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A Correspondence With a Moral

BY FREDERIC S. LAW.
 
The following correspondence is genuine, and tends to throw light on a question which more or less vexes all teachers:—
 
"My Dear Mr. Blank:
 
"Will you kindly send me your terms for lessons? I have heard so much of your teaching from my friends, Miss White and Mr. Black, that I should like to study with you this winter.
 
"Sincerely yours,
"(Miss) Mary H. Green."
 
 
 
"My Dear Miss Green:
 
"My terms are at the rate of _____ dollars an hour, generally taken in two to four half-hour lessons weekly; or, for pupils from a distance, in one weekly period of an hour or three-quarters of an hour. I remain,
 
"Very truly yours,
"Martin E. Blank."
 
 
 
"My Dear Mr. Blank:
 
"I hope you will consent to give me one half-hour lesson a week. I am very much engaged, and have very little time to practice.
 
"Sincerely yours,
"Mary H. Green."
 
 
 
"Dear Miss Green:
 
"My rule is not to give so short a lesson as a half hour but once a week. It is not so much a matter of practice as of being under the teacher's eye. I have given the single short lesson, as you suggest, but the result is so unsatisfactory that I have determined not to do so in the future. So the best I can do for you is to give you a single weekly lesson of three- quarters of an hour.
 
"Truly yours,
"Martin E. Blank."
 
 
 
"Dear Mr. Blank:
 
"I admit the force of what you say about the length of lessons, but I am sorry to say that I shall have to give up my plan of study with you. To speak frankly, my means will not permit me to spend so much on my music.
 
"Sincerely,
"Mary H. Green."
 
 
 
"Dear Miss Green:
 
"Why not consider how much you feel able to spend on your music, and then use it as far as it goes on the plan I propose? It is really as broad as it is long.
 
"Truly yours,
"Martin E. Blank."
 
 
 
"Dear Mr. Blank:
 
"The way you state the case has been of great service in helping me to make up my mind. I have decided to begin lessons week after next, and should like you to make an appointment for any afternoon, except Monday and Thursday.
 
"Sincerely yours,
"Mary H. Green."
 
The question of short, infrequent lessons is one of no small moment to the teacher, coupled as it is with the gradual curtailment of the teaching season during the last twenty or thirty years—at least in our large cities. The music teacher's year, which used to consist of ten months, now barely embraces eight, and badly battered at the edges at that. Indeed, the pupil who studies thirty-two weeks in a year is growing to be a novelty to many of us. This explains the reckoning, now almost universal, of the music-term as ten weeks instead of the old-fashioned "quarter" of twelve weeks, by which the teacher seeks to accommodate himself to changed conditions. Country life becomes year by year more fashionable; families stay out of town later, vacations are prolonged, schools do not begin until well into the fall.
 
All this of course tends to reduce the teacher's income; he is forced to satisfy a twelve-month hunger with an eight-month loaf. His days are like the sibyline books: they must bring him a living wage whether few or many are bought.
 
But my object is not so much to consider this phase of the question as it is to combat on artistic grounds the disposition on the part of pupils to cut down both the number and the length of the lessons, and call it study. For the average pupil a half hour once a week is too infrequent for either singing or piano. The lessons referred to in the above correspondence were vocal, and a singing lesson should seldom last over three-quarters of an hour. When "Mr. Blank" gives an hour in one day he generally divides it into two periods, taken at different hours. The ideal course for a student of singing is to do no practice at all during the first term and to take two daily lessons; the second term, one daily lesson with a short practice period; then the lessons can be brought down to two or three a week with the pupil prepared for the responsibility of private practice. This, like ideal courses in general, is seldom practicable; but teachers should give their pupils to understand that there is a minimum of direct instruction, a Plimsoll line, as it were, below which it is dangerous to venture without risking shipwreck of musical hopes.
 
A single weekly lesson often cannot be avoided; pupils from a distance, generally, cannot come more frequently; practical considerations also may prevent. In such cases the ordinary half hour must be lengthened if either teacher or student is to do good work. I am not unmindful of the fact that certain gifted natures will make more progress in a half hour than others in one, two, or three hours; but I am considering the average, not the exceptional, pupil. Experience shows that at the end of a half- hour's instruction the pupil is prepared to learn more in the next quarter hour than in the time already elapsed; the iron has grown hot, it has become malleable and ductile; it is ready to take the shape desired. I know that often I have found that last quarter hour to turn the balance in favor of a successful lesson, when it merely trembled at the close of the half hour. For the teacher must not merely tell his pupil what to do and how to do it; he must see that he does it. Portia well says: "If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men's cottages princes' palaces."
 
A lesson to the average pupil is, strictly speaking, a period of practice under the teacher's eye, not, as many pupils and their parents—and some teachers, more's the pity—seem to imagine, the mere assigning of a certain amount of material to be prepared in the pupil's own way, haphazard, like a chapter of geography or history. A weekly lesson, too, must cover more ground than the bi-weekly one; the latter can often be concentrated upon a special point, since it is only a matter of several days before the balance can be restored.
 
"Mr. Blank" indicates a way out of the difficulty which is well worth considering. The good judgment involved in spending the same money in a shorter time for fewer but longer lessons is apparent, if properly put, to the most short-sighted, and tends to define more clearly the province of the teacher. Its effect is to lessen the dawdling which is often a positive prejudice to his professional reputation. A pupil who drags out ten hours' instruction over a period of five months is apt to lose interest in his work, and to prove in the end more of a disadvantage than a credit to him.

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