Developing Patience in Music Teaching

Music of Yesterday

By Mrs. Orville Bassett
1913
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 correctly.

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 despair.