By habit we mean a fixed disposition to do a thing, and a facility in doing it, the result of numerous repetitions of the action a fixed tendency to think, feel, or act in a particular way under special circumstances” (Sully).
“An acquired habit, from the psychological point of view, is nothing but a new pathway of discharge formed in the brain, by which certain incoming currents ever tend to escape” (James).
“Habit is the involuntary tendency or aptitude to perform certain actions which is acquired by their frequent repetition” (Webster).
These definitions in a general way serve to denote the particular field of mental phenomena now under consideration. It is much better, however, for .the student not to confine himself to any formal definition, but from practical knowledge of the facts in the case to frame for himself a working definition.
The phenomena of habit are familiar to everyone, and may be studied every moment of our conscious life. Whatever theory we may hold as to the connection between mind and body, there can be but little doubt that habit has a physiological basis, and hence Prof. James’ phraseology “pathway of discharge” is to be taken in a literal sense. In all probability it represents correctly the facts in the case. But what is meant by “a pathway of discharge?” It means the effect on the sensitive nerve substance, of the flow of nervous force, set in motion by mind in the cerebral hemispheres. When we speak of nervous force we do not make this identical with mind, but it is rather simply an effect of mind, mind power transformed into other modes of action. As chemical action in the battery cell is transformed into an electric current which flows out through the wire circuit of a telegraph system, so we may represent motor currents as transformed soul energy. Then we can literally speak of “pathways of discharge”. To be sure, this is only a theory, but if it guides us aright in the study of facts, it serves an important purpose. We do not set up the theory for its own sake, but simply as a means for attaining to the truth; when we have found the truth we may cast away the theory.
A thorough study of the higher nerve centres suggests the probability that these centres contain in their groups of cells certain arrangements for representing impressions and movements, and other arrangements for coupling the activity of these arrangements together. “Currents pouring in from the sense organs first excite some arrangements, which in turn excite others, until at last a discharge downwards of some sort occurs” (James). Be this as it may, whenever any activity occurs between one group and another group of nerve cells, between one centre, and another centre, or between the various centres and their correlated muscular arrangements for the production of motor effects, the facts show that each time such activity is repeated the tendency for such activity to recur is increased. This fact is aptly represented by the. word “pathway”. The oftener we walk over a given path, the more marked, the more deeply worn, the harder, the smoother, the less resisting it becomes, and, other things equal, the surer we are to keep on walking in that path.
So, habits are due to pathways through the nerve centres and nerve-fibres. The currents of influence from outer stimuli pouring in through the sense channels, being once in, must find a way out, for where there is action of any kind from outer stimuli, there is also reaction from the centres towards the outer world. These “currents in getting out leave their traces in the paths which they take. The only thing they can do, in short, is to deepen old paths or to make new ones; and the whole plasticity of the brain sums itself up in two words when we call it an organ in which currents pouring in from the sense organs make with extreme facility paths which do not easily disappear” (Tames). There is implied in all this the property of plasticity in nervous substance on account of which certain after effects remain when the exciting causes have ceased to act. Plasticity in a body means such a structure of its substance as will allow yielding to an influence without destroying its integrity. This property in some degree is found in all organic matter, but nervous tissue possesses it in a very extraordinary degree. To this property the phenomena of habit are due; this is the physiological basis for the effects of repetition of an action. Habit is thus not a capricious thing, but a law of our being, a law, moreover, which in an important sense conditions almost every other law of physical and psychical action in the human economy.
Repeated action creates a molecular disposition in the nervous substance. This is a principle of tremendous consequence, as we shall see later on, and therefore it demands our close attention here. Prof. Wundt says: “Where we have no knowledge of the true condition of the molecular changes, in which practice consists, as is the case with the complicated structure of the nervous system, we have only the one general expression, which, however, has the advantage in contrast with the view of remaining material impressions, that it claims material aftereffects, which continue at first, but with no practice gradually fall away; and do not consist in a continuation of the function itself, but in facilitating its repetition.” These enduring changes or after-effects of nerve stimulation we call nervous disposition.
These aftereffects consist in certain changes in the arrangement of the material molecules by virtue of which a permanent tendency toward a given mode of action is produced within them. When a nerve has once been excited by the application of a stimulus there is produced within the nerve substance a tendency to act in a similar way upon subsequent stimulations. Every time the stimulation is repeated the tendency for a given nerve action to recur, is increased. When impressions upon the brain cells vanish from consciousness they do not pass away entirely, but leave behind a permanent result, a certain disposition in the nerve substance which under favorable circumstances facilitates the reappearance of the original impressions.
Experience shows that a single sensation does not visibly change the sensibility of the nerves, and therefore apparently leaves no lasting impression. It is only when the sensation has been often repeated, at certain intervals, that a marked and lasting change appears. “Every element becomes more suited to a certain function the oftener it is led by external conditions to exercise it. The frequent repetition of the same impression greatly facilitates the reception of a similar one, and the repetition of various sensations in a certain sphere of the nervous system renders possible the distinction of the finest differences in the force and quality of the received impressions… The frequent performance of a function lessens the amount of exertion necessary for a similar or more difficult one… Many phenomena prove that when a sensation is frequently carried through the ganglia cells in a certain direction, this direction will in future cases when impressions touch the same cells be preeminently disposed to act as conduct” (Wundt).
“It seems just as if impressions that repeatedly transfer themselves from one point to another put aside obstructions on the connecting paths, and make the way freer, smoother, and more traversible…If we often combine a certain feeling or conception with a motion, the latter will finally take place involuntarily as soon as that feeling or that conception is called forth, and vice versa. Certain notes recall certain words to our mind, or the words, the notes, and we sing or whistle them lowly to ourselves. That bond which the practice of our central organs knits between various stations of feeling, conception, and motion, we call habitude. Stations which are in the habit of corresponding, answer each other’s dispatches very promptly, while those of others are not answered at all or only with hesitation and doubt” (Kussmaul).
“Like a machine, which, if continually turned in the same manner and moved by the same driving spring,receives a decided inclination and disposition to this mode of motion, the human soul receives a decided inclination and propensity for those modes of expression and feeling to which it has grown accustomed by repeated similar practices” (Resewitz).
“Habitude is not only a state, it is a disposition, a virtue. Habitude has the greater force when the change which has produced it continues or is often repeated … Repetition strengthens habitude; for an act even when it has not been performed more than a single time leaves a disposition which is the point for the departure of habit” (Ravisson).
Let these statements by authorities on the subject and coming, as they do, fresh from the psychological laboratory, be duly weighed and their bearing considered. The very important fact here to be emphasized and pressed upon the music student’s attention’ is that all impressions he receives, all objects he beholds, all sounds he hears, all pictures he views, all images of beauty he cherishes in his heart, all thoughts that stream through his mind, all acts he performs, leave in his nervous and mental being permanent results as disposition or propensity to repeat his former states and acts with ever increasing facility.
Attention is also called to the fact that the principle here brought out is the foundation of all skill. Were it not for this thing of nervous disposition as result of previous acts and efforts it would not be possible to acquire skill of hand in playing, or doing any thing else. Finger training, ear training, voice training, and every other kind of training would be out, of the question. No such thing as practice making perfect would be possible, for we should do the simplest act the hundredth time no better than the first time. Then could we never learn to walk, or see, or hear, or talk; we should live our life in perpetual inexperience and helplessness and drop into hopeless imbecility. But the all wise Creator has made us and the world in which we live on the principle of economy. As the disciples in the miracle of the loaves and fishes were commanded to gather together the fragments so that nothing should be lost, so in the economy of nature it has been decreed that nothing should go to waste. Everywhere energy, in its multitudinous forms and ceaseless round of activity, is conserved, not destroyed.
In the physical world, as in the mental, aftereffects remain when the exciting cause has vanished. The beautiful colors of the fluorescent tube persist long after the electric current has been broken. Luminous undulations may be garnered up in a sheet of paper, ready to be revealed at the call of special reagents. A plate of dry collodion, after being briefly exposed to the sun’s rays, retains for weeks in the darkness the effects of the indescribably delicate changes which have been wrought in it by the actinic power of the sunbeam. So “the well seasoned Cremona, which has been played upon by skilled hands, will reproduce the tones with superior sweetness and purity, on account of the secret molecular changes of which it has been made the subject of previous agitations from the bow of the violinist” (Ladd). Hence the personality which favorite instruments acquire by long usage; hence also the reluctance with which the owner of a fine piano allows another person to play on it. The doctrine of stored up energy physical, nervous, mental is truly wonderful, and acquires new meaning in connection with this study of habit.
Habit in Education. We have spoken of the physiological basis of habit and have attained a broad foundation upon which to rise into some of its special applications. What has habit to do with education? Rousseau has said, “Education is certainly nothing but a formation of habits.”
“Habit almost invariably goes farther than precept, and the teacher must ascribe most of his successes to the formation of habits. For the power of insight generally covers a single case only, while that of habit reaches through a whole life” (J. G. Curt-man).
Lord Brougham has said: “I trust everything, under God, to habit, on which, in all ages, the law giver as well as the schoolmaster, has mainly placed his reliance; habit, which makes everything easy, and casts the difficulties upon the deviation from a wonted course.” “Education deals altogether with the formation of habits. For it aims to make some condition or form of activity into a second nature for the pupil. But this involves also the breaking up of previous habits. This power to break up habits, as well as to form them, is necessary to the freedom of the individual.”
It is a wise precept of the Koran that the great thing in all education is to see to it that the habits of the child are of the right kind. It is a familiar educational maxim that as the twig is bent the tree is inclined; but this is nothing else than the philosophy of habit expressed in the simple language of common life. What the child’s character, mental, moral, and social, will be depends on the habits he forms during the plastic years of childhood and youth, for every experience, every impulse, every emotion leaves a physical record and tendency in the brain and the nervous system as a whole. Character in its essential part is simply habit which has become fixed.
Habit is far the most powerful of all the educational forces; therefore its importance cannot be too strongly urged upon the educator. If the pupil is taught to act properly and then keeps on acting properly, by and by good manners become fixed habits with him; if he persists in doing right, after a while right doing grows into a firm habit; if he continues spelling and pronouncing words correctly, moving his hands and fingers correctly, and playing correctly, these repeated acts will grow into life habits.
It is a saying in our language that “habit becomes second nature,” and the puke of Wellington said, “Habit is ten times nature. We can understand what he meant by this when we recall another remark of his while watching the boys at play in the yards of Eton School, namely, “There the battle of Waterloo was won.” There, in his boyhood days, in the exercises of the playground as well as those of the school room, was laid the foundation of his military training; there began the stream of habit, which issued in the cool, deliberate, thoughtful, powerful military leader, the hero of Waterloo. The habits formed on the playground became to him a power “ten times nature” in shaping his later life and achieving his world wide fame. Oh, that every pupil and every teacher did but realize the tremendous consequences of habit in the process of education! By every act of our daily life, whether grave or light, unconsciously we are spinning the web of destiny, we are making our own fates, good or bad, we are forming those habits which will determine our character and career.
The drunken Rip Van Winkle, in Jefferson’s play, excuses himself for every fresh neglect of duty by saying, “I won’t count this time.” Ah! but it does count none the less; every single act whether good or bad, right or wrong, careless or thoughtful, counts with unerring certainty, and never a single item is allowed to go, unheeded. Down among the braincells and in the nervous and .muscular fibers every movement is counted and registered, every mistake is recorded in the form of a permanent disposition to do the same thing over again. Every act we do leaves behind it a permanent effect. The things that we do often and do habitually soon become “second nature.” This means that wrong habits, if not corrected, inevitably organize themselves in our innermost nature into powerful forces of opposition which in some critical moment when we are desirous of achieving success will assert themselves with direful obstinacy and bring about humiliating defeat.
The great thing in education is to make our nervous system our friendly ally instead of our enemy. Happy is the man whose habits are his friends; woe to the man whose habits have been such as to bring his muscles and nerves in hostile, array against himself! This is of special value to the music student. What is your musical education? A chain of habits. What is your life? What are you? A bundle of habits. Education means control of one’s self mind, nerves, body. It means that the natural and appointed servants of the mind in the execution of its desires, ideals, and volitions shall be ready and obedient as well as intelligent. The importance of these facts and principles needs to be thundered into the ears of every music pupil, for evil habits are the rock up on which so many make shipwreck of their hopes and aspirations.
Avoid Bad Habits. My apology for calling attention afresh to this old and hackneyed subject is its vital importance and its vastly deeper meaning, on the basis of psychology, than has hitherto been realized by the majority of people. Why is it so important for the music pupil to avoid evil habits?
Because they are “second nature,” yea, rather, “ten times nature;” and we know how powerful a thing nature is in human life and education. In a previous chapter we have seen that our nervous system is an organism for receiving impressions from the outer world and for reacting on these impressions. When we study child nature on a psychological basis we soon become aware of how numerous and how powerful the native reactive tendencies, the impulses and instincts of childhood, are. It is the business of education to determine and direct into proper channels these natural reactions, to substitute for the evil and hurtful ones those that are right and helpful. It is the work of education to organize the elements of nature into forces for good in the development of the mind’s capabilities.
This principle lies at the foundation of the Kindergarten method and the manual training idea, which one has called “the most colossal improvement of recent years in secondary education.” To grasp this principle and apply it as an educating force is to understand the philosophy of education. These acquired reactions of which we have spoken are nothing else than habits. All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits, practical, emotional, and intellectual, systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever that may be.Habit is a law of our being in consequence of the fact that we have a nervous system. In the words of Dr. Carpenter, “Our nervous systems have grown to the way in which they have been exercised, just as a sheet of paper or a coat, once creased or folded tends to fall ever afterward into the same identical folds.”
“Ninety-nine hundredths or, possibly, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousandths of our activity is purely automatic and habitual, from our rising in the morning to our lying down at night.” This is the meaning of the saying that “habit is second nature,” and this also explains the reason why evil habits should so carefully be avoided in the rudimentary stages of musical education.
Evil habits should be avoided because of their irresistible power. Habit is tyrannical in its nature, and all the more so because it is insidious in its progress and influence. Says Montaigne: “Habit is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress. She, by little and little, slyly and unperceived, slips in the foot of her authority, but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the aid of time, fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage nor the power so much as to lift up our eyes.”
“Habit at first is but a silken thread, Fine as the light winged gossamers that sway in the warm sunbeams of a summer’s day; A shallow streamlet, rippling o’er its bed; A tiny sapling, ere its roots are spread; A yet unhardened thorh upon the spray; A lion’s whelp that has not scented prey; A little smiling child obedient led. beware! That thread may bind thee as a chain; That streamlet gather to a fatal sea; That sapling spread into a gnarled tree; That thorn, grown hard, may wound and give thee pain; That playful whelp his murderous fangs reveal That child, a giant, crush thee ‘math his heel.”
Habit has been called the “flywheel of society”; with greater propriety it is the flywheel of individual life. Observe that mighty engine yonder! Long after the steam has been shut off the machinery set in motion by the engine keeps on moving simply by the momentum of its ponderous flywheel. What the flywheel is to the machinery, habit is to human life and action. The machinery cannot stop until the regulating wheel lets it stop; so men cannot stop or change their course of life until the power of habit has been overcome. The confirmed drunkard, the professional gambler, the inveterate smoker, afford us only too common and sad examples. Beginning with single acts, habit is formed slowly at first, and it is not till its spider’s threads are woven into a thick cable that its existence is suspected. So powerful is this effect of the constant repetition of actions, that men whose habits are fixed may be almost said to have lost their free agency. Their acts become of the nature of a fixed fate, and they are so bound by the chains which they have forged for themselves, that they do those things which they have been accustomed to do, even when they know they can yield them neither pleasure nor profit.
“Ill habits gather by unseen degrees, As brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas.”
The delicate snowflakes high up in the mountains, falling softly, noiselessly, one by one, are small and insignificant things that can be destroyed by an infant’s breath. But these same snowflakes, gradually accumulated from day to day, by and by form the mighty avalanche rushing resistlessly down the Alpine valley, carrying death and destruction in its way. So the small acts of daily life, taken singly, seem insignificant, but collectively they make the character and shape the destiny of men.
It is of the highest importance in what direction the stream of life starts out, and towards what goal it moves. Look at that boat in the Niagara River far above the falls. Slowly and indifferently it moves at the will of the rower. The waters are calm, there is scarcely a perceptible current, the boat can be easily turned this way or that. By and by it moves faster and still faster; it is more difficult now to change the course of the boat. Now it is in the death grip of the resistless rapids, its doom is fixed, effort of muscle and agony of soul can avail nothing, a moment later as by unalterable fate the boat with its unhappy occupant is dashed into the abyss of ruin! See in all this the illustration of what habit is in education.
We should avoid evil habits because it is hard to correct them. Habit grows stronger with age and repetition, and character becomes set; therefore as the years go by it becomes more and more difficult to leave the old paths and turn into new ones. It is much harder to unlearn than to learn. If a crease has once been made in a sheet of paper, it is very hard to remove it; be careful, therefore, that the sheet is folded the first time in the right place, so that the effect of the folding needs never be undone, The Grecian flute teacher was justified when he charged double fees in the case of those pupils who had been taught by an inferior teacher. It is much more difficult to teach pupils who have been started wrong than those who have made no start at all, because pathways of mental and nervous activity have been made which must be unmade before there can be any real progress, and this unmaking is painful and difficult.
Our bad habits are thus expensive things; they cost us much money, time, and annoyance to get rid of them. Wrong habits are like diseases, they must be eradicated before good habits can be formed. They are like noxious weeds in a garden, they must be pulled up by the roots before useful plants can be made to grow in their place. We must stop using our minds, hands, fingers in a wrong way, and thus break up evil habits: we must begin doing the right thing in the right way and keep on doing this, and thus establish good habits.
Avoid the first mistake. There is a first time in everything that we do, and this first time is of immeasurable value in the matter of muscular, nervous and mental training. The first time largely determines all subsequent times. Therefore, when a new act is to be done, when something new is begun, our first efforts should receive our utmost attention and care our initiative should be the strongest, most decided, most wideawake possible. The first start on the road of life determines the direction and the destination of the journey. The French maxim, “It is only the first step which is difficult,” is to the point and suggests many an important lesson. It is an old saying that “all beginnings are difficult.” Habit may be defined as an action so often repeated that it repeats itself without thought. Hence the importance of repeating only perfection. The will must say, “The first step shall be perfect, and all subsequent steps or motions shall faithfully copy the first.” Every repetition of imperfection is not only a loss in itself, but it delays and makes more difficult the formation of right habits.
Our chief anxiety should be from the beginning to avoid mistakes, rather than, later on, to correct them. It requires no more mental energy, no greater nervous power, to do a thing right than to do it wrong; but when once done wrong, it requires a great deal more labor to undo what has been done amiss than to do it the first time. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” “Well begun is half done.”
The first music lesson is a crisis in the pupil’s life. O teacher, do you realize the bearing of the first lesson you give your pupil? How does the flywheel start? What is the course of the little rivulet which for the first time starts down the mountain slope? What is the pathway which the first discharge of nervous energy marks out for itself in flowing down from the higher brain center through the fingers and out upon the key board? The first acts leave behind in the cells of the nerves a permanent disposition to act in the same way as on the first trial.
Pupils are apt to think that little mistakes are not so serious; but from an educational point of view, it is these first little mistakes that are most serious, indeed. As a sheet of paper is sure to bend a second and third time where it was first creased, as a repaired bone will break more easily where it was once fractured, as a scar in the skin will be more readily inflamed than other parts, so character is always weakest at that point where it has once given way, and those who have experience in the reformation of criminals know that it takes a long time for a moral principle once broken and restored to become so firm as one that has never yielded. This fact in moral character rests precisely on the same psychological basis as first acts in education.
Therefore, never make a false note, never strike a wrong key, for when you do this once you are liable to do it again. Have a clear mental image of what you are going to do; then see to it that this conception making its way out through the fingers into the keys of the instrument starts its path in just the right direction. Prof. Bain lays it down as an educational principle of primary importance, “Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life.” If an exception is allowed to occur and the continuity of training is broken, not only is the advantage previously gained, lost, but there is inaugurated a new habit in the wrong direction which is the more difficult to overcome because it is a kind of victory over antecedent discipline. A Russian maxim says, “Habits are a necklace of pearls: untie the knot and the whole unthreads.” Each lapse in the course of training is like dropping your ball of yarn which you have been winding up so carefully you have to do the whole thing over again from the beginning. “Never lose a battle,” for every gain on the wrong side undoes the effect of many conquests on the right side. Be sure you have a right conception of every step in your practice exer vise, and then make your fingers execute accurately what your mind holds in thought. Be sure of success at the start, never doubt it, for this attitude of mind will give strength and positiveness to the nervous discharge and this in turn will deepen the pathway of nervous action.
Be not anxious about your genius; it is what it is nothing more nor less than your Creator has given you. But be intensely anxious about your habits; on that all depends; that will decide your success or failure in music, in life. You, whoever you are, with such talents as you may have, can do wonders, if you start right and work right. Listen to the testimony of a pupil in whose experience you may see the reflection of your own: “I have taken lessons of a great many good teachers, but all have told me that I never would be much of a player. I always felt there was some secret withheld from me which prevented me from becoming a pianist. From the teacher I now have I have learned to say, `What I desire to be, that I can be,’ and I have done more in one year than in all the rest of my life before. The secret is very simple. I was never taught to form habits; I was given exercises, but never told why or to what aim I should practice them. Now I find that conscious effort, intelligently directed, enables me to form a habit of playing a thing exactly as I would like to play it.”A student who had spent three years in pursuit of his music studies at Leipzig, Germany, told the writer that his experience was precisely similar to that above described. Extensive observation among many students leads us to the belief that this experience is well nigh universal. It marks a radical defect in existing methods of music teaching. He who does not encourage his pupil to develop the gift that is in him and to cherish a noble ambition to make the best use of himself and directing his efforts intelligently, cannot be considered a good teacher.
Says one, “The days of instruction in music are over and the time of education in music has come. Our chief aim is to develop, to educate the musical sense of the pupil. Our essential service to the pupil consists in getting him to think for himself.” Among the foremost thinkers and teachers of our time the great principle of economy of habit is gradually coming to be recognized at its proper value. Froebel’s grand idea, which germinated in the Kindergarten method of primary instruction, is bearing fruit in our day in promoting rational methods of teaching music. Habit is the great conservator of mental, nervous and muscular energy. As starts the tiny rivulet, so will flow the fixed stream; the forces conserved and directed by right habits in the beginning of a musical education will issue in gratifying results by and by. Hence the wisdom of centering special attention upon the first music lesson.
A word to the teacher, by way of a friendly side remark. In other respects, than those just mentioned, is the first lesson a crisis point in the pupil’s experience; to what extent, you may not realize, possibly never be able to know. What impression do you make on your pupil? Remember the educational maxim that there is no impression without a corresponding expression; every stimulation from without has its attendant and inevitable reaction. Is your manner such as to encourage or to repel?
Is it haughty, cold, unsympathetic? Remember you are dealing with a tender soul, that needs sunshine, warmth, sympathy; it is like a rosebud, which will not open and unfold its beauty and possibilities in a chilling, biting atmosphere. When Liszt was but twelve years of age he was advertised to give a concert; and upon the solicitation of Schindler, Beethoven went to hear and encourage this youthful prodigy. When the little Liszt came out on the platform, he saw Beethoven sitting in the front row. Instead of being unnerved by the great man’s presence, it was an inspiration to him, and he played with great fire and abandon. In the storm of applause which followed, the great master was seen to step up on the platform and catch up the little fellow in his arms and kiss him on both cheeks. Liszt never forgot this incident and used to repeat it with great pride, for he felt that the master had set the seal of greatness upon him in that kiss*.
Beethoven’s kiss was a very little thing in itself, but great in its consequences; it was a timely mark of appreciation, an act of encouragement; and who knows the far-reaching influences of these little acts of kindness and love in the educative process, in the history of a soul’s struggles to attain its unfolding into manhood or womanhood? Benjamin West used to say, “A kiss from my mother made me a painter.” A kiss or a smile of sympathy is a far more potent factor than a cuff or a frown in the business of developing a pupil’s possibilities. Sympathy is a grand essential in the qualification of the teacher. He needs to know not only human nature, but he must understand pupil nature, which is something quite peculiar.
True sympathy recognizes the pupil’s possibilities, as well as his difficulties and discouragements; and it knows how to speak the timely words, which are as “apples of gold in pictures of silver,” or do the friendly act, which is as the refreshing shower to withering vegetation. To teach pupils well and to get the stream of their energies started in the right direction they must be loved much.
Love is a great thing in the work of opening the latent powers and beauties of the soul. Loving sympathy is a never-failing means of getting into the heart of persons and things. It is so in the higher realm of art interpretation in dealing with the products of painting, sculpture, architecture, music in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. The “light and sweetness,” the beauty contained in the poem, the picture, the statue, the musical composition will yield to the touch of love when they yield to nothing else. The great forces of mind and heart, the hidden riches of literature, art and common life, in all ages and countries to the end of time evermore yield promptly to the beckoning magic wand of love. And it is so in the art of teaching, in the opening of the mind to truth and of truth to the mind. He who knows the value of these educational principles will appreciate also the bearing of the teacher’s manner at his first meeting with the pupil, on the pupil’s subsequent career.
Suggestions for the Formation of Right Habits. A few hints in regard to the formation of useful habits may not be out of place, and may prove of service to the student.
First among these, as truly conditioning all the rest, must be mentioned a strong and decided initiative. As this in substance has just been explained, we need here simply to give it mention.
Secondly. Practice concentration of thought and intensity of effort. The wise man long ago formulated this principle for us in words familiar to everyone: (‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Eccl. 9: 10). Herein is stated the first law of success; those who heed this rule are likely to succeed. This does not mean doing things with one’s might on particular occasions or by spasmodic efforts, but it means habitually so doing. When the piano player, or organ player, or violin player concentrates all the energy of mind and heart and hand upon his work, success is assured, for thereby is generated such a power of doing the right thing in the right way that it will overcome all opposing difficulties. The Apostle Paul made it his rule, “This one thing I do,” and this explains largely the wonderful success of his labors. Charles Dickens once said: “Whatever I have tried to do in my life, I have tried with all my heart to do it well. What I have devoted myself to, I have devoted myself completely. Never to put one hand to any thing on which I would not throw my whole self, and never to affect depreciation of my work, whatever it was, I find now to have been golden rules.” Of king Hezekiah it is said, “In every work that he began, … he did it with all his heart, and prospered”.
All these sayings rest on true psychological ground and may be explained in the’ light of well known principles. When the rays of the sun are scattered they are not most effective for doing work, but when they are converged to a focus by a burning glass they become powerful enough to ignite combustible substances. When the electric fluid in the thunder clouds is dispersed by many metallic points raised on the surface of the earth there is little danger from lightning, but when the fluid is allowed to accumulate it acquires such a degree of tension as to cause the dreaded thunder bolt to leap from the sky to the earth carrying death and destruction in its way. If the water in a great reservoir is allowed to escape in ten thousand little rills it will all run off to no purpose, but if these rills are turned into one stream a mighty torrent is produced which no human power can resist. So it is with the energy of the human soul: dissipated, it can accomplish little; but turned upon one point, it performs wonders. In the case of the piano player our principle finds an important application. Concentration of effort is a substitute for long and wearisome hours of practice. Rubinstein being asked by a young lady pianist how many hours it was necessary to practice each day, replied that for Americans, and especially ladies, an average of three hours a day was the extreme limit, and less rather than more should be the rule. Jacobsohn, the violinist, said that he practiced only one hour a day, but that this hour is so intense in nervous exertion that he is completely exhausted and dripping with perspiration at the end of that time.
These sentiments are founded on the nature of mind and are confirmed by experience. The human mind cannot concentrate its good and powerful thought on any one subject for more than three or four hours out of the twenty-four. Education trains us to get the greatest results out of the least expenditure of effort. Those who practice many hours a day must put forth painful and long continued effort, and they get but meager results. Concentration is economy of mental and nervous power, and also of time. One hour with concentrated thought is equal to four hours with weak and dissipated thought. Therefore, reduce the hours of work and waste by concentration of thought. Then will more of the pupil’s time be left for other things in the way of improvement in general culture; then will the habit of concentrating all his powers become firmly established and effort in every direction will become many times more effective and easy.
“Applied concentration makes a musician, an artist, a poet, a philosopher.” It is a great truth, and worthy of all acceptation. The degree of success a man achieves and the rank he attains in any calling depend more on this `applied concentration’ than on the gift of genius or on accident. When he has learned to bend his whole attention on the details of his work he is on the highway of success in his chosen calling. A powerful central nerve current is necessary for a free hand and finger movement, for, sure action, for a steady stroke, for a tender touch, for selfcontrol and an easy, graceful pose at the instrument; it is a sure antidote for nervousness and trembling.
Among the incidental requisites to such a powerful nerve current may be mentioned, first, propernourishment, which will secure a good fund of rich arterialized blood, which in turn imparts tone and a healthy glow to the bodily members. Then, there should be free circulation of the blood, so as to secure an equitable distribution of the life forces carried by the blood, and relieve all tendencies to local congestion in some parts and the absence of blood in others, which gives rise to an uneasy, restless, excited state of mind and body. Proper exercise must be attended to vigorous, active exercise out in the open air and in God’s unclouded sunshine exercise that will open the pores of the skin, send the color to the cheeks, and bring a delightful glow to the whole body. Having taken such exercise and having rested a while, the player will resume his work at the instrument with better control of muscles and nerves and he will be able to employ such mental powers as he may possess to much better advantage than he could before. Besides all this, he will really enjoy his practicing. Some one tells us that his remedy for stage fright is to administer to the afflicted one a severe slapping on the bare back until the skin smarts, and that this remedy never fails. The principle involved is the same as that above described, and rests on good physiological ground.
But the great requisite is undivided attention. “This one thing I do,” on one thing I fix my attention, to one thing I devote my whole being, into one thing I pour the whole stream of my activity, mental and physical. “Be a whole man at everything”, was the advice of a celebrated Englishman to his son at school. It is the lack of this wholeness of purpose and energy which distinguishes the half hearted and blundering, the faltering and the weakling, from those that win the victories of life. To make all the nerve forces flow in one channel is to make the central current powerful and effective, whilst to allow numerous side branchings is to weaken and dissipate the effect. Says a shrewd American essayist: “The one prudence in life is concentration, the one evil is dissipation; and it makes no difference whether our dissipations are coarse or fine property and its cares,friends and a social habit, or politics, or music, or feasting. Every thing is good which takes away one plaything and delusion more, and drives us home to add one stroke of faithful work.”
The culture of a healthy, vigorous soul is like that of a tree. The prudent gardener does not suffer the sap to be diverted into a thousand channels merely to develop a myriad of profitless twigs; he prunes the off shoots, and leaves the vital juices to be absorbed by a few vigorous fruit bearing branches. Mental dissipation is peculiarly our American sin; we squander our energies upon a distracting, bewildering variety of objects, instead of condensing them upon one thing. The general who scatters his soldiers all over the field thereby ensures defeat; so he, whose attention is forever diffused through so many channels that it can never gather force on any one point. Notice those clouds of steam as they rise in the sky. Nothing is more powerless; they are as impotent as the dewdrops that fall nightly upon the earth. But concentrated and condensed in a steam boiler, they are able to cut through solid rock and to hurl mountains into the sea. What made William Pitt the so-called “heaven born statesman?” It was the marvelous power of concentrating his powers; it was the habit of bending all his energies upon the thing in hand. Whatever he did, he did with all his might. With him there was no half vision, no sleepy eyes, no dawning sense. “All his life he had his wits about him so intensely directed to the point required, that it is said, he seemed never to learn, but simply to recollect … Is it strange that such a man went straightway from college into the House of Commons, and in two years to the Prime Ministership of Great Britain, reigned,for nearly a quarter of a century, virtually king, and carried his measures in spite of the opposition of some of the greatest men England ever produced?” The simple secret of his success was that all the power of his soul was concentrated on one purpose.
Concentration of soul power will do wonders for all workers, as it did for Pitt, Luther, Bismarck, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Handel, Bach, and all the rest of the world’s renowned worthies. Be not anxious about your genius, it is what it is, do not stand lamenting the parsimony of nature in the bestowment of gifts upon yourself, for that will avail nothing. But be attentive, diligent, soul centered workers. “Why stand ye here idle all day long? Go, work in my vineyard,” is heaven’s call to you whoever you may be. Concentrate your powers of mind and soul and body on the one purpose of your life, that will tell the story, that will decide whether you shall attain an honorable rank in your calling or remain for-ever a common drudge.
Industry, application, labor are necessary in order to achieve excellence in music as well as in painting, sculpture, and literature. Remember Mr. Wirt’s motto, “There is no excellence without great labor.” Before a concentration of your powers, before determined effort, before unremitting toil and application and industry your bug-bear difficulties will vanish and your defeats will be organized into victories. Handel was an indefatigable worker. His biographer says of him: “He braved everything, and, by his unaided self, accomplished the work of twelve men.” Haydn, speaking of his art, said, “It consists in taking up a subject and pursuing it.” Mozart declared that “work was his chief pleasure.” Beethoven’s favorite maxim was: “The barriers are not erected which can say to aspiring talents and industry, ‘Thus far and no farther’.” John Sebastian Bach said: “I was industrious; whoever is equally sedulous, will be equally successful.”
All the great composers have been earnest students and hard workers. Genius is no substitute for labor. “Eternal vigilance,” it has been said, “is the price of our liberty:” it is also the price of our success in music. The lives of great composers teach us that they went about their tasks willingly and enthusiastically, doing well each task as it came and being content with moderate progress. “Great men take short steps carefully,” no matter how rapidly they are to go. Robert Schumann wrote, “Success comes with tiny steps.” These facts and utterances should bring comfort to the disheartened and kindle courage in the timid and despairing. Perchance you have but one talent; then find it, prize it, improve it by faithful, earnest, conscientious work. Know that every step of the way, every effort, every earnest endeavor brings its sure reward. Stroke after stroke, year after year, if you go on patiently, the habit of industry, of concentration, of careful, thoughtful work, will become more firmly fixed and also more easy.
If you cannot accomplish as much as the masters, you need not despair; you can still do a great deal far more than you think. If men give their whole attention to a subject, concentrate all their power upon their work, they will be able to accomplish much; on the other hand, if they give only a few occasional minutes and desultory efforts to their work, they will accomplish but little. If you expect to make your music a success you must give time and labor and undivided attention to it. Set high your aim, then go forward courageously in pursuit of it. Lay deep the foundation, start the current of energy in the right direction, see to it that the paths down among the brain cells are being marked out in the right way, concentrate all your forces into a powerful central current, and never doubt your ultimate success. “It is a beautiful arrangement in our nature that the reward for patient, faithful work comes silently to us, and often we do not know of its presence. But some day finding ourselves stronger, we look to know the cause of it, and we see that the faithfulness of past days has borne precious fruit.”But such a course of training and habit forming as we are urging here requires great will-power. Yes, indeed; let us settle this with ourselves from the start. No one becomes a great musician without vigorously willing to be such. As in a great manufacturing establishment it is the powerful engine hidden away somewhere in a room by itself, that drives all the machinery; so in the busy life of the brain worker it is the powerful will behind all, that gives motion and direction to the nervous forces, to the muscles, to the hands, to the whole being in all the routine of daily exercises. The will conditions almost everything in the history of art achievement. If we have simply will to be and do something, we are already on the highway of success. Let us try to understand this as music students in the matter of forming habits of concentration and attention: it will prove a talisman to our success. “Where there is a will there is a way.” Do we understand what this really means? Do we realize the truth of this old maxim, so as to become to us a working rule? On all sides we find limits to our power; still it is generally true that he who intensely wills to do a thing finds a way for its accomplishment. “An intense desire itself transforms possibility into reality. Our wishes are but prophecies of the things we are capable of performing; while on the other hand, the timid, feeble willed man finds everything impossible because he believes it to be so. To resolve upon attainment is often attainment itself.”
Nearly all great men have been remarkable for their great energy of will. Napoleon’s wonderful success was due not more to his vast military genius, than to his almost super human will. “Impossible,” said he, “is a word only to be found in the dictionaries of fools.” When told that the Alps stood in the way of his armies he replied, “There shall be no Alps!” and the Simplon Pass was the result. Dr. Thomas Arnold of Rugby fame said, “The difference between one boy and another consists not so much in talent as in energy.” And Sir Thomas Powell Buxton has given this valuable testimony: “The longer I live, the more I am certain that the great difference between men, between the great and the insignificant, is energy, invincible determination, an honest purpose once fixed, and then death or victory. This quality will do almost anything in the world, and no talents, no circumstances, will make a two legged creature a man without it. . I am sure a young man may be very much what he pleases.”
These earnest, thrilling words coming from such sources, deserve to be heeded and treasured by the ‘ student: they will prove helpful, they will ennoble his life and kindle inspiration to work. To think we are able to be something is itself a long step towards the realization of our wish. “The truest wisdom is a resolute determination,” was one of Napoleon’s favorite maxims. Have the courage to will something noble and worthy of yourself, and then follow up your willing with determined, persistent, concentrated effort, and what may you not achieve? Be earnest and brave, and have faith in your ability. “Woe unto him that is faint-hearted,” says the son of Sirach. A good old German proverb expresses admirably the same sentiment, “Den Muthigen gehört die Welt.”
“Resolute determination in the pursuit of worthy objects is the foundation of all true greatness of character. Energy enables a man to force his way through irksome drudgery and dry detail, and carries him onward and upward in every station of life. It is not eminent talent that is required to insure success in any pursuit, so much as purpose not merely the power to achieve, but the will to labor energetically and perseveringly. Hence energy of will may be defined to be the very central power of character in man in a word, it is the man himself. It gives impulse to his every action, and soul to every effort. True hope is based on it, and it is hope that gives the real perfumes of life.
“The great thing willed, the good purpose once formed, must then be carried out with alacrity. “In life nothing bears fruit except by labor of mind or body.” The statement is grounded in basal facts of human nature. He who allows his application to flag, or neglects his work on frivolous pretexts, is on the sure road to ultimate failure, because the habit of doing so as irresistibly carries him to that end as the rapids carry the boat once in their grasp over the falls. Every task should be undertaken in a whole hearted way and as a thing not to be omitted on slight occasion. When work is habitually done in this way it will soon lose its drudgery and will become easy and pleasant, for concentration of energy, application, holding the will to a steady purpose are habits, and like all other habits, become second nature after a time. If we have formed habits of allowing our minds to rim from one thing to another without direction, we must not be surprised if by and by it becomes well nigh impossible to hold them to any one subject for an appreciable length of time. On the other hand all valuable habits are formed by the exercise of voluntary attention.*
Thirdly, Give Thought to What You Do. Thoughtlessness is the great enemy of progress in all branches of study and pursuit; it is the giant evil that is responsible for the great majority of mistakes which cause so much annoyance and prove so expensive and disastrous. Thoughtlessness is principally a bad habit, and moreover the parent of an innumerable progeny of other evil habits. It is the evil spirit, which returning to the house whence it had been cast out and finding the house unoccupied, took unto itself seven other evil spirits, and the latter condition was worse than the former. Some one has said that “the harm of the world is done by two forces, by evil thought and by thoughtlessness.” Observe that thoughtlessness, that is, the absence of thought, the vacant, unoccupied state of mind, is one of these harmful forces. It is a truth of vital importance to the music student. Many are disposed to regard this matter lightly and even to speak apologetically concerning it, as if it were a matter of course and not attended by serious consequences; but in the light of psychological principles it is in reality a very serious thing. What pathway does the thoughtless act make for itself among the braincells? That in a large measure will determine subsequent acts.
No one can afford to sit down to his instrument and let his fingers wander listlessly over the keyboard while his thoughts are roving idly about. If only he could see the mischief that meanwhile is being done down among the braincells and in the nervous and muscular fibers he would be startled and perhaps cured of his fatal error. When the hands and fingers are not guided by careful thought they perform many unnecessary, and injurious motions which soon grow into second nature and thus effectually bar the way of progress in the right direction; instead of increasing one’s power and effectiveness of manipulation, they weaken him; they are just so much precious nerve force wasted and worse than wasted, they are like the minute worm holes in the dyke which little by little make way for the influx of the destructive ocean billows. There is great need of earnest thought in the ordinary hand and finger exercises which are too often performed in the most mechanical and indifferent kind of way. We know, alas! too well what the results are. The music which is performed without thought is certainly never the highest order of music, and the work at the piano which proceeds without discriminating thought is not the best kind of work. Nothing can be done well without thought. All excellence, whether in common manual labor, in art, in literature, in music is the product of intelligent thought.
The practical lesson from all this is to avoid listlessness, absent-mindedness, thoughtlessness while practicing exercises. No teacher should allow his pupil to proceed with the lesson if his thought is not centered upon the exercise. for reasons apparent to all. Listen to the earnest words of Dr. Mertz: “Never practise listlessly; always have your whole mind and heart on your work, Know what you do and why you do it.”
The hand is the medium through which the musical thoughts of our hearts flow out into the keyboard in the act of playing, or into the notes in the act of composing a piece of music. The hand is the interpreter of the mind; in art products, it is the grand outlet of thought, the highway of soul power, the medium of expression. In order that the hand may be an efficient servant, it must be trained and kept under control. But how is this done? By careful thought. It is well enough to keep practicing until certain movements of the hands and fingers become automatic; but the best work of the hands and fingers is always done when they are directed by the thought of the player. Music which is performed wholly by automatic movements is of the kind that the organ grinder grinds out of his music box it is sound, but lacks soul, lacks expression, because there is no thought to express. Such also is the music which is nothing but that kind of technique which requires no thought on the part of the player in the act of performing it.
Who is the great pianist? Not he, who can beat on the keys with the greatest force and produce the greatest volume of sound; a common stone breaker can do that. Who is the great violinist? Not he, who can perform all kinds of odd movements, cut up all sorts of capers on the poor, afflicted, long suffering strings of his violin. Let not appearances deceive; that is not art; that is the merest sham of art. Who is the true painter artist? Not he, who can make a loud display of colors and sketch fantastic figures and strike startling poses. Who is the well dressed lady or gentleman? Not those, who attract the attention of everybody on the street. He is the great pianist, the great violinist, the true painter artist, who has his mind first of all filled with great thoughts, lofty and noble ideals, and who, by many years of thoughtful training, has taught his hands to obey the commands of his will in the effort adequately to express his thoughts and ideals, and interpret them in ternis of common simple life. Oh! one grows weary of all this half intelligent twaddle about musical artists in our day. True art is never demonstrative. As the true artist approaches nearer and nearer the heart of his subject, he is less disposed to affect brilliancy. The masters are quiet and simple in proportion as they become acquainted with the higher beauties of their art. It is with them as with mountain climbers in the valleys and low foot hills they may be gay and noisy, but when they rise into the sublime heights they become silent, serious, thoughtful.
What is it that makes our great masterpieces of painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry, music so grand and beautiful and lasting? it is the thought they contain and express; behind these great works is always a greater soul with its precious thought treasures. To such souls demonstration and affected brilliancy are as foreign as boisterous garrulity or idle jesting is foreign to the sublime mountain peak.
When we as art students, as makers or hearers of music, come to rest our judgment upon such ideas of art and artists, then are we not far from the true kingdom of art all else is false and unworthy the name. So much by way of parenthesis.
Our remarks have brought into view a principle, which we must pause here to apply. We have said that everything should be clearly thought out in the mind before the hands are called on to act. But what does this suggest as to methods of learning music? We answer by asking another question, Is that a normal, a rational method which sends the learner, the first thing he does, to the piano and bids him hammer away at an etude of which he has not a single intelligent idea and to which he has not given a moment of thought? How can one do thoughtfully that of which he has not a single thought? How can the hands be guided by thought where there is no thought in the mind about that which the hands are to execute? Will you first set the hands and fingers into a hit or miss kind of movement with the hope that thought would make its way up through the fingers into the empty head and heart? Vain hope! Idle delusion! Fatal error! Reverse the order; follow nature. First fill the mind and heart with thought, with ideas, and then let these flow down from the higher centers through their appropriate motor channels and out through the hands and fingers upon the keyboard. Manifestly the pupil should first give his thought to the exercise, study it, learn it, find out what it contains and what the composer wishes to convey by it; when he has done this he is ready to begin the practice of it at the piano; not before.
Don’t take your new piece to the piano to try it over, but rather sit down in some quiet corner and go over it mentally. Study out its inner meaning, its conception, its harmonies and effect. Then go to the piano, and, with this mental picture vividly photographed on your mind, endeavor through the exercise of willpower, to make your fingers perform it as you have conceived it. Your first attempts will naturally prove unsatisfactory, but this will be the fault of the hands and not of the brain. The practice of reading over mentally a composition time and again cannot be too earnestly recommended. That mental conception of music, which is everything . in playing, is frequently to be obtained only in this way. So many players devote so much attention to technique that the most you can say of their pieces is that they are executed (as one executes a criminal), not played.* There is too much bodily exercise “which profiteth little,” too little brain work in the average music pupil’s practice. The learner should study the piece he is to practice, he should think musically. “Pupils often practice for months upon a piece without really knowing a single period of it; their practice calls into exercise not a single idea, not a single effort. of mind to guide the fingers and give them certainty of movement, firmness of stroke, or delicacy of touch; it consists in mere mechanical playing of the notes, no impression whatever being made upon the brain, for the mind has not listened, the eyes have simply looked to see that the fingers struck the correct keys.” Such work is waste of time, waste of nerves, waste of muscle, it never makes musicians. If pupils were taught to study music, there would be more musicians, and fewer playing machines, fewer organ grinders and piano beaters. “In the mad rush after technique the brain has been forgotten, the mind has been neglected; it has never learned the mysterious language of sound and therefore cannot understand the printed music except only as the music is interpreted by the fingers, and what kind of interpretation is that which knows nothing about the thought contained in the printed characters?”
Bring Intelligence into Your Work. What is meant by this? Broad, general intelligence is necessary for success in music as well as in anything else. A few years ago a different opinion prevailed; it was thought that the music student did not need thorough intellectual training, classical culture, either because he was a genius, or else because his work was entirely technique. But this is all a mistake.
Knowledge is power to the musician just as it is to everyone else. To make a firstclass musician there is need of a high order of knowledge, not simply of his narrow specialty, but of all the subjects that belong to a well balanced education. What comes from the consciousness of knowing things thoroughly? A calm, collected mind, a steady nerve, a firm hand, an, easy pose, a graceful manner. Knowledge expands and strengthens the mental faculties, controls the feelings, guides the will, and brings the entire life into harmony with its surroundings. You need something more than knowledge of notes and of musical terms. There are other worlds than that in which you have your special calling. Broad fields containing rich treasures lie all about you and invite your investigation. Be taught by paintings and sculptures, buildings and landscapes, flowers and poems, mountains and rivers, minerals and animals, clouds and stars,men and nationsthe thousand interesting things that make up the environment of your daily life, and you will be a better and happier musician for the knowledge you thus gain.
How is it possible to interpret the thought of the great masters, contained in their compositions? Only by getting into the same standpoint from which they looked out, and listened to the sounds from the world of harmony. Beethoven thought that three things were true of his symphonies: “First, that they are the product of his mental activity the result of the organization of his whole experience; secondly, that his mental activity involves all the principles which are common to men and which enable one to explain his mental activity to another; thirdly, that his symphonies epitomize his knowledge of the thinking, feeling, and willing mind as known to him in selfconsciousness.” The works of Beethoven are the stored up results of all the individual heartbeats, all the individual acts of memory, all the glorious pangs of feeling, all the efforts of will which passed through his conscious experience in the course of life. All this means that to understand and appreciate Beethoven’s music and then to interpret it to others, one must be in sympathy with the experiences of his life must, so to speak, live his life over after him. But how can one do this? Only by sympathetic study of the things which he experienced, the things which made up his life, the things about which he was thinking, the things that he loved. Hence musical biography is a study of great practical value to the music student.
Our musical appreciation is the index of our knowledge of the processes involved in the development of musical art. To appreciate fully a fine piece of music we must know how that piece grew in the mind of the composer. How do we come to an appreciation and a right interpretation of a fine poem? What is it to understand literature and to perform the office of literary interpreter? Not simply to know the meaning of the words, to be able to construe the phrases, clauses and sentences, to explain the figures of speech, it is all this, and much more. An intimate acquaintance with the author’s personal history is necessary. There is no surer way to get at the secret moulding principle in a great literary production than through loving sympathy with the author. It is so also in the study of musical compositions.
Music, perhaps more than any other subject, requires a high order of intellectual and aesthetic maturity in order to judge aright of its merits. A musical composition is, even to a greater extent than in the case of a poem, the embodiment of the composer’s personality. “The ease and gracefulness of Mozart’s music reflects the predominant mood of the man; the passionate intensity of Beethoven makes his music without a rival in this respect; the lofty, but unregulated genius of Wagner’s music is a thorough reflex of the ambitious and persevering opera writer, stage manager, and master of orchestration; the lovely tone forms, the beautiful picture music of Schumann reveal the poetic, dreamy character of the founder of the modern romantic school of music.” Our appreciation of Beethoven’s symphonies is intellectual as well as formal; the very character and life of the author are woven into their luminous texture and constitute the background for their beautiful figures. But such an intelligent appreciation and such a highly cultivated judgment imply extensive general knowledge and numerous points of contact with the author’s experience.
I cannot forbear reproducing here what another has so pointedly written. Good music implies the training of the mind. Only they can appreciate the classics who have something that is classic within them. Some players choose true music with pure thought in it, and do their best to play it well after the manner called for by the composer. Their aim is to give truthful expression to the music of a good writer. Other players select music, which is of a showy character, with much brilliancy and little thought in it. Their aim is not to show what good music is but show themselves. We must know the best, that is what music culture means, and we must work for the best, for the truthful music, not the brilliant and vain. When we seek only the vain kind, we display poor taste. It is in music as in dress, the flashy and showy is always indicative of an uncultivated taste. As we become better acquainted with true music we find it more and more interesting, and it keeps saying new things to us. We go to it again and again, and we always get new meanings. As our intelligence grows and our taste improves, the truly classic music yields new beauties. It is like the light in a beautifully cut gem, it seems that we never see all it is it is never twice the same; always a new radiance comes from it.
Enlarge the Field of Ideas. The musician has need of broad and accurate knowledge so as to make just discriminations. He would not play Bach and Beethoven in one and the same color, nor would he interpret Schumann as he would Mendelssohn. Technique is necessary, but technique is only the beginning. A reliable technique is entirely under the control of the mind, and should have for a foundation a scholarly education, both musical and general. The study of musical history is earnestly recommended. No student can neglect this without serious loss. The present can be understood only in the light of the past. It has been said that “history is a great painter, with the world for canvas and life for a figure. A cultivated reader of history is domesticated in all families: he dines with Pericles and sups with Titian.”
The great musical works that we possess are a heritage from many years and from distant lands. “From the days when men first undertook to give order and system to the scale tones; from the days of the monochord, of the Humae, of the two line staff, the art of music has been stepping forward, slowly at first, as a child, then faster, as strength was gained, until at length it hastens so that we marvel at its development… In the history of music from the days of Luther to our own time, we see the history of mankind. No one can fully grasp the significance of compositions by great writers who does not comprehend their place in history, for the reason that the individuality which composers put into their music is formed by surroundings which can be discovered only in the pages of history. The era, the relationships, the surroundings of a writer must inevitably enter into what he produces, and, accordingly, to judge the writer well and understandingly, one must know the man in all his life phases.
Close and careful study is necessary. Read the best books and magazines, study the literature of your special subject, read the best poetry, read general history as well as musical history, give attention to various other branches of knowledge, such as acoustics, physiology, psychology, botany, aesthetics, criticism, etc., etc.
But you say you have not time for all this. Improve the unoccupied minutes and there will be time enough to fill the mind with extensive and useful knowledge. The great thing is to get your mind to work and to keep it constantly at work. Only cultivate once a studious habit and a taste for literary pursuits and then all objections as to lack of time, opportunity, library facilities, etc., will vanish. Where there is a will there is a way. A little system and much perseverance will do wonders.
Fourthly, Practice Constant Repetition. An old Latin proverb says, “Repetition is the mother of study.” If this be true of literary studies, it is doubly true of musical studies. To keep bright what we have polished, to retain what we have acquired, to deepen and keep smooth the pathways marked out, we must constantly repeat our former exercises. Whenever mental acts are often repeated, their corresponding brain cells are thereby made stable and vigorous by the same law that gives strength to our muscles by proper exercise. An arm carried in a sling becomes weak, a muscle unused soon grows flabby; so also the brain cells. If, out of a hundred ideas, the thirty-fifth, e. g., has been repeated more frequently than the rest, the brain process corresponding to that particular idea is most likely to gain recognition in consciousness. We can picture to ourselves a continuous struggle going on among our mental images, the weaker ones must give way; the vigorous, well grounded images survive. It is a difficult task to learn a foreign language so as to speak it fluently, but constant repetition fixes word after word, sound after sound, so firmly in the mind, that we can recall thousands of words and sounds with the greatest ease and with little danger of forgetting. Because of the natural law that everything tends to grow weak by disuse, muscle and mind alike, we should so regulate our mental life that we are compelled to make constant use of the facts already gained.
To this end a wide awake literary club among music students is a good thing; it gives an occasion to make use of the results of reading or study on some special subject, it stimulates the members to a wholesome rivalry, and it calls the mental faculties into exercise. A very entertaining and instructive programme can be carried out at each meeting, giving both pleasure and profit to all who take part. Conversation is a profitable exercise. If we talk over, with some sympathetic friend, what we have read, we thereby refresh our knowledge and impress it on our own minds more deeply, for the conversational way of putting things demands that we first have clear cut and sharp images of the things we would communicate, and then, in the act of communicating, we gain the additional advantage of repeating these images, thereby fixing them more firmly.
We say, practice makes perfect, and all this rests on the principle of repetition. By a wise economy of our nature the effects of previous efforts are not lost but conserved as disposition in the nerve substance; repetition of the act strengthens this disposition till by and by we do automatically what at first required the closest attention.
Fifthly, Continuous Training. This matter of overcoming evil habits and forming right habits implies a desperate struggle, the most heroic and persistent effort. More than simply will is necessary: with the determined will must go the steady, uninterrupted training process. Habits that have long been practiced may have gained such strength as to set at defiance any power of the will that can be brought to bear upon them. We have for illustration the experience of the drunkard.
“There is a wrong philosophy,” says Beecher, “in supposing that a habit which has fixed itself in the fleshy nature can be overcome by the mere exertion of the will. It is not enough to resolve against it. You cannot vanquish it by the power of a resolution. To that must be added continuous training.” Forming right habits means training. The faculties, nerves, muscles of the child need to be trained. Education means training leading out continuous leading o ut, of the stream of mental and nervous energy over the same pathways until habits of acting right are firmly fixed, and then the stream will continue to flow on in the same channel of its own accord.
Says Archbishop Whately: “Whatever a man may inwardly think and say, you cannot fully depend upon his conduct till you know how he has been accustomed to act. For continued action is like a continued stream of water, which wears for itself a channel that it will not be easily turned from.” Training is the stream that wears deep its channel from which it is not easily turned aside. Hence the wisdom of Solomon’s utterance, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This pedagogical maxim has stood the test for ages and it is still the summing up of the best experience and the soundest philosophy of education. Solomon did not mention in so many words anything about the “psychologie foundations of education but that is precisely what he was thinking about, for the law of habit is the psychologie foundation on which his maxim rests. As long as mind is mind and nature is nature, so long will this maxim point the true theory of education.
Join this utterance of the wise man with that of another very wise man who looked deep into the nature of the soul and who founded his theory of soul culture upon ultimate facts of experience, and you have a complete view of the best educational system the world has ever known “I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind .The good that I would I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do … To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I know not” (Rom. 7: 1521). Here is brought out the nature and present condition of the soul, and its consequent predisposition to evil habits; hence the necessity of just such a method of soul culture as Solomon suggests, the keyword of which is “train up.”