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Some Stepping Stones

BY EDOUARD HIPSHER
 
 
Those Little Things.
Success and failure are, after all, only relative terms, and we as teachers should be careful to have the largest possible balance on the success side. By herculean efforts, failure may be turned into success, but how much further on we would have been if all this energy had been used in a steady upward climb, each month recording progress.
 
When the work of many teachers is reviewed the way is strewn with small failures and negligences. A flagrant violation of right principles has always been corrected, but thick and fast appear the little things that were scarcely worth the time that would have been consumed in their eradication.
 
Rudiments.
If the writer's years of experience have taught him any one thing more than another it is that teachers often slight the rudimentary principles. There is too much haste to reach a point where the work will make a great show. This is especially true of those who "will do to give Emma a start," but it is by no means confined to that class. It would seem almost superfluous to emphasize what has been said so often along this line; but, as thorough elementary training must furnish the foundation for the whole superstructure of the future musical education, we must continue pegging away until teachers learn to apply themselves to the mastery of these fundamentals. Not that Sarah shall play a piece in the fewest possible lessons, but that she shall master all the details, so that when her studies are finished she may be able not only to grapple successfully with new pieces but also to go on developing and broadening into a better rounded musician; this should be the criterion of the truly successful teacher.
 
Reading Letters.
Only the one who is accurate is a reader. He who gets part of the notes right is no reader at all. If the pupil is ever to reach that stage where he may be wholly trusted he must possess the underlying principle of exactness. From the very first the teacher should instil this into the pupil's mind with the most scrupulous care. Reading by letter should be daily food. Until the pupil can name the notes on the staff as he would the letters on the printed page he is not reliable. A part of each lesson should be devoted to such practice, and the hardest part of the new lesson should be assigned for study at home, so that the letters may be read as rapidly as possible at the following lesson. Even when the pupil is further advanced, occasional practice of this kind is beneficial. It fixes the signature in the mind as nothing else will; for the sharps and flats of the key should always be read in connection with the letters to which they belong. To allow a pupil to say C when reading in the key of A, or to say B when reading in F, is to breed carelessness in both reading and execution, for they are C-sharp and B-flat respectively, and to call them anything else is to completely disestablish the key. Without this careful study of the letters, there is no understanding of the relation of the keys and scales, and your pupil will go to another teacher to answer his first question along this line with a blank stare. What verdict will that teacher pronounce upon you?
 
Notes.
The absurd answers the writer has received from advanced (?) pupils, when questioned as to the relative values of notes, and especially dotted ones, would be interesting if not edifying. Of all the mechanical part of reading, this, that stands almost equal to the necessity of correct pitches, seems to be the most neglected. On accurate time values of notes, the whole rhythm of a piece depends; yet pupils are drifting along with a vague idea that when the stems of notes are connected by two bars they go fast, and without the bars they go slow. This is no exaggeration, but the gist of numerous answers received by the writer. Can such teaching ever hope to produce anything like satisfactory results? The pupil must be trained to understand the exact relative value of the different notes. Practice in writing the notes teaches the pupil to recognize them, and only constant attention and example on the part of the teacher will cause him to give them correct execution.
 
The Thoughtless Pupil.
We have all had him, the pupil who plays, while his eyes are gazing over the piano or out of the window. Here is one of the hardest problems; usually an active mind, untrained to being centered for any length of time on any one thing. While this state exists little in the way of results may be hoped for. His attention must be held and this leads to another important consideration.
 
Interest.
Some persons are born for digging out things, while others see only their shadows. It is these latter that require our most careful attention. What Mary has sought and found for herself, may remain hidden from the mind of John until we have aroused him to see that behind the page of notes there is something worth working for. We must hold him by careful explanation and illustration, play a passage for him to echo or imitate, show him how to overcome the difficult parts, and withal exact the most accurate work at his lessons; and there will be a gradual awakening that will sometime make one wonder if John is really the same boy as when he started.
 
Repetition.
Time fades impressions. Especially is this true if the mind has been occupied in acquiring new ideas. What we worked so carefully and diligently to learn may soon be lost unless it is brought into constant use. Try your pupil on some of the principles passed over a few months ago, and, with all your careful teaching, you will be surprised at how many of your precepts have vanished from his mind. Only by constant reiteration and review can we impress them on our pupils' memories until they have become thoroughly assimilated and that almost second nature which is necessary to lasting results.
 
Teaching Vocabulary.
Words are our medium of intercourse. On them we must depend for conveying to the pupil an idea of what we wish accomplished. How careful then we should be that our language carries a definite impression. If we tell a pupil to "watch that he uses his fingers correctly" and follow this immediately with "and watch the notes," we have, in words, implied a physical impossibility, and at the same time have confused the pupil's mind. That the pupil should "be careful of the position of his fingers and look at the notes" was meant. Yet such errors are not uncommon. What we need to use are simple words that convey an exact meaning to the pupil's mind, and the English language is full of them.
 
Ideals.
As our ideals, so are we. Of course every conscientious teacher will try to inspire high standards of art in his pupils. This is as it should be, and the higher the goal set before them the better. But do we all stop to think how much our ideals of life affect our art attainments? Set aside the influence for good which every true man and woman would want to exert on the world, there still remains the consideration of our own happiness and ultimate success. The Parnassian Way is strewn with the wrecks of promising geniuses who fell a prey to their ideals. In spite of dissipation, some few may have risen above their natures and reached the top round of art, but this is no license to the young aspirant. When they had scarce reached the zenith of their genius, their candle was burned out and their career cut short in its midst. Those who have lived to enjoy the fruits and honors of a ripe old age have been true to their better selves and have reaped the benefits of virtue and noble living. Teacher, beware! You can inspire only such ideals in your pupils as you show them in yourself.
 
Know Your Pupil.
Not only as you see him in your studio. Remember that, if he is not absolutely incorrigible, he comes to you under a sort of spell, and is not quite his natural self. If possible, go further and learn something of his home life. More than one vexing question has been solved for the writer when the pupil's family environments were learned. To treat the pupil who has been bred to harsh commands as you would the pampered offspring of the indulgent mamma is to invite defeat. While one need go to neither extreme in handling such cases, yet inclination must be seasoned with common sense.
 
Sympathy.
Yes, they are open to its influences, every one of them. You may not notice it at the first lesson, nor at the next; but become thoroughly interested in their success, feel for them in their failures, and the pupils will respond as the sensitive needle does to the magnet. They may not be demonstrative; and we must be careful that we do not mistake this for lack of appreciation, for it is only the natural diffidence felt by any normal person when in the presence of one of superior knowledge. But they are pleased at your approval, and when they feel your disappointment at their failure it will inspire them to stronger efforts than a thousand words. Establish this bond and the key to the fortress is yours. The pupil feels that you are his friend. He strives to please you, and in doing so forgets the drudgery that once accompanied practice. His work becomes a pleasure to himself and to you, and results which previously required six lessons are now accomplished in one.
 
Neither will the results be entirely in favor of the pupil. Let this sympathy and friendship spring up and you will be surprised at the saving of nerve force. While you are just as particular, aye, even more so, and accomplish much better results, the strain of teaching will be minimized till you wonder why lessons ever were so nerve-destroying.
 
The Pupil's Future.
Lessons must stop. There comes a time, when, in the natural order of events, a pupil must leave the teacher and be thrown on his own resources. What is to be the outcome? Have you so established him in the principles of his art that he can go on evolving his own powers? While guiding him, have you developed in him that self-reliance which will enable him to execute and interpret independently? If, at the close of his course of study, the pupil has not attained the power to think, and to think independently for himself, and to go on to higher thinking, then somewhere along the way must be written "Failure."

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