Al, I am not too sure of this. When I listen to really old recordings, I discover that we have not learned much at all. We may be able to play louder (up to volumes that nobody needs), but that is about the only serious difference coming out of the bell that I can determine. A Strauss symphony, Wagner opera or hour of Clarke etudes still takes a real toll on our "physical" approach. If we were really better, we would have more reserves. We get a good indication of what was possible back then by looking at what the repertory looked like. In France, Arbans students played Ravel, Debussy, Berlioz, Bizet and many others - definitely not music for wimps. ( more on this era here: List of Romantic-era composers - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ) One thing is for sure, the Arban book, like most "conservatory" methods is designed for lessons with a professor - not for DIY study. Written text, translated into another language by somebody that did not study with the master has a big chance of losing clarity. What has gotten better is the manufacturing quality of the instruments. The Arbans book still has a great deal on the upper end of what is musically sensible and playable.