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Practical Points by Practical Teachers



For getting control of a difficult passage I have found these methods of practice very helpful:

First, divide the run, cadenza, or what-not into groups of four notes each; if it is in triple time into groups of three or six. Play, say, ten times, very slowly with a strong accent on the 1st note of each group; then make the same number of repetitions with the accent on the 2d, 3d, and 4th note of each group in turn.

Follow this by many repetitions of the passage, using first the extreme elastic touch at a slow tempo, then the mild staccato at a more rapid tempo.

Then practice with the indicated expression as fol­lows: Play a group 01 four notes a number of times very slowly, then exactly double the speed, and after a few repetitions make a dash for extreme velocity. Play the next group in the same way, then join the two groups, thus making a passage of eight notes, and keep adding another group till the whole passage is brought easily under control and can be played as a unit.



I want to tell how easily a pupil of mine acquired a beautiful staccato, and so recommend this method to others who are seeking short roads to success.

I had given her the charming little piece called “Harlequin,” by Homer Bartlett. The measures con­tain generally four sixteenth notes followed by two eighth notes, the eighth notes in the right hand being staccato. I told her not to lift her hand from the keys for the staccato-notes until just as she was going to play the next note, when she must raise her hand from the wrist and let it fall at once on the next note, the motion of hand to be exactly like opening and shutting a trunk lid.

This was a very patient and painstaking pupil. She made haste slowly. She began with the metro­nome at 100 for a sixteenth note, and played each eight measures ten times before moving the metro­nome to the next notch. It took her a long time to reach a speed of 100 for a quarter note. Up to this time the eighth notes did not appear to be staccato,—simply an up and down movement of the hand, which effectually prevented the superfluous motion which many indulge in while playing staccato. But, as her speed increased, those eighth notes developed into a perfectly even staccato with the loveliest tone imaginable.

It took only about a week to secure this perfect staccato; but success will only come from beginning slowly; that is, one-fourth as fast as it is to be played in the end.

F. S. LAW.

Teachers are apt to feel aggrieved when pupils leave them to study with some one else. Their amour propre is wounded; they are inclined to think that it casts a reflection upon their ability. They forget that many practical reasons may dictate such a change without any imputation of the kind, and, furthermore, that sometimes the best thing for both teacher and pupil is a timely separation. A certain teacher once felt that the psychological moment for such a separation had arrived, and determined to meet it frankly. The young lady had been studying sing­ing with him for several years, and would probably have continued more or less indefinitely, but he real­ized that she had reached a point where another per­sonality would accomplish more for her by arousing her from a certain routine into which she had fallen.

Besides, the fact that she was studying with a view to supporting herself laid an additional responsibility on him in seeing that her course was wisely directed. Accordingly he said to her openly: “I think it is time for you to have a change of teacher. We are becoming too much used to each other; I know what your faults will be at each lesson, and you know just what my corrections will be. Another teacher may say the same things, but will say them in a different way; they will have more meaning to you and you will make better progress.”

The result proved his wisdom. Under his advice the surprised girl chose another teacher, bent to her study with fresh enthusiasm, and in time attained eminence as singer and teacher. She never forgot the kindly offices of her first teacher in advising her so unselfishly for her own good. The confidence she felt in his judgment led her to send him many a pupil in after-years, when she was in a position to do so, and he often remarks, with a smile, that his best stroke of business was the loss of that particular pupil.


In the assignment of new work for study and practice from lesson to lesson too much care cannot be taken thoroughly to explain in advance the pur­pose of the new work, its principal features and pecul­iarities, and the best methods of surmounting its difficulties. This is a point to which too little atten­tion is paid.

In the few days intervening between lessons much harm may be done by incorrect practice, and faults may be acquired which may require several lessons to undo. In this manner valuable time is frequently lost. A careful analysis of the new work, together with a practical explanation of its object, would in a great measure obviate such drawbacks.

Moreover, it adds much to the zest and interest of the pupil in practice to have some understanding of these matters in advance. Many pupils, for instance, look upon physical exercises as an unnecessary bore, simply because their bearing upon the practical side of piano-technic has not, at the time of assign­ment, been imparted to them. Without a realization of its object work of this kind usually falls flat.

In a similar manner valuable technical exercises lose much of their point. They are not interesting to listen to, and some definite inducement must be of­fered to secure intelligent, painstaking practice. The practice of scales and arpeggios and passages based upon them is absolutely useless without the most minute analysis of all the points of technic in­volved in their correct execution. A Cramer study or a Bach invention can be made highly interesting and of much value to an intelligent pupil by a few, well-chosen words of analysis and practical advice. This principle may also be advantageously applied to the assignment of pieces, which, although they need not be minutely analyzed at the outset, should be sufficiently explained to prevent incorrect practice on the part of the pupil.


Shall we interest the public by giving recitals they don’t care anything about? By giving lectures upon the lives of musicians or upon musical history and theory? Yes—no—both—all—and more. Pupils’ recitals will generally interest the parents tempo­rarily; but how shall the vast majority be reached? The musicians are generally busy or too indifferent to do much outside their regular work. Yet there are numerous little ways of sowing seed that are sure to bear generous fruit:

First: The Pupils’ Recital to be given at the homes of pupils, at the studio of the teacher to in­vited friends, or in a hall to the public, with or without a small admission, according to circum­stances.

Second: A Lecture Recital by some non-resident, or, if this is not favorable, a program now and then, made up of such compositions as have interesting history, or descriptive sketch, such as Rubinstein’s “Kammenoi Ostrow,” Liszt’s “Gondoliera,” Saint-Saëns’ “Phaeton,” Chopin’s “Marche Funebre,” and a host of others.

Third: An occasional song-service in the churches, by the choirs. Stories of the familiar hymns in which the congregation may take part.

Fourth: Through the work of musical societies, musical clubs, and choruses.

Fifth: Music in the public schools.

The music-teacher should be active in everything that will create an interest in music, for indirectly it will benefit him; he should therefore be willing to identify himself with every movement that will create a musical interest in the community. A mu­sician who has not the spirit of willingness for the enterprise indicated is very selfish, or short-sighted, or both. America is certain to be a country as cele­brated for her art and music as she now is for her commercial progress, inventions, and general pros­perity. The reasons for this are many and conclu­sive enough for a separate chapter. Cosmopolitan­ism, European travel, wealth, a desire for the best, opportunities for study, and instruction. With these, the highest development of refinement and culture is but a matter of time.


Left-hand anticipation, or, in other words, the striking of the left hand before the right, especially in chord-playing, is a subject which all teachers are familiar with, and therefore should be interested to know its real cause. As the anticipation occurs as often in the matured pupil as in the child, and in the musical as well as the unmusical person, there appeared to be a reason other than carelessness or lack of quick perception, and by digging down to the root of the evil it is found to be purely physio­logical.

By numerous experiments it has been shown that the operations of the nervous system require a cer­tain amount of time for their accomplishment, for between the mental decision to perform a voluntary movement and its actual execution there is a short, but real, interval of time, during which a considerable part of the whole nervous mechanism is brought into activity. There is a great difference between indi­viduals in the length of time required for the per­formance of nervous action, the quickness of the senses and the promptitude of the will frequently varying to a great degree.

In any given voluntary movement there are three different processes required in its entire accomplish­ment. They may be quoted as follows:

First: The act of volition, taking place in the brain.

Second: The transmission of motor impulse.

Third: The excitement of the muscular fibers to a state of contraction.

An instrument has been invented whereby the exact time of the transmission of nerve-force can be measured, and by different observations in the two opposite sides of the body there is a difference in the rate of transmission; for the right and left side lateral halves of the spinal cord, of from one to three meters per second, always in favor of the left side; so it can be readily seen the advantage the left side will have over the right; thus every teacher should have much patience and perseverance in helping his pupils overcome this natural tendency, and if I mis­take not he will find himself doing this same thing if he once forgets to control the habit.

An excellent way to get the best of this trouble is to cure the evil by a lesser, viz.: to let the right hand anticipate the left in alternation with hands together, and in time, with carefulness and con­scientiousness, he will be able to play hands (nearly) in unison.

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