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The Study of Music.


In the matter of music children may be divided into three classes—those who have ability and industry combined, those who have ability without industry, and those who have no native ability whatever. It is with the last two that the problem rests. For the children of gift and energy a smooth path is clearly marked out.

Some of the most rarely gifted children are determinedly lazy in early youth. Such musical natures are a responsibility too often let go to shipwreck because of want of proper insistence that they shall work. Parents make up their minds it is no use to drive them; that, despite all their ear and taste, they can never be made to do anything. Efforts on their behalf are relaxed just at the very point when a little strength of authority might have secured a proper development of the child’s powers. It is an absurd decision that all children destined to become anything in a musical way will have the natural disposition to work. More than half probably will not, and one of the most miserable of art cruelties is perpetrated in overlooking their musical possibilities simply because they are idle. Such children should have their path imperatively chalked out for them, and it should be seen that they walk in it. If they show an aptitude for any particular instrument they should be made to practice it, not to a strict degree at first, but by steady stages until it ceases to be a labor. To impose on their little ardent natures too severe a technical ground all at once is perhaps as disastrous as utter neglect would be. They must be carefully handled systematically. Let a child who has the capacity to work up between lessons three études, but hates and dreads to do it, be given one instead.

There now come the children who are apparently without any talent, who can hardly detect the difference between one tone and another. One of two things is usually done with these—either, having no talent, they are put under a pressure of study to constrain them to develop one, or after brief trial they are given up as entirely hopeless. The best method of dealing with these children is seldom resorted to and lies midway between. Away far down in the most tuneless child’s nature there may lie a germ of music unsuspected by everybody else and undiscoverable to the child himself perhaps until he has long passed the age of study. This little germ can be killed outright in early youth, and when it is killed it is usually the piano that does it. If all children, talent or no talent, were instructed in early youth in the theory of music, were grounded in the figures of notation just as they are in the figures of arithmetic, at whatever period of life this little germ disclosed itself, they would be able to encourage it by their technical knowledge, instead of feeling that it is too late and altogether useless because they are theoretically ignorant of music.

There has rarely been a child born to whom an education in rhythm and the effort of the mind to conquer musical mathematics have not proved of immediate help even in other branches. All children should receive at least this. If productive of no present results in the field of music itself, innumerable cases of precedence go to show that there is no possible foretelling when it may become productive. Many a taste has been known to blossom in young people after hearing a number of operas and concerts, and the ear has unexpectedly been opened to the beauty in variety of tone. Take the child of no talent, teach it theory if only as a good mental exercise, and teach it rhythm if only as an aid to harmony in poise and movement, then let the ear come if it will, there will be method, of use also in other directions, ready to support it. Under no circumstances can it be well to neglect this theoretic musical education, which never taxes the patience as does a useless and monotonous practice, and which will prepare the child, should musical environment develop talent later, to utilize it from the first. The above voices the opinions of some of the best musical authorities as reported in Harper’s Bazar.

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