and learning to play them really well than by devoting the same time to a less thorough study of the whole book.

I add the names of a few studies of varying grades which I have found particularly useful for practice in this way: Czerny’s opus 740, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 8, and 10; Lynes’s “Fourth-Finger Etude”; Wollenhaupt’s “Trill Etude,” opus 41; John Orth’s three ingenious “Weak-Finger Pieces.”



One of the important items in the career of the successful teacher is a program or plan for work. Those who have been most successful have had a more or less definite plan on which they based each step of the progress of their pupils.

Kullak generally referred to a note-book, which he always carried with him, before selecting a new piece for a student. This note-book contained a list of pieces carefully selected and graded, and in some in­stances Kullak had added a line of explanation, such as—“good for scale drill,” “arpeggio practice,” “oc­taves,” “to break up stiffness,” “to develop firmness,” etc.

Would not a carefully-selected and graded list of studies and pieces with appropriate annotations be a great help to all teachers? As new and better things are published they could be substituted for the old. It is hardly necessary to add that the progressive teacher is constantly doing this; but I desire to state that, through The Etude, the inquiring and careful teacher has constant opportunity of getting new publications, for examination, if not for adoption in his own teaching repertoire, for a nominal price, and very frequently these new works are just what the teacher is glad to adopt as part of his teaching pro­gram; witness Clarke’s “Counterpoint,” Bach’s “In­ventions,” etc.

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