Musical Rules at Home and in Life
- Robert Schumann
'The Musical Rules of Home and in Life' were written by composer Robert Schumann to
accompany his famous piano book 'Album für die Jugend' (Album for the Young), and athough
they were found with the original manuscript, they were only included in the second edition.
This version of the Rules I have typed from my Urtext version of this Album, taking the
words from a translation by Paul Merrick (which I assume is from the German, not Franz Liszt's
french translation, both of which are included in the book), so any errors are my own.
The Rules are an interesting document, not only providing an insight into the character of
Schumann himself, but also into composition and life in general. Occaisionally Zen-like,
many of the Rules have not dated, and are applicable to many areas.
Aural training is the most important thing. Try right from the start to recognise keys
and notes. A bell, a window-pane, a cuckoo - learn the sounds they make.
You should be diligent in playing scales and other finger-exercises. There are,
however, many people who think they can achieve everything by spending many
hours a day, right into their old age, doing mechanical practice. That is almost like
everyday trying to say the A B C as fast as possible, getting faster and faster. Put your
time to better use.
The so-called 'dummy keyboard' has been invented. Try it for a while, and you will
see it has no effect. The dumb cannot teach you how to speak.
Keep strict time when you are playing! The playing of some virtuosos sounds like a
drunkard walking. Such people should not be copied.
Learn early on the basic rules of harmony.
Do not be frightened by words like Theory, Thoroughbass, Counterpoint etc. They
can be your friends if you approach them in a friendly manner.
Never just strum. Put your mind to it when you play, and do not stop half-way
through a piece!
Dragging the tempo and hurrying are both bad mistakes.
Take care to play easier pieces well and beautifully: that is better than a mediocre
performance of a difficult piece.
Never play an instrument that needs tuning.
You must not only know your pieces with your fingers, you must also be able to hum
them away from the piano. Train you imagination so that you can remember not just
the melody of a composition, but also the harmony that goes with it.
Make efforts, even if your voice is not a good one, to sing at sight without the help of
the instrument; in this way the sharpness of your hearing will continually improve. If
you have a beautiful voice, waste no opportunity to have it trained, and treat it as the
finest gift Heaven can bestow on you!
You must reach the stage when you can understand music by just seeing it on the
When you are playing, do not concern yourself with who may be listening.
Always play as though a Great Master were listening.
If someone puts a composition in front of you to play, and you have not seen it before,
read it through first.
If you have done your daily musical work and feel tired, then do not force yourself to
go on working. It is better to rest than work without pleasure and enthusiasm.
Do not play, when you are older, pieces which are in fashion. Time is precious. You
would need a hundred lives just to get to know all the good pieces in existence.
Children are not made into healthy people by eating sweets, cakes and icing. Spiritual
food, like food for the body, must be plain and wholesome. The latter has been amply
provided by the Great Masters; keep to it.
Brilliant passage work fades with time. Technical accomplishment is only of value
where it serves a higher purpose.
You must not promote bad compositions; on the contrary, you should expend every
effort to help suppress them.
You should not play bad compositions, neither should you listen to them, unless you
are forced to.
Do not cultivate technique and so-called bravura. In a composition seek to bring out
the expression that the composer had in mind, and no more. Anything beyond that is
Changing anything, leaving anything out or adding new-fangled embellishments in
pieces by good composers must be held as an abomination. It is the greatest outrage
you can inflict upon Art.
Regarding which pieces you should choose to study, ask your elders. This way you
will save a lot of time.
You must acquire a thorough knowledge of all the important works by all the great
Do not be led astray by the applause which often greets the so-called virtuosos. More
valuable to you is the approval of artists, rather than that of the masses.
All things in fashion will one day be out of fashion, and if you follow it into your old
age you will make a fool of yourself, and nobody will respect you.
Playing a lot in society does more harm than good. Look people in the face, and do
not playing anything of which you inwardly feel ashamed.
Do not miss opportunity to make music with other musicians, in Duos, Trios etc. This
makes you playing fluent and animated. Also, accompany singers often.
If everyone wanted to play first violin, then there would be no orchestras. Each
musicians should therefore appreciate his proper place.
Love your instrument, but do not be so vain as to think it is unique and the most
important. Remember that there are others which are equally beautiful. Remember
also that there are singers who give expression to the highest things in music for choir
When you get older, occupy yourself more with scores than with virtuosos.
Work at playing fugues by good Masters, above all Johann Sebastian Bach. The
'Wohltemperirtes Clavier' should be your daily bread. Then you are sure to become a
Among your friends, seek out those who know more than you.
As a relief from your musical studies, read a lot of poetry. Go out for a walk often.
A kit can be learned from singers, but do not believe everything they tell you.
There are many people in the world. Be modest, there is nothing you can invent or
think of that has not already been invented or thought of by somebody else. If you do
think of something original, regard it as a gift from above to be shared with others.
The study of the history of music, together with hearing actual performances of
masterpieces from different periods, is the quickest cure for complacency and vanity.
A good book on Music is: 'On the Purity of Musical Composition', by Thibaut. Read
it often when you are older.
If you pass a church and hear the organ playing, go inside and listen. If you are
fortunate enough to be allowed onto the organist's bench, then put your little fingers
on the keys and be astonished at the mighty power or Music.
Miss no opportunity to practise on the organ. No other instrument takes such an
immediate revenge on messy playing and bad composition as the organ.
Sing regularly in a choir, especially the inner parts. This makes you musical.
What, then, does being musical mean? You are not musical if you gaze anxiously at
the notes and labour your way through to the end of the piece. You are not, if
somebody who is turning for you turns two pages instead of one, and you stop and
cannot go on. You are musical, however, when in a new piece of music you can feel
what might be coming, or in a familiar one, you already know - in other words when
you have music not just in your fingers, but in your head and in your heart.
And how does one become musical? Dear child, the most important things - a good
ear and quick mental perception - like all such things, are sent from above. But given
abilities can be developed and enhanced. You will not do this by shutting yourself up
like a hermit and working all day at mechanical studies - but rather by taking part in a
variety of musical activities, especially those which involve choirs and orchestras.
Get to know early on the ranges of the four main types of human voice; listen
especially to choirs, find out which intervals carry the greatest strength, and which
others are suitable for soft and gentle treatment.
Be sure to listen often to all kinds of folksong; they are a mine of beautiful melodies,
and offer you an insight into the characters of different nations.
Learn early on to read the old clefs. Otherwise many treasures of the past will be
withheld from you.
Notice early on the tone and character of different instruments; try to impress upon
your ear their characteristic tone-colours.
Miss no opportunity to hear good operas!
Keep the old in high regard, but approach the new with a warm heart. Do not be
prejudiced against unknown names.
Do not judge a composition on a single hearing; the things that first catch your
attention are not always the best. The great masters must be studied. Many things
will only become clear to you later in life.
When judging compositions, distinguish between those which are true works of art,
and those written to please amateurs. Stand up for the former, but have no quarrel
with the latter.
'Melody' is the battle-cry of dilettantes, and certainly there is no music that does not
have melody. But what they mean by melody is something simple and pleasantly
rhythmic. However, there are other melodies of quite a different kind, and if you look
through Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, you will see them in a thousand different forms.
Then, hopefully you will soon become bored with the paltry monotony of the latest
Italian opera melodies.
If you make up little melodies at the piano, then that is a very nice thing; but if they
come to you on their own, not at the piano, then you can be even more happy, as you
are beginning to develop an inner feeling for music. The fingers must do what the
head wants, not the other way round.
If you begin to compose, then do it all in your head. Only try a piece out on the
instrument after you have completely finished it. If your music has come from deep
within you, if you really felt it, then it will affect others in the same way.
If Heaven has given you a vivid imagination, then you will often spend solitary hours
sitting at the piano as if in a trance seeking the harmonies to express your innermost
feelings. The more mysteriously you feel yourself drawn as it were into a magic
circle, the more elusive seems the world of harmony. There are the happiest hours of
youth. But beware of over-indulging a talent that may lead you to waste time and
energy on phantoms of the imagination. The mastery of form, the ability to clearly
formulate thoughts, can be acquired only through the fixed symbols of notation.
Therefore write more, and dream less.
Learn early on about conducting, and often watch good conductors; even try to
conduct pieces alone in your head. This makes you think clearly.
Try to excel in life, as well as in other arts and branches of knowledge.
The moral laws are also those of Art.
The way to improve is always through hard work and perseverance.
From a pound of iron worth a few pennies can be made many thousand watch-springs,
which are worth hundreds of thousands. Put to good use the pound that God has
Without enthusiasm nothing worthwhile can be accomplished in Art.
The purpose of Art is not to acquire wealth. Just strive always to be a greater artist;
everything else will follow of its own accord.
Only if the form is first clear to you will the spirit then reveal itself.
Perhaps only Genius really understands Genius.
Somebody once said that a consummate musician is one who, on first hearing a
complex orchestral work, can visualise the score as it really is. This is the highest
conceivable level a musician can reach.
There is no end to learning.