Developing Patience in Music Teaching
By Mrs. Orville Bassett
How poor are they who have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees?
Was there ever a successful
music teacher who did not possess an inexhaustible supply of patience?
Well, perhaps a few geniuses, but they only prove the rule that quality
is as necessary to an expert teacher as a thorough knowledge of music.
The example occurs to me of
a young lady teacher, who was an unusually fine musician, and a most
brilliant performer on the pianoforte. Mothers who heard her play
wished to secure her as a teacher for their children, and she might
have been a success but, unfortunately, she lacked patience.
One day I was present when
she was giving a lesson to a little girl who played the first part of
her exercise fairly well, but began to stumble at the chords, and break
the time, as it became more difficult. The teacher, who had been
listening while looking out of the window, quickly crossed to where the
piano stood, and taking the instruction book from before the girl,
threw it into a far corner of the room, saying, angrily, "I will not
listen to such a rendering of that exercise. Go home and practice it
until you can play it perfectly." The girl, without a word left the
room, her face ablaze with embarrassment and mortification.
"My dear", said I, quick
shocked, "Why were you so severe with that child? If she had been my
pupil I should have thought it my duty to assist her."
"Perhaps you would, but her discords drove me wild, and I will not hear a lesson until it is perfect."
"But," argued I, "some pupils cannot render some exercises perfectly, even after long practice; did you never notice that?"
"I have noticed it, and that girl is one of them."
"Then what will you do?"
"Nothing. I shall probably never see her again."
"Do you mean you have lost her as a pupil?"
"I think so."
"And do not care?"
"I am relieved," she replied with a laugh, as she seated herself at the piano and flooded the room with such beautiful music:
"Such sweet, such melting strains!
Their soft harmonious cadence rises now,
And swells in solemn grandeur to its height!
Now sinks to mellow notes--now dies away--
But leaves its thrilling memory on my ear."
"Ah," sighed I, "If I had
but half her executive ability, what might I not do, with my patience!"
For I, too, got my living by giving music lessons, but, as I could not
play well, my pupils came slowly, through my reputation as a careful
and conscientious teacher I smiled to myself as she played, at the
thought of her having the pupil I had given a lesson to that morning: a
twelve-year-old girl, whose mother, when she brought her to me, said
she hoped I would be successful with here, but that three teachers had
tried before me and the child could not play anything. I did not
understand how that could be, for she was a bright girl, and certainly
very fond of music, but I undertook to teach her, and had given her
quite a number of exercises and amusements, all of which she played
nicely for several lessons, until I made the astonishing discovery that
she could not read a note of music. She had always asked me to play her
music to her before she went home to practice it, and I had complied. I
noticed she was very attentive while I played, which pleased me, but I
hd to learn that the child had such a wonderful memory that she needed
to hear an exercise but once when she know it, not by note, as I
supposed, but by ear.
Where the Fault Was
That, doubtless, was where
the other teachers had failed, for she had a sweet way of asking to
hear the lesson that few could refuse; but this day I had insisted upon
her playing something that was new to her, only to hear her confess
that she did not know one note from another, and did not want to as she
could just as well by ear.
The remainder of the hour I
spend in giving her a lecture, then I called on her mother and put the
case to her just as it was, and told her that I felt as though I had
not earned the money I had received, but now that I understood the
cause of my failure I thought I could succeed. She told me to go ahead
and see what I could do with her girl.
Well, I did my best, and
had use for all the patience I possessed. A different instruction book
was procured and we began again, at the very beginning. It was slow
work. I could not understand why a child with such pronounced musical
ability should be so dull at the technicalities; but we conquered them
at last and she was a very happy little girl when she could play a new
piece without having heard it, and without help. I am very sure my
impatient friend could neither have felt nor understood the
satisfaction I felt over the victory won by patience and perseverence.
The Problem of Accent
When I first began giving
lesson my small pupils caused me a great deal of trouble by not
accenting correctly. Their playing would, in many cases sound as
monotonous as a reader who does not emphasize the proper words. they
could not understand, or if they did, could not remember which notes to
accent, which is not strange, when we consider how much they have to
remember even when playing a simple exercise. Teachers are too apt to
gauge a child's brain by their own.
A difficulty is a
challenge, however, and I soon found an easy way of overcoming the
accent problem and one that young minds could understand. Whether it
was original with me or not I cannot say. I had never seen it in any
instruction book thirty years ago, when I first used it, nor have I
since, though it is so simple that many have thought of it. It is,
instead of their counting numbers, as usual, to substitute a familiar
word for a while; one that has the accent suited to the time, as, for
example: ba-by, Ma-ry for four eighth notes; or for a dotted eighth
combined with a sixteenth, such words as fa-ther, weak-er; a group of
four sixteenths, Dad-dy-dad-dy said quickly, as one word; an eighth and
two sixteenths sound like Stand-un-der; reversed, we have Un-der_stand,
and so on.
Children enjoy the change,
and when they return to counting the time they do not forget the
correct accent; but a teacher without a goodly supply of patience would
not be likely to adopt that method, neither would she be apt to
experience the pleasure of hearing a dull pupil render an exercise
The path of the average
music teacher is not covered with roses, but there are compensations;
one of them is the thought that she is giving each pupil a magic staff
that will stay by them through life, brightening the dark valleys and
helping them up the long hills. One that will kindle hope and melt away