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Lesson 12
Sight Reading



The difficulty in playing octaves on the pianoforte is invariably due to weakness of the wrist, and as a result, the hand and arm become tired very quickly. In accordance with the principles of the Cowling System therefore, the remedy is to develop and strengthen the muscles and supple the ligaments which surround the small bones of the wrist by the movements shown in the accompanying photographs, until the action which takes place when playing octaves on the pianoforte can be maintained for five or ten minutes without fatigue.

EXPLANATION of the accompanying diagrams. Take a piece of wood and cut it down until it is exactly 5.75 inches in length (slightly under the width of an octave on the piano). The diameter of the stick is immaterial - an unsharpened lead pencil of this length would suffice. Bridge the span between the thumb and little finger with this stick (see diagram number S.P.I, a front view of the hand to indicate the correct method), and hold with sufficient pressure to keep it in position.

Lay the right arm on the table with the whole hand projecting over the edge (see diagrams), then grasp the right wrist firmly with the left hand to form a support, the thumb of the latter being uppermost. The grasp of the left hand round the wrist must not be too tight, as this would interfere with the circulation, or too near the wrist joints, as this would prevent free movement.

FIRST MOVEMENT. Raise the hand to the limit of movement allowed by wrist, but without any strain, as shown in diagram S.P.2, and retain in this position for five seconds.

SECOND MOVEMENT. Change to the position shown in diagram S.P.3. Hold this position for five seconds, then revert to the position in diagram S.P.2, and repeat.

After six up and down movements with the right hand, change the stick to the left hand and repeat the movements similarly.

The change from position S.P.2 to position S.P.3 is not made quickly, but should occupy about one second. Remember that the essence of this and all the Cowling exercises is the concentration of the mind upon the operation. The exercise should be discontinued immediately the hand begins to feel tired for it is somewhat strenuous; but in any case it should not be continued for longer than ten minutes.

Before practising this exercise make the following experiment.* Play octaves on the piano until the hand begins to feel tired and make a note of how soon this occurs. Then, after you have practised the above exercise with the stick for a week, make the experiment again and you should find that you can continue playing octaves on the piano for at least twice as long as you could the week before.

*lf you do not play the piano this will not apply but please do practice the exercise, which is very good for the wrists.

(Editor's note: Cowling's original line drawings have been used in this lesson. The originals - the only line drawings in the course - were clear enough to be scanned and included here, and are evocative of a time long passed.)

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