Practice and Teaching

One of the most interesting topics in music and the teaching of music is practice. Here, as in everything, lack of forethought and interest commonly dominate. The pupil receives his assignment, he returns for the lesson, the teacher points out false notes here and there, changes a few fingerings, perhaps suggests more freedom of playing or scolds because the pupil has not given enough time to his lesson, and with this it is over. Even an untalented pupil will with this customary kind of instruction make progress over the years and reach a certain degree of facility.

Counter to this way of teaching is one in which one single method dominates. One teacher constantly emphasizes "technique;" the pupil must practice long hours; above all he must practice difficult pieces, must concentrate on intonation and speed. The mechanism which is so necessary for the beauty and elegance of music is not practiced, but it must be played quickly and clearly. Its melodic qualities and its phrasing are hardly touched; and the real precision work on the instrument, which is as enduring and gratifying as the inside of a watch or as the work of a smithy, does not exist.

Sevek, the famous violin teacher, said once in my presence to a pupil, after he had completed the first movement of Mendelssohn's concerto: we can go on to the third movement, the second you will play well later on your own.

Another form of teaching, found mostly in Germany, is one in which music is considered a holy matter, so metaphysical-not of- but above-the-earth-that it would be a sacrilege even to hint at anything resembling technique within music.

During the lessons the student will be constantly reminded of the seriousness, the majesty, the nobility of the artistic profession. Technique or mechanism will be regarded with contempt, with the result that after years of such instruction, the young person, who believes himself an artist, an exceptional person, is sent out into the world, often conceited and arrogant, without being capable of conveying even a vague notion, whether true or false, of art.

Then there are other methods of instruction, which emphasize various specific elements: one teacher insists on a high elbow in the right arm; the other points out that the wrist must be thrown forward when in an up-bow as the frog nears the string; and still another maintains that the fingers must be placed perpendicular to the string; while a fourth is dominated by the thought that each bow that is drawn must include a crescendo and decrescendo; the other tries to allow as much racing around on the "A" string as possible, while for still another the thumb position, as used or not used, alone represents the "soul-saving church," etc., etc.

I wanted to speak of practicing, but instead I have been preoccupied with my knowledge of teachers and pupils. How is painting taught? A master lets his pupils work in a studio and they are always under his supervision. No time is thus lost as often happens with us-for example, a pupil who misunderstands the teacher and works incorrectly on one specific thing for a week. He must then return home and unlearn what he has practiced. In the former method, the results will not be demonstrated to the teacher during the lesson, rather the teacher can witness and follow at first hand all the phases of the student's progress, his talent, his diligence, and can therefore pay more attention to the student's personality.



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