Music Study – Class Instruction

On the other hand, the classes are preferable in all that concerns pure technique, that is to say, Solfeggio, Theory, Dictation, Transposition, Harmony, Counterpoint, Fugue, Composition, everything, in short, whose rules or immutable laws are invariably the same for all, and have nothing to do with the character, or special qualities of each individual, which should, on the contrary, outside of these rules, and especially in all that concerns Composition, preserve its independence and individuality.

I think it may be useful to enter into a few details regarding other reasons which make me prefer class teaching in each of these branches of musical tech-nique.

solfeggio : a pupil cannot sol-fa for a whole hour at a time, it would be much too fatiguing; but he can thoroughly profit by a Course of Solfeggio that lasts two hours by taking interest in the work of the other pupils and in following the music, when he himself is not singing. We may even conclude à priori that the largest classes are also likely to be the best, for they permit of ensemble solfeggio of several parts, one of the most perfect studies that exists for expanding the musical intelligence and perfecting the education of the ear.

Theory: this is spoken instruction, which can be given at the table (and there it is also accomplished the best), followed by questions or problems for the pupil to solve in writing.

Dictation: exactly the same time is required to give dictation, whether the pupils number one or hundreds. So it wastes the time of a teacher and gives him useless fatigue when he is required to give individual dictation, and is of extra advantage to nobody.

Transposition: the same reasons hold as for Solfeggio and Theory, whether the exercise is in trans-position by reading, or by singing at the piano, or whether it is done by writing ; nearly as much is learned by seeing it done, by watching intelligently, of course.

Harmony: here the motives of my predilection are of quite another nature : there is an advantage in being able to compare our own work with that of our comrades, whether their standing is absolutely abreast of our own, or ahead, or even behind (without too great a difference, however). This develops judgment and the spirit of analysis ; but, contrarily to what we have said regarding Solfeggio, there is no advantage here in the class being large; from four to ten pupils is well enough, that is a good proportion, for it is necessary for every one frequently to have a finger in the pie.

Counterpoint: the same considerations hold good here as for harmony, but in a much higher degree. It is at least as instructive to see the faults in the work of fellow-pupils sought for, and to participate in this search, to criticize, and to take sides for or against a certain interpretation of strict rules of this severe species of composition, as it is to see the work that we ourselves have written, minutely examined and dissected.

Fugue and Composition: here, again, my motives are of a new order. Nobody can be sure of producing any composition, fugue or anything else, by a certain day and hour appointed. We must wait for the inspiration, or, if that word seems too big, wait until we are in the mood, till the idea arrives. Under these conditions, how can an individual lesson be set for a fixed day and hour? It may very well happen that we have nothing ready ; or, on the contrary, we hurry, and carry in only a bad piece of work, a ,patched-up task that is too hasty, and devoid of interest. In a class, on the contrary, among the whole number of pupils, there will be one or two who will have produced something, and that something, whatever it is, will be sufficient to furnish material for the lesson, and at least serve as a point of departure.

Then a lesson in composition is first of all a discussion about esthetics, sometimes indeed a debate, a conversation and an exchange of ideas, and there is no reason why it should be addressed to a single percon.

Such are the motives that lead me to find class-teaching superior to individual teaching in everything that relates to general technique, from the beginning to the end, while preserving a marked preference for individual teaching in all that concerns the study of singing, or of any instrument.

Now we must examine the exceptional cases, which do not seem to me excessively numerous.

The first that comes into my mind is that of a very backward pupil, who needs to be fed by double mouthfuls and to receive numerous explanations. For the latter, the private lesson is necessarily imperative, whatever the branch of study may be. It is the same with one who, on account of his other work, has only a little time to spare ; it ïs also the same with a pupil whose studies have a faulty foundation, which forces us to go back frequently, to consolidate incomplete ideas,—a thing that is inadmissible in a class. Again in the case of a slow pupil (which does not mean that he makes bad progress, therefore those are often the ones that best assimilate the precepts that are taught to them patiently) who would hinder his comrades whose progress is normal. In all these cases and in all those where the pupil is not found under ordinary conditions, the private lesson, it stands for itself, is the one to be recommended.

More delicate is the position of a pupil afflicted with extreme timidity. If our aim is particularly to vanquish this timidity, it seems that the class, with its inevitable promiscuous intercourse, is the self-evident remedy ; but if we want above all else to obtain rapid progress, notwithstanding this timidity, we shall more easily succeed by means of frequent lessons by a teacher who knows how to inspire confidence. It is a ticklish problem.

Perhaps, in this case, the two systems might be tried alternately.

I see that I have forgotten to speak here of the study of chamber-music. For this, there are two different courses; one special to pianists, the other preferable for instrumentalists in general. It is always an advantage for the pianist to begin with a certain number of private lessons in order to acquire flexibility, the qualities of abnegation, renunciation of personal effect and that very special sentiment of courteous condescension which constitutes one of the most delightful and elegant charms of this kind of music, to become, in a measure, sociable and get rid of the habit of too great independence. But just as soon as this end is nearly attained, the class is better and more profitable for him ; there the pupil works with his fingers but a part of the time, it is true, but he listens as at an instructive concert, for, as we have already said, one of the great attractions of this study is the magnificence and the multiplicity of the masterpieces with which the greatest composers have endowed the library of instrumental ensemble music. As it is impossible for the student to play everything himself, he should endeavour to hear as much as possible and to furnish his mind.—For the other instrumentalists, they can instantly take their part in the class, without inconvenience, but they must be in complete possession of the mechanism of their instruments, and be good enough readers to read their part at sight very fluently and without the least difficulty, which is not generally demanded of pianists, and could not be reasonably required of them, their part being infinitely greater than the others.

Such are, to my mind, the motives which should determine the preference, according to the circumstances, and when we have absolute freedom of choice for class teaching or for private teaching.

Each has its own advantages, and it is by thoroughly understanding these that the reader will be able to complete the above sketch for each particular case.

But another coefficient must also be taken into serious consideration when the question arises of choosing a system of instruction, and even, in certain cases, it must prevail over all preceding considerations ; this is the ability of the teacher.

In reality, if, in any of the branches for which we have recognized the superiority – of private lessons, there should be found some eminent teacher, who, for reasons connected with his method, or his procedure, or simply his habits or propriety, has a marked pre-dilection for classes or collective lessons, and if this teacher inspires confidence in a higher degree than his brethren, it is to him that we must go, and thenceforth accept his ways without question. If, on the contrary, in one of those cases where teaching in classes seems to us the best, we do not find it practised in our neighbourhood by able masters, while we can obtain private lessons from a very good teacher who does not teach in classes, because he does not like them, preferring the other system, it would be better to renounce the idea of a class and apply to the very good teacher and leave him free to act as he pleases. In a word, the quality of the master should stand above and be placed before all other considerations ; and when once we have placed ourselves under his direction, we must leave him the liberty to proceed according to his own will and custom. To try to impose our own ideas upon him would irritate him, without doing any good.

It is only in small localities, or towns of a secondary order, that we can experience such hesitations. In all the great intellectual and artistic centres, there are well-arranged courses, and good teachers abound ; the only embarrassment is that of selection, and in that case we can allow ourselves to be guided by such general considerations as the preceding.

Then, in most of the large cities also, there are Conservatories, of which we have not yet spoken, but which ‘constitute a powerful element of expansion in musical instruction for the amateur as well as for the professional.