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Piano Playing and General Musical Instruction.




The above title is certainly broad and comprehensive, and I will attempt to illustrate a certain course of study that, if faithfully adhered to, will positively lead to the desired end. In order to become a good pianist we all know that certain natural qualifications are indispensable even when the pupil has a most conscientious and painstaking teacher. Many people have the impression that the best teachers must necessarily be concert pianists, who are so prominently brought forward by their public performances. Some concert pianists may be able to impart their own skill to their pupils, especially if the pupils are sufficiently advanced technically and intellectually, and are also receptive enough to appreciate and imitate the style of their teacher’s playing. There are, however, very few concert pianists sufficiently endowed with the divine virtue of patience to enable them to succeed well with pupils of very little, or indeed no, musical training at all. Teachers are born with the gift of teaching, the same as composers and poets are born, with the creative power which, according to their capacity and development, leads them to greatness in their respective spheres.

Concert pianists, who depend upon their pupils to simply imitate them, and who fail to give them correct ideas as to the most advantageous way of practicing and studying, are really doing nothing to promote the most healthful improvement of the technique and style of their pupils. The best teachers are those who, having had the best advantages themselves, have, after many years of practical experience, reduced their mode of teaching to a certain kind of system. As a fine solo performer is, to a certain extent, benefited by playing in an orchestra under the inspiring lead of a good conductor, so is a fine concert pianist benefited by numbering among his pupils the first beginners as well as the most advanced pupils.

In both cases there is danger of degenerating into a mere machine unless the instincts of the solo performers are of the highest order. The study of the piano should not be put off too late. When I say the study of the piano I do not, of course, refer to the mere taking of piano lessons from inferior teachers and the drumming out of a few trashy pieces mostly by ear. Fortunately for this country, we have the New England Conservatory, where musical students can begin and finish their studies under as competent instructors as can be found in this country or Europe. It can notbe (sic) expected that artists can be produced in three or four years’ time unless they have had the best possible instruction from early childhood and are gifted by nature with the right qualifications for this high calling.

A few words in regard to my own personal experience may not be uninteresting to some musical students. My father began my musical training when I was about eight years of age and it was his habit to sit with me every evening from seven to nine o’clock. This was strictly adhered to for several years until he considered my judgment sufficiently matured to be able to study by myself in an intelligent manner. When a child shows any special musical inclination he ought to have a lesson every day, even though the lessons be only of a few minutes’ duration. In those days class instruction was unknown in this country, but now the advantages to be gained by placing together three or four pupils of the same grade of advancement and intelligence, from the first beginner to the most advanced and gifted pupil, is becoming more and more apparent. The system of class teaching has many opponents among persons ignorant of its real advantages and merits.

It is well known that the great power that leads to indisputable success, is well-directed enthusiasm. It is equally well known that enthusiasm must be awakened and fostered by an intense love for a subject, and by an honest, ambitious determination to excel in it, and make for one’s self a high reputation. In what possible way can enthusiastic ambition be so readily kindled as by bringing together persons interested in the same subject and working for the same end? It must not be understood that the system of class teaching in music is in all cases preferable to the ordinary way of private instruction; indeed, a combination of both methods is strongly advised when the pecuniary resources of the pupil do not of necessity have to be so carefully considered, as is too often the case with the most talented students. One thing is absolutely certain, if a person has talent sufficient to warrant a reasonable outlay of money, it will be sooner discovered in class than it will in private lessons; for even the dullest pupil will make every effort to advance when brought in direct competition with others. In this way parents can soon find out whether their children are making progress, and whether the time and money might not be spent to better advantage than studying an art for which they have no natural qualifications. In these days, when class instruction can be had from the very best teachers for the same amount that is charged by persons of little musical education and experience, it behooves every sensible person to give the matter careful consideration. To those who wish to educate themselves to teach music the class system commends itself especially. They gain confidence in playing or singing before others. They learn how pupils of different temperaments have to be treated, and, what to every teacher is of such vast importance, they become (during a course of one or more years’ study) familiar with a large amount of music and many different authors. This knowledge teaches them how to properly apply what they have been through themselves, and gives them an intelligent judgment in making selections.

(To be continued.)


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