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Practical Points by Practical Teachers


Music-teachers are generally bright people. As such, their minds are awake and active and ready to grasp new theories as well as old facts. Sometimes these new theories so absorb their interest and they come to so believe in them that they take on the feeling of missionaries toward the rest of the world and especially toward their pupils, and feel that it is their duty to impress these peculiar beliefs on them. And I do not speak of musical theories, though there are enough of them floating in the air. But there is some excuse for a teacher dealing in new musical theories, if he can find them. It is his business; and he may find something that is practical.
It is in matters of belief in things not musical that a teacher must take care. When it comes to religious beliefs, to political theories, to sociological tenets; in these, if he wishes to keep the good-will and patronage of his pupils, he must guard himself in his expressions and in his proselytizing. Such matters should not be allowed to enter the class-room.
Persons have a right to their own forms of belief in these things, and the teacher should respect this right, and refrain from expressing himself strongly or at all on these matters in the lesson-hour. It is none of his business what the pupil or the pupil's parents think as to politics or religion. Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Spiritualist, Theosophist, Skeptic,—let him be what he may, it is his business and his only; and it is none of his to try and impress his beliefs on others. What seems the plainest truth to him may be the wildest imagining, the most hair-brained of theories to his pupil. And the best way to disgust that necessary person is to advance and urge these theories or beliefs or facts, if you will, in the lesson-time.
Who can blame the young man who leaves the teacher who tells him the spirits are hovering over the piano and will direct his fingers if he will only resign their manipulation to the ethereal beings? Why should he stay with a teacher who tells him that he can play the difficult octave passage if he will put his mind in the right attitude toward it and omit the practicing of it? And these are not cases manufactured to suit the text.
The ambitious teacher should beware of mental fads. But if they are an absolute necessity, let him keep them to himself, for the most of the world will not agree with him, no matter what he thinks. And he is only a musical missionary, not a religious or a political one, nor yet an advance agent for the spiritual host.
If there is one thing that a business house prides itself upon, it is its ability to meet contingencies of any kind at any time. If there is one thing that musicians generally neglect, it is this constant readiness. The world at large expects punctuality and at least a semblance of regularity. The musician, under the delusion that it is inartistic to be business-like, is not only remiss, but actually goes out of his way to become "bohemian."
I remember one case in particular in which the musician was a singer who invariably reported for duty late. As this necessitated an entire change of the evening's program each time, the manager soon came to the conclusion that it was wiser to secure an artist who could be depended upon than one who was liable to disappoint an audience.
It is not only in the matter of punctuality that the musician is negligent. A little indifference in the matter of technical practice has frequently been the means of making many a clever artist lose an engagement. Again, in the matter of accounts teachers are liable to many small, but accumulating, losses by failing to send statements at just the exact moment when due. The teacher should also take pride in having his books in such condition that he can render an account of a pupil's business standing at any time during the term. It matters nothing whether this work is obnoxious to him or not, he owes it to himself so to conduct his business that men and women in other vocations will not be able to make sinister allusions to the business capacity of musicians. Constant readiness is to business what constant civility is to manners. If the teacher desires to have the genuine confidence of his pupils or their parents, he cannot afford to neglect things that are of great importance in the lives of his patrons.
In the experience of the present writer, it is difficult to make the average pupil appreciate the necessity of having a period of complete muscular and mental repose precede and follow every action of the muscle or mind. Ask a pupil to play a passage over ten times in practice, and almost invariably the repetitions will follow each other so closely that there is hardly time to take breath between. There is no time to concentrate the mind, and without concentration and intensity of mental effort practice does not amount to much.
In practicing a passage a number of times always follow each repetition by a few seconds of complete muscular and mental devitalization; then one can practice for hours without fatigue.
Usually the hardest measures for the younger pupils to play are those in which irregular subdivisions of time occur. Most children can play in 3/4 time such a measure as (a), (b), or (c). But it we chance to have (d) we know what to expect. The pupil is sure to be thinking more about getting his three quick notes of the triplet steadily than he is of getting the three beats or pulses of the measure steadily. He is making too much of the smaller unit —the beat, and not enough of the larger unit—the measure. The better way to get at the problem is to eliminate the subdivisions of the smaller unit. Take it first as (e), now (f). To steady the meter and triplet we may try (g). We are ready now to try it as originally (h), accenting the beats so that he must think of the meter first.
This plan is especially helpful in such time signatures as 9/8. For example, take "Au Matin," by Godard. In its characteristic time-figure (i) it is absolutely necessary that the pupil feel the underlying meter (j). If there is any wavering apparent it will ease things if the pupil play the left-hand part only on the three strong metric pulses of the measure, leaving out, for the moment, the infilling eighth notes.
If you look around you and in your own heart, you will see how many minutes produce no results, either in forming your character, in influencing others, or in changing one iota of the face of nature, the state of society, or the history of the world.—Eastman.

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