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How Music Helps The Business Woman

[Editor's Note.—In The Etude for July, 1909. Mrs. Kotzschmar had an article upon a subject similar to the above, giving stimulating advice to women who are engaged during the day but who desire to keep up their musical work by devoting a little time in the evening to practice. If you know of such a woman, you will be doing her a kindness by referring her to this article.]
Given a love for music, there is no avocation which offers such a variety to the woman obliged to lead a business life as does the study of the piano. As a young girl, circumstances may have forbidden the continuance of piano practice beyond the mere mastery of notes and the simplest compositions. When a certain pecuniary independence has been gained, the thoughts of many women instinctively turn longingly to the half- forgotten piano lessons, and they resolve to "brush up" what little knowledge they had, and, if possible, acquire more.
There is a mistaken idea, prevalent among many, that, if one desires to play only a little, technic is unnecessary. Never was there a greater fallacy. Twenty minutes of the hour's practice devoted to finger work, scales, chords, arpeggios and octaves will do more than to make one "play a little" acceptably than the entire hour devoted wholly to pieces. It is this daily routine of technic which does more to give facility and strength to the fingers than all the pieces ever written; and it is this same mastery of technic which enables one to play the pieces with fluency and power. Thus, at the outset, resolve to give at least twenty minutes' daily faithful work to technical practice. If this is done systematically with the metronome, and a record kept of velocity gained, the interest in such work is wonderfully maintained.
The difficulties presented in all compositions are those of arpeggios, trills, octaves or some scale passage or involved chord. If these have all been worked up in daily technical practice, in all keys (majors and minors), it is easy to understand how "hard passages" in a composition are reduced to a minimum.
There are ways and ways of practicing a piece. Experience has proved to me that there is but one way of doing the work thoroughly, and that is, at the start not to play or practice the composition as a whole, but to pick out conscientiously every difficult measure. Then, with hands separately and hands together, master such passages and do not leave them until ease and velocity are acquired. Then, and then only, should the composition be played as a whole.
It will be found in nine compositions out of ten that the last two pages, or possibly the last page, requires four times the effort that the rest of the piece demands. Make it an invariable rule to take the last page first, and expend the time needful to perfect this page before even playing the simpler portions.
To get the fullest enjoyment from piano-study the business woman should be a ready sight-reader. She desires to be familiar with the operas of the day; her friends spend a social hour with her in the evening, and they want to hear the popular songs. "How can I accomplish this?" the busy woman cries. "How can I learn to read quickly at sight?" My answer is, "Read." All women know that to learn to sew one must sew; to master the science of cooking one must cook; and the same principle applies equally to learning to read music. Fifteen minutes daily, with unvarying regularity, should be given to reading easy music. There is nothing better than the first and second-grade of "Graded Pieces," "Graded Compositions" and Landon's "Sight Reading Album" (two volumes). Remember this: For sight-reading invariably select music of an easier grade than can be played after hours of practice. To learn to read at sight the music at first must be extremely simple. The reading should be done at a reasonably quick tempo, and without stopping to correct mistakes.
I have, in the case of a beginner over thirty years old, used, with excellent results, an album of Streabbog's music. This album is in extremely simple rhythm; there is much similarity in the left-hand accompaniments, which gives courage and confidence, absolutely essential factors in quick sight-reading. After this album has been played through once select another first-grade album by different composers. Make it a fixed rule to read two or three pages of new music once every day. I know of no quicker or more interesting way to learn sight-reading than duet-playing. At least once a week two friends should read together. I have found "The Young Duet Player," by Hans Harthan, very helpful. Both players should always alternate the parts, and Harthan's book is particularly desirable, as primo and secondo are equally simple.
With every added year of teaching I realize more deeply how essential it is for pupils to work with their minds even more than with their fingers. But alas! with many pupils this is reversed, and fingers exclude mind wholly. The business woman will be quick to grasp this thought and understand that it is the intelligence alone which should direct the fingers.
Here I offer a very practical suggestion to the busy woman. A new piece is being studied. In the morning, before going to the office, carry with you in thought one difficult phrase—always, at first, hands separately. In the beginning, before the memory is trained, it may be necessary on the night before to copy the measures on a line of music paper; but strive to recall, in the subway or elevated, just how that left hand looked—just how it read—and in your lap play it with your fingers. If you are in dead earnest in your desire to learn to play, that left-hand accompaniment will lie in your sub-conscious thought all your working hours, and on the return home trip you will be amazed to see how easily you can think of it, and even venture the right hand. A week of such work outside the practice-hour will go a long way towards learning a composition. I have proved that such work is possible.
A little pupil of eight, having had one term of lessons, moved with her parents to a large hotel, where it was impossible for her to use the piano. She had three weekly lessons, but I soon saw that she must use her mind and fingers the alternate days. "Sit down at the table fifteen minutes, four times daily," was my injunction; "have your music propped before you, and, hands separately play on the table and recite aloud the notes in each staff." The result was more than equal to an hour's practice at the piano.
Here is a second instance: A pupil of twenty-five, coming every week from the country for a lesson, lamented the lost time on the train. "Do your memorizing then," was the very practical sympathy I offered, and at the next lesson Paderewski's "Chant du Voyageur" was played to me accurately, without notes, much to the pupil's delight and my satisfaction.
The late lamented MacDowell often asserted that the only way really to master and memorize a composition was away from any instrument. Of course, a knowledge of simple harmony is of immeasurable benefit, and this can be gained from any good book on harmony, such as those of Dr. Clarke and Homer Norris.
In memorizing, it is far better to study and master definitely each hand separately, and then both hands together, a phrase at a time, rather than to play the composition endlessly at the piano until fingers go by reflex action rather than by intelligent directing.
It should be the ambition of every player to acquire a repertoire of memorized pieces, and to this end old compositions must be retained. I begin with six as the goal for which the pupil must strive, and each season add six more. When the number reaches thirty or forty, the simpler ones can be dropped. The power to memorize and retain can be cultivated and strengthened the same as any faculty. I have never in my forty years of teaching had one pupil who was unable to memorize. I admit that tact, thought and great judgment are needful in selecting the compositions to be memorized. The notes must lie well under the fingers, to a great extent, and it is desirable at first to select pieces which have considerable repetition—as Grieg's "Albumblatt," Massenet's "Aragonaise," Chaminade's "Scarf Dance" (the edition with only the two themes) ; then Durand's "Valse in E flat" is easy to memorize if there is sufficient technic gained to play it with the required velocity. Bach's "First Prelude," always delightful, is not difficult to commit to memory, particularly if chords and their positions have been mastered. Heller's "L'Avalanche" is especially good for loose- wrist action, in joining hands and velocity.
The one grave mistake so many, many teachers make is in selecting too difficult music for pupils to read and, above all, in thinking that the music the pupil reads and plays by note is equally adapted for memorizing. Here the business woman who is studying the piano should allow her common sense to dictate, and, if the teacher gives something the pupil knows will take weeks, perhaps months, to commit and play, she should say, "I would prefer something simpler to start with."
The one essential thing, to my mind, is for the pupil to acquire two, three, half a dozen pleasing compositions, thoroughly memorized and always at the fingers' ends. The encouraging, stimulating effect of this, both on pupil and teacher, is beyond description; constant interest is maintained on both sides because results are obtained. This in no wise interferes with sight reading anl (sic) playing. I invariably give two compositions—sometimes three or four—at one lesson; one for reading, which is often selections from operas, or Bach's "Inventions;" a movement from a sonata, and the easier, lighter composition, which must be melodious and pleasing for memorizing.
The repertoire should be chosen with regard to variety, and always composed of good compositions memorized. Do not spend time on the popular fancies of the day—not, at least, until practice has made memorizing easy.
One hour a day is very little to give to acquiring a knowledge of music, but, if this hour is well spent to the very last second, much can be done if persevered in for years. Divide the hour somewhat like this:
Single and double finger work: 5 minutes
Scales (C always, for velocity), one major and two minors: 5 minutes
Sight-reading: 20 minutes
Arpeggios (C always, for velocity), one major and two minors: 5 minutes
Chords, one day; Octaves, next day: 5 minutes
Memorizing, reviewing work on train: 10 minutes
Old pieces memorized: 10 minutes
These last should be numbered 1, 2, 3, etc., and played one daily in regular routine, month in and month out. By doing this they are kept in practice, ready always at a moment's notice.
We all know "Change of work is as good as play." While undoubtedly piano practice is work, if it is properly directed it becomes in the end the most interesting and delightful play.
I would like to urge in conclusion that the business women studying piano form themselves into a fortnightly musical club. The benefit to themselves and others would prove incalculable. The meetings could be most informal. A short paper might be prepared on the music of the evening, material for which could be found in The Etude. The work could be divided— one member collecting pictures to illustrate, and another, facts. It might not be necessary to even write a paper—just tell the main points. In ways like this girls could help each other to an unlimited extent physically, socially, mentally, morally and spiritually.

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