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The Child's Start in Music

BY DANIEL BATCHELLOR
 
[The article following is the second of a series of short helpful talks with teachers who are making or may wish to make a specialty of work with quite young children. Mr. Batchellor has given much thought and years of practical labor to this field of educational work, and we commend to teachers these suggestions as worthy of the closest study.—Editor of the Etude.]
 
The teacher of children is often confronted with the question, "At what age should my child begin to take music lessons"? A good start in musical education is so important that teachers should have intelligent and definite ideas upon this point. No hard and fast rule can be laid down, since children's bodies and minds do not develop in a uniform way. One child will be as musically developed at two or three years of age as another will at six. But whatever age we may decide upon as most desirable for beginning the music lessons, the fact is that the musical education has been going on from the dawn of life. The tones of the mother's voice, the lullaby, the child songs and hymns—all are registering themselves upon the sensitive plate of the child's emotional nature, and for better or for worse are shaping his musical future.
 
Along all educational lines there is a tendency to begin the training at an earlier age than in former times. To some extent this is due to the impatient rush of modern life, and we must carefully guard against any form of training which would lead to premature development. But this earlier period of systematic training does not come altogether from a desire to hasten the process of education. We see that under the old order of things some of the most plastic years of the child's life were allowed to pass by without proper nurture and guidance. The training which should be done at that time can never be done so well in after years. This is especially true in the growth of the musical faculties. Early childhood is the period when music exerts its greatest influence in the formation of character. Let us see why this is so.
 
First, consider the order of development in the child's nature. The faculties do not all awaken at the same time. In the earliest years the growth is mainly that of physical development. Although from the first there is the dawning of mind power, yet at this period the mental traits are rudimentary. But somewhat later there comes a time of greater mental awakening when the mind begins to control the bodily activity. This mind growth takes, on a twofold form—the emotional and the intellectual, and the former comes considerably in advance of the latter. All through our lives we are powerfully influenced by feeling: the little child is entirely under its sway. Then last comes spontaneous thought activity. In its first manifestations it is chiefly play of the imagination, but this leads on to mental analysis and logical conclusions. Now the whole nature—physical, emotional, and intellectual—is awake, and these three faculties will go on developing side by side.
 
Secondly, consider the relation of music to the human mind. It is an appeal to our sense of the beautiful through the ear, while painting and sculpture appeal to us through the eye. In a general way we may say that hearing is the emotional sense, as compared with seeing, which is more the servant of the intellect. There are many intellectual factors in music, but the tone language is fundamentally an appeal to feeling rather than to thought.
 
We see, then, that in the child's nature the emotional faculty becomes active before the intellectual, and also that music is more related to feeling than to thought. This indicates that the early music lessons should precede intellectual training. During this period of exuberant emotional activity the child will be more completely swayed by musical influences than at any later time.
 
In training the child we should guard against two opposite dangers. First, we must not attempt to use faculties which are not yet normally active. This mistake is continually made by educators. For example, the hands of the little child are set to do fine and delicate work before the tactile muscles of the fingers are properly developed. Then again there is the setting of children to mental operations before the thought powers are fairly awakened. Forced and premature studies are always harmful. They act injuriously upon the nervous system, and they also take away the natural relish for study which is the birthright of every healthy child.
 
But, on the other hand, we must not neglect the faculties as they awaken in their natural order. Shakespeare says:—
 
"There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures."
 
That is equally true of little children. There is a time when a sympathetic appeal to the awakening faculty will call forth a joyous response which will leave its impress upon the whole after life of the individual. This is the golden opportunity for both teacher and pupil. Neglected, it will pass by never to return. It is true that in rare cases of genius the native bent of the child's mind will triumph over all obstacles; but in the ordinary course of things many a fine musician is lost to the world for want of an intelligent guide at the critical moment.
 
The musical education of the young opens up a larger problem than the professional interest of music teachers. When we consider the effect of tone training upon the formation of character, it becomes a matter of national importance. This was well understood by the old Greeks. In their school system —the best which the world has yet known—they placed music above all other things. They gave to music a broad interpretation as the great character- forming influence, and the wisdom of their course was shown by the magnificent characters which they produced. Not only were their artists, poets, and philosophers great in their own time, but after all these centuries they still exert a dominating influence upon the finer humanities of the world.
 
In our modern system of education, while we have at last established music as an essential part of the school system, it takes quite a secondary place to mathematics. That means that in the school work we place more emphasis upon intellectual keenness than we do upon right feelings and noble impulses. It will not always be so. Already there is a growing protest against the merely intellectual character of our school training. When it is more clearly seen by the people at large that music exerts a direct and controlling power over the emotional nature, and that it surpasses all other influences in strengthening the will power, the work of the music teacher will be more highly prized than now.
 
This article is intended to show the importance of an early start in music. But it is of the utmost importance that the start should be properly made. Although music in its normal working is a great power for good, it may be so misdirected as to work positive injury to the child. How it may be applied to the unfolding nature of childhood, and how the teacher should prepare herself for the work, will be considered in succeeding numbers of The Etude.

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You are reading The Child's Start in Music from the March, 1904 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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