Side Studies for Musicians

By Harvery B. Gaul

One of the best ways to study music is to take up a side study. No matter what the subject is, it is far better to learn some other thing along with the pursuit of music than it is to steadily grind at that.

We should observe and obey the law of nature that tells us to diversify our labors, we should seek relaxation from one pursuit by actively
“going in” for another. Gladstone, with his vigorous constitution realized that. He sought for relaxation, physical and mental, by chopping trees. Mendelssohn found recreation in sketching and painting; Saint-Saens, who is a living example of versatility, finds pleasure in astronomy. There are many others, as a glance over the names of great men, past and present, will recall to your mind. There are men who have a side study in which they are almost as proficient as in their profession.

Why do we musicians work more than any other class of professional men? We consecrate ourselves to our art–and slave and work assiduously, much to the detriment of our health. It is very doubtful whether a doctor, lawyer, merchant or chief, as the old rhyme runs, works at his calling as hard as a musician. It is very doubtful. Perhaps this is why music has been called a
“narrow profession.” Our health and well-being demands that we give a certain amount of time to recreation and exercise.

It may have been thought aesthetic in the olden days to be anemic and high strung, but in this age of strenuosity and feverish haste, health and strong nerves are imperative. Gilbert and Sullivan caricatured a contemporary litterateur in the character of Bunthorne–in
“Patience.” That type was common among the artistic professions of those days, but now, and we ought to be grateful, it is like the Dodo bird, quite extinct. We should turn to outdoor sports or change of environment when we feel our forces weakening.


When you choose a side study, choose one that will benefit you either along intellectual or physical lines. If one prefers the intellectual–psychology presents an unlimited field.
Botany also offers a great area in which to ride a hobby. Languages will prove a revelation and are really
indispensable, if you would be a well equipped musician. “Physics” and “mechanics” are both related to music–whether you have thought of it or not.

Physics will instruct you in the theory of sound and tone; mechanism will inform you of the construction and workings of your instrument. The studies arc really invaluable for the musician–they are as important to him as costuming and history are to the artist.

If one craves physical recreation– the piscatory art as followed by Izak Walton is irresistibly alluring. One might even follow Cincinnatus with advantage. Then, in summer and fall there is the
“call of the wild.” There are many and devious ways, as Ruskin and Morris knew, and as F. Hopkinson Smith and Weir Mitchell practice. These men have obtained much benefit from their side studies.

We read of the following men in our daily prints as firm believers in athletics. It gives them stimulus for their work. Theodore Roosevelt is a famous equestrian and sportsman; John D. Rockefeller is equally known as a golfist and cyclist, Jack London is a sailor, the late venerable Bishop of Delaware, Bishop Coleman, is well known as an exponent of pedestrianism. These men all make time for
“sport.” They follow their hobbies in both field and stream.

A well known artist of my acquaintance is as good a carpenter as one could wish, and a widely known
composer, whom I also know, is a splendid cabinet maker. These men are keenly alive to the value of relaxation, and when they want a rest or change they seek it in tool shop and carpenter’s bench. Much study is a
“weariness of the flesh,” as the wise writer of Ecclesiastes said–consequently an
avocation or side study is a most desirable thing. Musicians, above all other
professional folk, need a side study, for all work and no play makes Jacques a decidedly dull musician.