The Etude
Name the Composer . Etude Magazine Covers . Etude Magazine Ads & Images . Selected Etude Magazine Stories . About . Donate .


The Repertory of Pupils. Why, How, and What?

BY W.S.B. MATHEWS
 
By repertory I mean a collection of pieces which, having been taken as lessons, one after another, have been thoroughly learned and are retained by the pupil in such a way as to be played, several of them in succession, at request and without immediate preparation. It is to have a collection of pieces, and also the pieces, and really to have them. Thus the pupil has a repertory in the same sense as artists have repertories; and there is a vast difference between artists. Those of the first class can play you at call almost any piece in the entire repertory of the pianist—notably Godowsky can do this, Rubinstein and von Bülow used to be able to do so, and in all likelihood Busoni can do it. Then there are artists of a second class who have at call anywhere from ten to fifty pieces, but have to relearn anything outside this range.
 
The common run of pupils not only do not have a repertory made for them by their teachers, they often forget one week the piece they played the week before. Hence we have taken in hand three rather large and difficult questions: What should be the nature and compass of a pupil's repertory, How it is to be accumulated, and How made permanent? It is evident, then, since the object of studying music is to be able to appreciate and to enjoy music, and to be able to know music and to have some on hand all the time; the pupil who, after some months' lessons, has nothing on hand has in fact put himself upon the list of non-dividend-paying stocks. He is a sort of sieve, into which water has been poured from time to time, but which after a week of vacation is as dry as a haymow. So are too many pupils.
 
The permanent aspects of piano lessons, the relation of the lessons to the daily life of the pupil now and later on, are not enough considered. Every term of lessons ought to be a certain addition to the permanent capital of the pupil; it ought to make an appreciable addition to his resources for enjoyment and to the furnishings of his mind. Now, with reference to the last-named point, I am not one of those modern educators who think that pupils ought to be awakened involuntarily, their attention attracted by the charm of what is offered them, and then made to remember only so much as sticks to their attention without conscious application on their part. On the contrary, while I concede that this spontaneous awakening of attention to the world about him is the first step toward beginning the lifelong work of enriching the contents of the mind, I do not consider an appetite for knowledge to be impaired by work any more than an appetite for food is impaired by the necessity of chewing it—provided it be not too tough. In other words, the conscious application of mind to a given task is legitimate; it is a part of the order of life; and the weak-minded individual who tries to go through life without this aid will make a poor result. Moreover, experience shows that what people work for they prize.
 
A merely casual interest in the agreeable effect of music, therefore, is not a sufficient motive for development. There must be things to be accurately known, which only close and concentrated attention will give the student. Therefore the teacher has the work of plowing and harrowing this dry ground and planting seed there, until a new crop grows upon its own roots.
 
The mental attention in the beginning will be of slight intensity; it is the teacher's task to increase it. This is to be done first of all by educating the ear to hear and to enjoy Melody, Rhythm, and especially Harmony; and by giving pieces to study which contain beauties of Rhythm, Melody, Harmony—which are, in short, within their limits, good music. This is to happen in every grade from the first up. I have already mentioned the fact that we are beginning to have a new elementary repertory of easy music. The old sonatina variety is becoming meager and stale. The left hand is kept too quiet, and the whole is too meager. In the easy grades I have tried to select out of the older material that which has in it more of this quality of musical interest, and have measurably succeeded. Those interested will look in the first three grades or four grades, and in my Books of Studies in Phrasing, Schumann Album, the
 
collection of Bethoven (sic) for fourth grade, etc. Here are many easy pieces which are of sterling purity as music varied in style, thoroughly musical and stimulative to study.
 
The teacher's object with the first-grade pupil is a little complicated. The child has to learn to read notes, know the keyboard, make a beginning in musical theory (such as knowing the scales, simple chords, and usual varieties of measure), and begin to gain a sort of automatic ease in reproducing with his hands the musical thoughts which he has in his mind.
 
Right here we draw a line. The "musical thoughts he has in his mind." In the same way as no one has a right to talk anything else than what he has in his mind (unless, indeed, he is undergoing an education as a parrot) so also the music pupil aims to play the musical ideas he has in his mind. Here, therefore, is where we begin. It is our business to get ideas into his mind—no matter how small the opening. All this belongs to a part of the technic of teaching, which although ignored by a great majority of teachers belongs nevertheless to teaching technic, pure and simple, and this we leave for summer courses, college courses, or wherever they set about systematically the educating of people for teachers.
 
Rarely is there any trouble in obtaining memorizing from young pupils, although some of them are able to remember but a very short portion for a lesson. It is the older pupil who is helpless in memorizing. Such a one has to be educated in the elementary unities of music, one by one, the rhythm, the melody, the chords and chord-successions, and then in their relation. But for any person to give up memorizing as being something beyond his powers is simply one way of confessing that being incompetent himself he has not a teacher able to lift him over. Leschetizky well says that a pupil in a given number of months will learn as much music memorized as read from notes, and will learn it a great deal better. I had worked that out to my own satisfaction years and years ago. So they will.
 
Now the great difficulty with the majority of memorizing is that the pupils do not know enough things about the piece they think they have "learned, for the present." A musical associate, who is a sort of "doctor" in memorizing, declares that there are three kinds of musical memory, which people have in varying degrees: Eye memory (an impression of how the notes look); ear memory, the impression of how they sound; and hand memory, the feeling of succession in muscular motions and in adaptation to keyboard conditions. If you want to get a sharp idea of how much this last element amounts to, try to play the piece you know best a half step higher or a whole step higher than you usually play it. You will find that the unexpected relations of the fingers to the ideas will disturb your impressions very much indeed.
 
When a pupil knows a piece it means to know these several things: First, to be able to play the melody alone; the bass alone; the chords alone; the different rhythms alone; the entire right-hand part straight through; the entire left-hand part straight through; to begin anywhere desired and go on from that point without difficulty. When you succeed in getting some one piece learned in these different ways, you will discover that the pupil has upon it a firm grasp entirely new in your experience. Then suppose the pupil forgets one thing or another; forgets the whole. Here we follow our Leschetizky; we learn it over; and we learn it over again until it sticks. It is bound to stick sooner or later. Only when it sticks are we ready to begin the study of the piece for musical playing. What is the use of talking about interpretation or expression when you haven't anything to express or interpret? The idea is absurd.
 
Granted, then, that our pupil has learned his little piece of three lines in all these ways, what do we do then? We then begin to find out the different little accents, crescendos, decrescendos, pedaling and so on needed to make it sound as if we really meant it. Nor is this done in a moment. It is like preparing a sonata or great composition for concert playing; you hear it over and over, with an improvement here, an improvement there, etc. When this little piece begins
 
to sound like music we have begun to form a repertory. What we now have to do is to add to it.
 
The next piece will come up through the great tribulation of the first one, taking very likely just as long. But perserverance (sic) is the word. There eventually comes a time when the second piece is played even better than the first. Here is where teachers fall down. They go on and give a third piece and let the first one slide, and the second piece begin to slide. The growth in music is exactly like getting rich. The rule of the game is: "Keep what you get; get all you can." Therefore during the lesson when the third piece is beginning, we also begin reviewing the first piece. If it still sticks nicely, a little work will be enough; the teacher merely hears it played after the lesson on the third piece is done. And so it goes with a fourth and fifth, and all subsequent pieces. Each in turn is the subject of an intense concentration of mind, and each in turn is eventually taken into the mind and more less kept there. Your task is to make it more.
 
Here a teacher calls attention to the fact that pupils in the first grade rarely can practice as much as an hour a day, and with their untrained musical minds they cannot learn more than a very little. I know that. But if that little is well learned, each bit added strenghtens (sic) the other, and by degrees the mind gets stronger. Anyway at the end of the first year of study the pupil ought to be able to sit down and play at least six good pieces straight through, one after another, like a recital. This is the kind of thing we are after. It is not a question of how much or how many, but how.
 
Here we come back to the question of quality in the music itself. The object is to make the pupils musical. When we have taken them through some five or ten pieces in the way I have described they cannot escape being made more musical. First of all the mind has learned to recognize the constructive elements of the music; the three great primal elements of Rhythm, Melody, and Harmony, and to know the latter exactly, because Harmony is precisely that element in music which none find out by themselves. It is the central element of all, and the ground of all tonal unities. So, unless we direct attention to Harmony in the start, and keep it there, we will never advance to really superior music, for the harmony will leave us behind. This is the ground of so much popular misunderstanding of Bach and Schumann. People have not learned to follow this kind of ideas, and both these great masters, while perhaps the most emotional of all composers, are also strongest in Harmony.
 
In order to get and keep the best results it is indispensable that the repertories of pupils shall be as varied as possible. Pieces of quick running work, dance movements, in which the melody figures, are those of a jig; slow and tender melodies resting upon deep and reposeful harmonies. All the types must be covered, and covered as nearly as possible with music which is pleasing and rewardful to young players. The graded course and phrasing books before mentioned will illustrate what kind of pieces I mean. There is not one piece in the three books of phrasing which any pupil can afford to omit between the first grade and the fourth or fifth. They might need several more; if so, provide them. These at least cover the required work.
 
Outside of that material be sure to cover two other elements. Bach must be begun in the second grade, and they must do something of him in every grade. The easiest pieces by Bach that I remember are a Minuet in B-flat, which Mr. Faelten has in his book of easy pieces by Bach, and the prelude in C minor (which I have ventured to abridge in a recent collection). The other kind of piece needed is the popular variety, the better class of salon music. But of this I have no room to speak.
 
Summary: What is studied must be learned, or it will have little or no educational value to the pupil. What is learned must be retained. The selection of pieces must be regulated to secure comprehensiveness of styles to the end that the pupil gets something worth while. The pupil who, after a term, has not any two or three pieces at immediate command when called upon, has missed most of the good belonging to the opportunity.
 
Have a repertory.
 
 
 
The number of persons who wrap their thinking apparatus in a napkin and thus deprive themselves of treasures of knowledge is surprising.

<< Puzzle Pictures     The Stupid Pupil >>

Monthly Archives

The Publisher of The Etude Will Supply Anything In Music