An Art that Can be Acquired by all Students - How to Begin to Learn - A Musical Sentence - Some Hints on How to Memorise - The Attendant Key Principle - Thinking v. Fumbling What to Do when Memory Fails
There is a delightful sense of independence in being able to play by heart; indeed, to be without this power is to be only half a musician. Memorising is not entirely a matter of special talent, for it is an art that may be acquired, given the power of concentration and musical instincts.
As a first practical direction, six easy pieces should be selected - waltzes for preference, as their defined melodic character is best for the end in view. To play the first eight bars of these in turn is to make the same discovery in regard to each - namely, that the eighth bar shows a very marked stage of the melody. The next group of eight seems approaching another denned stage, the last of which clearly brings the theme to its middle portion. The third set of eight suggests a coming close which the fourth group confirms, bar by bar, the actual close coming at the eighth. At this point appears the double bar, after which there comes a new subject for the waltz.
Now, four bars in music are known as a musical half-sentence. Eight bars make a whole sentence. To know this is of great importance in learning to play by heart. Before taking on any further instruction, various familiar waltz strains should at odd moments be hummed away from the piano, note being taken of what happens at the end of half and whole sentences. In a day or two the power comes quite easily of recognising certain stages of the melody at the eighth and sixteenth bars, and this not only in the first subject, but in any others.
During these first humming days, one of the waltzes should be practised at the piano as follows. Four bars ten times In succession, then another four. After this the whole sentence also ten times over, each half and whole sentence that follows being similarly treated.
To explain, there must be no haphazard bass, but, instead, every octave put in firmly and correctly, the brain acutely conscious of the notes. Accidentals from the first must be mastered, so that the ear is trained to expect certain sounds from them every time they occur.
Collect several waltzes or equally easy compositions that all show the same key or signature. An hour's quiet study of these will reveal the same accidentals occurring again and again in each. That every work in one key tends to a certain group of sharps or flats never occurs to the average pianist, hence the hopeless groping amongst the black notes when called upon to memorise.
Take, as a key for illustration, D major. The sharps belonging to it are F sharp and C sharp. As the melody proceeds, there come into it G sharp, C natural, A sharp, E sharp, and D sharp. Every time one of these is used, there is a momentary passing into the key it represents. The first belongs to A major, a fifth above the starting key; the second to C major, a fourth above; the third to B minor, the fourth to C minor, and the fifth to E minor. The last three keys are relative minors to the three first, and all the five are known as attendant keys to the original one. This scheme of attendant keys comes into every musical work, whether it be written in sharps or flats. Each key has its own set of chords, into which the accidentals are introduced, and any instruction book gives the chords under the name of preludes to the major and minor scales.
In the bass of any waltz or other composition, all these chords in change with octaves are used freely, on the attendant key principle. Further developments of the principle come into more difficult works, but with these a beginner is not concerned. My pressing injunction at this point is to give up all slip-shod playing of the chords in whatever passing key. Each must be put in firmly, the mind acutely conscious of every note in their composition. Only in this way can memorising be built up, for what is not clear to the brain can never come by heart.
When the first waltz has been practised several days on the sentence by sentence method, it is a good plan to lay the music on a chair just within the player's sight, and then to begin playing without it. At the first point that memory fails, the rule must be observed that there is to be no groping after the right notes. Such child's play as this would be the ruin of any chances of playing by heart at a blow. The right step at this critical moment is to think, not fumble. A glance at the copy may be taken to find out which accidental has to be recalled, and, the glance taken, the mind should dwell a little on the fact, and get an absolutely clear conception of what has happened in regard to attendant keys.
To beginners, this may seem a very cumbrous method of proceeding. Let it be realised, however, that as each of the six waltzes is dealt with, the instinct strengthens rapidly for the necessary changes.