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A Little Talk.


And now, my dear debutant in the student world of music, at the outset you may as well divest yourself of the idea with which some misguided, albeit well meaning, individual, may have invested you, that “music is easy.” “Art is long,” said the poet. Music is difficult, exceedingly difficult. No laggard ever succeeded in gaining a firm foothold within her domains, and the portal to her Holy of Holies is so jealously guarded that only the rarest skill can force an entrance, else the first class musician would be on a level with the first-class laundryman, or any other delver who has attained superiority in his calling. You will need all of your energies for the work in hand.

Perhaps, too, you have been told that talent is the sine qua non of successful musicianship. “Many men of many minds,” runs the old, alliterative proverb, and this is one of the queer notions they harbor. Talent is helpful, certainly, when used in connection with other attributes, but talent is not necessary. Talent is lazy, as a rule, and scorns the drudgery of art.

“Ah sir, do you bear in mind
How the plodding tortoise in the race
Left the leaping hare behind?”

Brains and a strong will are the plodding tortoises in the race for learning, and they usually outstrip the “leaping hare” of talent.

Some day you may wish to join the army of music pedagogues, and talent is not always to be preferred in the idle of teacher. He who rides to the temple gates in a coach and four on the king’s highway, is scarcely competent to place signal lights of warning along the pitfalls and snares of the stony foot path that, mayhap, you must tread with your companions, the great majority. I hold that those who must needs contest every inch of ground over which they travel will prove better guides than their more fortunate fellow journeymen. They know the exact tactics by which success was wrought in all the attendant skirmishes, and will be unerring, patient leaders,—sympathetic, too, since the scars of their erewhile warfare are ever-present reminders of the feudal past. No, my friend, never be discouraged because you lack talent; cultivate a determined will, and success is sure.

“If at first you don’t succeed,
Try, try again.”

I hope you will not relegate this admonition to the shelf of trite nursery rhymes, for it will hold good as a rule of action from the cradle to the grave. “Let patience have her perfect work;” “Haste makes waste;” “Rome was not built in a day;”—I might bombard you with a magazine of such material as this, but let the forgoing suffice.

How many innocent chords I have seen decapitated by impatient (I should dislike to say shiftless) pupils in an undue skurrying to the next key! Our friend, the Englishman, who accused all Americans of expecting to accomplish every undertaking in a quarter of an hour, was a shrewd observer; however (but there is no merit in an argumentum ad hominem) I cannot forbear the retort that the moteless eye of a German could discover a great big beam of haste in his English neighbor’s orb.

Acquaint yourself thoroughly with the keyboard, and its relation to the notes as placed upon the staff. Many pupils of months’ standing, who can read music readily, are in a state of pitiable ignorance when relieved of the printed score, and asked to locate the position of each key’s corresponding note on, above, or below the staff.

When the lesson is being taught, give strict attention. No time, then, for the mind to practice Bohemianism. Apparently, there may be neither pith nor point in the teacher’s remarks, but keep your attention riveted, and the import will appear by and by. Rest assured that no sensible instructor (and of course you will have no other kind) will waste his pupil’s time and money by indulging in useless conversation during the lesson hour.

It is said that Charles Dickens never allowed the slightest occurrence to escape his notice. If a dog trotted across the street, he immediately drew out his note book and jotted down his impressions of the action. The fame of this great character delineator is international, and close attention to details may do as much for you.

Above all things, learn to think for yourself. Just as the infant, struggling with its first step, must, despite a superabundance of loving assistance, make individual exertions if it be successful, so you must add your own best thoughts to those of painstaking instructors before you can make any real progress in the world of art.

Learn, too, the art of concentrating your thoughts. These busy, tireless children of the brain that occupy all of one’s waking moments, and often trespass on the domain of sleep, are, unhappily, hopeless vagrants, and, like the wandering tribes of Arabia, seldom leave any monuments of skill to mark their onward passage. If General Will Power would colonize these nomadic members of the mind, and force them to centralized effort, there would be giant strides in the world’s intellectual progress.

Apropos of thinking for one’s self, if you are sufficiently advanced, a good way to induce thought is to try learning a piece without aid. Deficiencies, if there be any, will readily appear, and you will realize your needs, while, happily, you have a competent instructor to satisfy them. Copying music will bring out many little points hitherto unnoticed.

In selecting a piece of music for study, be careful to get the work of a good composer. If at the outset you do not relish high class music, there will at least be the satisfaction of knowing that you are playing something bearing the stamp of intelligent authorship, and when your intellectual taste develops, you will be especially grateful that no “trashy” music was ever allowed to make inroads on your time, and lower the standard of your repertoire. Obtain an edition that you can depend upon, an educational one, if possible, and follow the directions religiously, avoiding false keys as you would an active crater. If there be a crescendo, make a crescendo, and nothing else but a crescendo; if there be a ritardando, get slower, by all means, not slow, but slower, the last note demanding special duration. Careless players usually give this note a shorter tempo. Treat all signs of expression with due courtesy, as you would like for a player to handle one of your compositions.

When playing for friends, instead of attempting a selection of such difficulty that all of your energies will be consumed in endeavoring to manipulate the fingers successfully, choose, rather, one of simpler mold, in which the technical part is done automatically, leaving the mind untrammeled to direct the placing of delicate tints and shades that bespeak the artist’s work. Also, consider the taste, and intellectual capacity of your hearers, at least to some extent. Don’t be puritanical.

Just here I bethink myself of that hideous monster that, were it possible, would crush every budding Paderewski with his lionine jaws, and do away with art forever. I allude to nervousness when playing in public. Musical journals teem with descriptions of ways and means to successfully combat his attacks. Ah! if there were only a porter Watchful to assure us that ‘tis but a chained lion (as, indeed, it is), how many more would get a peep into the Palace Beautiful! In my opinion, frequent appearances in public are more potent producers of self possession than anything else. Of course, at first there will be humiliations galore, but these are the penalties fame imposes.

Never recoil from criticism. Even harsh criticism, if deserved, may be of incalculable benefit. It appears a dark, repulsive thing that every one shuns instinctively, but, drop the scales of conceit from your eyes, and this grotesque object will resolve itself into the mirror for which the Scottish poet sighed in his famous couplet—“Oh, wad some power the giftie gie us, To see oursel’s as ithers see us!”

Devote much time to the reading of articles on music as found in first class books and journals, so that the brain may keep pace with the digital progress. Harmony, Theory, and History, will also crowd themselves into your busy days. The mathematician must not only know to “invert the divisor, and multiply” when dividing fractions, but why such a transformation is necessary. So, it is not enough that the pupil in music should know that F-sharp is in the key of G, but he must be able to explain the reason. Strange as it may seem, to give this simple explanation would be an impossibility to hundreds of scale players.

In conclusion, I would urge a study of the beautiful in literature as well as in art. This will prevent you from degrading into that loathsome object, a musical crank, and otherwise prove helpful. Never discard the rôle of student, remembering always the words of the dying Beethoven, “I have just begun.”

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