“Teacher of the Piano” 1877

Just found a lovely little piano studio pamphlet self-printed by B.Webster in Granville, Ohio, 1877. He didn’t have all of our bells and whistles almost 150 years ago, and he’s pretty old-school blunt, but his astute comments about tone and technique are right on. Here’s his article:

In presenting my claims as a piano teacher, I offer here a few points, though with needful brevity, on piano-playing in general.

Many parents and pupils have seen, and some have suffered from an ineffective system, only too prevalent, which leads, even after years of practice, to nothing but a poor, uninteresting performance, not only devoid of all musical phrasing, interest, or understanding, but, even then, characterized by weak fingers, stiff wrists and awkward arms.

We have many piano students, but few piano players.

This is a matter of daily observation and experience. Need it be so? Crude musical talent and rhythmic sensibility are by no means rare. Time enough is given to the subject. Diligence is common enough. A serious purpose, sometimes an enthusiasm, animates some. Why do these never become players? Simply because their energies are expended in wrong directions, either without a correct aim, with no aim at all, or with the sole aim of striking the proper key with the proper finger. Sound is produced, but no tone. Motion is evident, often too evident, but no touch. Yet these are, or ought to be, the first object.

They may be secured only by a radically different system, which has in view chiefly the formation of a fine touch and a round, full singing tone; using as the necessary means to this end, a thorough training of the mechanical movements of the hand and arm.

To play the piano is to combine a right mechanical dexterity and musical taste.

Pupils might, to advantage, begin much younger than is usual. At a very early age the musical instincts of a child can be aroused, the ear quickened, and much of the correct use of the hand and fingers learned. Of course it will not do to follow the usual method with the youngest children: demanding at first an acquirement which depends upon reading not only one line of music, but two at once; finding the right key upon the instrument, finding the right finger for that key; and doing all this in strict time. In teaching this class of beginners a method will be used which avoids the danger of falling into a mere tiresome, objectless practising, arouses and keeps active the interest, assures the best mechanical formation of the hand, and develops taste and musical feeling from the start. This class of pupils will be particularly welcome.

My view and method will be freely and more fully explained to anyone interested. Parents are specially invited to be present at any lesson, that they may see for themselves what and how pupils are taught.

I will furnish practice to pupils, and will direct them in the use of their time. When it is considered how apt pupils are to undo in practice what has been done in lesson hours, the advantage of this offer is apparent.

I will personally select pianos of any make for purchasers; and, for pupils, free of charge. In this way, not a certain make, but a particular instrument will be guaranteed. B.Webster

So there you have it, a word from a bygone era, still applicable today.