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Teaching Pupils To Think


However strange it may seem to some, it is a fact that music, like all the other fine arts, is divided into three branches,—the spiritual, the mental, and the physical,—all of which must work in complete harmony if the desire be to attain to artistic excellence. Negligence of any one of these branches means failure. I am aware that the hardest problem to solve is how to induce young pupils to interest themselves in their music lessons, after they have gone beyond a certain grade, but it can be done if the teacher uses the proper mental guidance. In the first place, the teacher should impress upon his pupils the fact that music is a life study, and that it exacts from them their highest thought and endeavor. But this can not be done unless they are taught how to think.

It can not be truthfully stated that a person is in the act of thinking until he concentrates all his mental forces in one direction; that is to say, he must bring his thoughts to a certain focus before he is able to think clearly. So, it is plain that there is a wide difference between casual observation and mental concentration.

Teaching pupils how to think, then, should be the first object of music instructors. This task is not so hard as one may imagine, and after it is accomplished it will be a matter of only a short time until a genuine interest in music will be manifested by pupils even of tender years.

An observant pupil is not necessarily a thinking one; neither is a person who memorizes easily always one who possesses an analytical mind. It can be seen, therefore, how carefully a teacher must work to obtain the best results in his profession. Strict attention to the different temperaments and peculiarities of those under his charge will bring light to him, and he will not only be more likely to succeed in teaching his pupils how to think, but he himself will be guided in the right channel.

Of course, it is not to be expected that very young pupils can do much thinking for themselves, yet they can be guided in the right direction. Teach them that music is the highest art, and that the better the quality of the music they hear, the more rapid advancement will they make.

Encourage pupils to ask questions about the purpose of music, and to make inquiries as to the achievements of great composers and performers. This will lead them to do a little thinking on their own account. When pupils arrive at the age of, say, seventeen or a little older, they seem disinclined to propound questions, as if it were beneath their dignity, and they also seem to be shut up within themselves, and go through their exercises in a half-hearted, perfunctory manner. This is the most critical period of a student’s career, and he should be watched very carefully, for it is then that he is oversensitive, more self-conscious, wilful and capricious than he will ever be again.

In a recent discussion I heard a well-known piano teacher say that it is more difficult to manage pupils between the ages of sixteen and nineteen than those who are younger or older. I believe the fault is not wholly with the pupils. Teachers should use tact and judgment in dealing with pupils of these ages, and under no circumstances should they be treated as children and made to feel that they are being “managed.” On the contrary, teachers should convey the idea that they are cooperating with such pupils in their art work, and thus the latter will lose, in a great measure, that self assumption which is so disagreeable, and will be put on a plane where they can think more of the musical art and less of their own personality. As they grow older they will learn to prize individuality far above everything else, but nothing of permanent value can be accomplished by attempting to use force and coercion.

Pupils can not be taught too early the supremacy of their higher or spiritual nature over the intellectual and the physical. I do not mean in a religious sense at all, but rather in the metaphysical conception. Too many of us are losing valuable time by working on the external plane; in other words, we are trying to force musical ideas from without instead of trying to develop the musical instincts and talents that lie within, thereby dwarfing the minds of our pupils and depriving them of freedom of thinking. A child can repeat the multiplication table from memory without making a mistake, but he can not reason out a mathematical problem until he has arrived at years of discretion. Yet a child should know why five times six are thirty, since that knowledge does not make him prematurely old, by any means, and it greatly assists his reasoning faculties. Why can not we teach our pupils to reason out musical problems? That would certainly make the subject more interesting and would put our young friends to thinking, the very object which all teachers desire to accomplish. There is no excuse for making music the “dry subject” which so many of our pupils call it, and no one, if properly taught and encouraged—provided he possesses adaptability—should look upon rudimentary work and practice as “drudgery.”

Show your pupils that you are genuinely interested in their welfare, and do not place your own knowledge so far above theirs as to impress them with the fact that you can not learn something from them. It would not be lowering your dignity in the least to have them understand that you, too, are a pupil, and that you never expect to graduate, for there will always be something to learn in the musical realm, which is as illimitable as space and time. And you can do this, if you so will it, in a manner that will not interfere in the slightest degree with your rules of teaching. Be one with your pupils and thus assist them toward self-thinking of the practical, progressive grade.


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You are reading Teaching Pupils To Think from the July, 1898 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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