Piano Questions and Answers from a Hundred Years Ago

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

Saturday, July 26, 1913:  Ma wanted me to keep digging at my music this morning. I don’t like to practice very well.

Source: Ladies Home Journal (November, 1911)

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

Oh dear, Grandma just began taking piano lessons on June 13—it’s sad that she’s already tiring of practicing.

Playing the piano must have been extremely popular a hundred years ago. Back then there was even a column called “Piano Questions Answered by Josef Hofmann” in Ladies Home Journal.

Today I’m sharing two examples from his columns.

Playing Staccato and Legato Together

How can one play staccato when there are two voices, as in the notes of the second measure of the example? Naomi

Why should one finger be unable to play staccato while another finger of the same hand holds a key down? It takes a little practice, it is true, but it is by no means difficult, much less impossible.

Ladies Home Journal (March, 1912)

38 thoughts on “Piano Questions and Answers from a Hundred Years Ago

    1. I can remember how my mother had to nag to get me to practice the piano–though I was much younger than Grandma when I took lessons. 🙂

        1. Hmm…well, I took lessons for about 6 years, but I never got very good at playing the piano. So I guess the answer is that I’m not sure.

  1. I am a trained musician (and qualified music teacher) so practise for me is a part of the life, and love, of music! Of course, you have good days and bad days on that score. Practising any instrument actually requires practise in itself, a skill that develops with experience and dedication.
    I have to say that this journal does not seem very sympathetic to its readers and I would imagine this style of writing was not very inspiring to your grandmother…
    Thanks for sharing.
    Regards, Christina in Sweden

      1. Hi Sheryl. Yes, it is an art in itself. 😉 I am lucky to have music as a big part of my life. Principally, I play clarinet but also play saxophone, piano and percussion. I just completed two fantastic years on a specialist course in Swedish folk music! Learning many melodies by ear, not sheet music, has opened up a whole new world for me… 😉
        Keep up the great blog!

    1. I’m also really surprised how quickly she tired on the lessons. Since she was a young adult when she began the lessons, you’d think that if she wasn’t really dedicated to learning to play that she wouldn’t have started the lessons.

  2. There is more to learning to play than we ever realize. maybe like me she wanted to start playing music right away without all that practicing…I am a very impatient person.

  3. I will have to go back and see if they got a piano just for her lessons. That happened when I was a kid. Several years down the road I got tired of it. My mother was mad at first but eventually I stopped and she started playing the piano again. She played very well and so it all worked out.

    1. It’s nice how it all turned out okay and your mother started playing again.

      Grandma’s family did get the piano just so she could learn to play. On March 29, 1913 she wrote:

      “. . . Ma bought a piano. I’m so glad for now I can learn to play.”

      And, then she began taking lessons on June 13, 1913. (I’m not sure why there is such a long gap between when they bought the piano and when the lessons began.)

      1. Maybe they had to wait to tune it? When we got my grandmother’s old piano, the movers told us to wait a bit to tune it so it could adjust to the new location. Or maybe it just took that long to find a teacher?

    1. It also really surprised to me that Ladies Home Journal had a column about the piano. The magazine had a huge circulation back then (over a million)–but it addressed many serious topics. Many of the articles were long and written using difficult words. My general sense is that the “average” woman could read at a higher grade level back then than now.

  4. Oh for the days when it was assumed ladies would be interested in making music! I agree that the average American had a better vocabulary and reading level than now. How would Helena have reacted to all the music you can now download and watch for free on the Internet?

  5. First one, I didn’t follow at all. Second one……I don’t think I’ve run into that in my six years of piano. Hopefully I never do because it looks…weird, haha. 😛

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