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 Responses

  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.

  2. Fascinating, you are having such a wonderful time, researching the background of so many things, inspiring.

  3. I have a large stack of piano music from about a hundred years ago, but it is all more advanced. A lot of interesting sheet music.

  4. Perhaps she didn’t do her piano practice so the lesson was a little hard.

    • 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.

  5. If I had to listen to words like that for an hour then it would seem very long to me too. Perhaps her teacher was not very inspiring that day.

  6. 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.

  7. I feel for your grandmother. My classical piano lessons were also one hour long twice a week and I must have been taught by the same teacher as your grandmother! I so remember the stiff hand and wrist placement for hours upon hours when all I wanted to do was jump hay bales on horseback.

    • Some instructors seem like they are much better at making it fun to learn the basics than others.

      • 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.

        • 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.

  8. I’m thinking maybe the teacher was gearing her lesson for a much younger new student. When you get older, you’re more anxious to advance faster. Just a thought from my experience. :)

    • 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.

  9. WOW, the piano teacher came to your house…that’s a blast from the past.

  10. I do commend her for learning – wish I had when I was a bit younger, now my hands won’t be able to work the keys.

  11. 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

  12. 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.

    • You may be right–but since it was only her second week of lessons, I’d think that she would have still felt committed to them.

  13. 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.

    • 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.

  14. I never had lessons, but I enjoyed “playing” my grandma’s piano.

  15. It is still strange that she keeps saying ‘music lessons’ and not ‘piano lessons’

    • 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.

  16. What a great idea, and you do it so well. I look forward to your daily post!

  17. 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?

    • 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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