Piano Lesson Was A Long Hour

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Saturday, June 21, 1913:  My music teacher came this morning, and I spent a long hour in taking my lesson.

Source: The Mechanics of Piano Technic (1909)
Source: The Mechanics of Piano Technic (1909)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

This is the second week since Grandma began taking piano lessons. Why did the hour seem long?

Was she learning “boring” but important basics like how to hold her hands and how to properly hit the keys?

I’m still looking for hundred-year-old music books for beginning piano students, but I did find a college-text on playing the piano:

The principal difficulty of piano playing we found to be the production of sufficient power, and the economical application of the power to all kinds of passages, with velocity and under delicate control.  Tone quality may be harsh if the strings are unduly vibrated, or thin if the quantity of vibration be too small to excite all the overtones.

The Mechanics of Piano Technic by Ethelbert Warren Grabill (1909)

39 thoughts on “Piano Lesson Was A Long Hour

  1. All my teacher told me and my sister was to hold your hands “like you’re putting your hand on an upside-down bowl”, basically just like how you’re supposed to keep your hands when typing.

    1. I like how your teacher explained it. I have vague memories of my piano teacher repeatedly telling me that I shouldn’t let my wrists rest on the piano. I obviously was doing something really wrong. :)

    1. I considered the same thing, but then thought– This is only her second week of lessons. Since she wanted to learn how to play the piano, you’d think that she would have practiced for at least the first week.

    1. As surprising as it might sound, the quote I picked was some of the more intelligible text in that book. I can’t imagine how anyone found that book useful.

  2. I agree with AnnAdango: that’s how I was taught!
    Grandma was so looking forward to taking lessons, but I’m sure learning the basics was boring to her.

      1. I believe instructors within the last 30 years or so have stepped up to the plate and found how important it is to mix the important fundmentals with the fun aspects of learning classical piano and other aspects of the art. I had 12 years of classical piano training and it wasn’t until I was into about year 10 that I started to enjoy playing the piano.

        1. It’s good to know that piano instructors now use pedagogical techniques that better engage the students and make learning fun. My general sense is that many piano teachers in rural areas a hundred years ago were women who wanted to earn a little extra “pin” money. They knew how to play the piano themselves–but often had no formal training on how to teach piano.

    1. Your suggestion makes a lot of sense to me. Her teacher may not have had the needed skills to appropriately adapt the lessons for an older student.

  3. My daughter takes piano lessons, and I’ve noticed that there are the good days and the not so good days. Overall she loves playing. Thank you for another interesting post, Sheryl.

    Blessings ~ Wendy

  4. Do you think your grandma had other things on her mind? Like maybe she wanted to be outside or doing something with friends. That would make the piano lesson seem interminable.

  5. I do enjoy reading your posts and the research you do for them. I also wonder if the lessons were planned for a young child and maybe they were boring.

    1. I think that you may be right. The piano teacher probably had little training and may have had no idea how to make the lessons interesting for an older student.

    1. Grandma wrote back in March about her family buying a piano–and how she wanted to take piano lessons. But, she’s not specifically mentioned the piano in since then. I’ve had the same thought as you–and wondered if there was any possibility that she might have been taking voice lessons instead of piano lessons.

  6. Maybe Helena was writing with PRIDE that she spent a “long hour” on her lesson. She might use that phrase to emphasize how much work she put into learning, so she could get “full credit” for it?

    1. I like your suggestion. It’s a much more positive take on the diary entry than what I had–and in many ways it makes sense since it seems like she’d still be enthusiastic about the lessons that she’d begun only the week before.

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