Solfeggio, properly speaking, consists of singing whilst naming the notes and beating the time. It is thus that we learn to read in all the keys with equal facility, an indispensable matter for those who wish to carry their studies very far, especially in the field of composition. ” Apply yourself without delay to the reading of ancient clefs, otherwise the treasures of the past will remain hidden from you.” Later, when we shall speak in detail of the special education of the singer and that of the instrumentalist, we will specify the clefs that may be rightly dispensed with, but which it would be better to know, this is in reserve.
The works written for the instruction of solfeggio are innumerable. There are as many good and excellent as bad ones, it is the teacher who must know how to discriminate ; the good ones are all those that have an artistic and musical character ; the others must be shunned like poison, for they have the power to alter the nature and pervert the taste of the child forever. And at no stage of the instruction is it more necessary than at the beginning to spur the pupil towards the beautiful, and to form his judgment by keeping from him all that is vulgar, trivial and ugly, for he will always feel the effects of it.
Of the numerous courses, the solfeggio d’ensemble, of two or three parts, is a very good thing, but, of itself insufficient. It must not be neglected, however.
An excellent complement to solfeggio is musical dictation, which bears the same relation to solfeggio that the theme does to the interpretation, or rather that writing does to reading. In this exercise, it is no longer the pupil that sings, but the master ; after having made them listen in extenso to a phrase of eight or sixteen bars, he cuts it into short fragments, each of which he repeats several times, with pauses, so that the pupil may have the necessary time to write what he has heard and understood.
If we find ourselves face to face with a pupil totally lacking in voice, or suffering from aphonia, we can try to supply the study of solfeggio which is forbid-den to him on account of his unhappy constitution, by developing that of dictation, which he should then be made to write in the different clefs. This is, however, only a makeshift.
As soon as the child is able to read and write fluently, it becomes expedient to make him learn the first elements of the Theory of Music, which, in all probability, he will be apt to understand and to assimilate easily. With the exception of what has to do with definitions, it is absolutely useless to make him learn anything at all by heart and word for word,an excellent system for parrots but not for artists. It is infinitely better simply to make sure that the thing has been thoroughly understood, and well fixed in the intelligence, and to be satisfied, even if it is expressed a little awkwardly, as it adapts itself to the requirements of infantile explanations. Later, it will be necessary to dive deeper into the study of Theory, and even to require the pupil to solve these problems that are somewhat of the nature of a Chinese puzzle, such as are found in all the books written especially for this study. It is a kind of mental gymnastics, a training exercise which has in it nothing whatever that is fatiguing, and which only those disparage who have not experienced its benefits.
At this period in the education of a young musician, it is already very good and useful to make him hear good music from time to time, and to take him to Symphony Concerts, always provided that he seems to take pleasure in them, because in the contrary case it would be much better to put them off. If he has a very true voice, even if it is but a tiny thread, and if he is sufficiently advanced not to give any trouble, we may try to gain him admission as a participant in one of the numerous well-trained choruses, whether composed of artists or amateurs, to take part in some of the rehearsals, at first partial, and afterwards the whole time, and finally in the Concert itself. All this is to give him the opportunity of hearing music talked about, and of rubbing against musicians, perhaps composers, of seeing how music is made, and learning a lot of things through his own little experience. All this is excellent, upon the simple condition that it is always a pleasure and not a tax. It must also be a condition that he shuns the vulgar and coarse music of a low order, such as that of the Cafés-Concerts, Music Halls, and other horrible anti-artistic places. In a word, from this time forward all occasions to bring the child into contact with music and musicians (good music and good musicians), must be sought for, and at the same time to repulse emphatically all that might cause him fatigue, enervation, and ennui, which must be avoided above all else. All this is a question of tact and caution, of which the parents and teachers are the sole judges.
To finish with this period of infantile education, upon which I have thought I ought to insist somewhat at length, because to my mind it most frequently is of decisive importance, I will add that one must not demand sustained attention to the elementary study of music from the child for more than half an hour (even a quarter of an hour at the beginning) at a time ; more would be lost time, the mind being no longer on the work. But one can repeat this half hour (or this quarter of an hour) two or three times during the day, at long intervals, using these intervals for rest, play, a walk, or other studies, such as writing, reading, mathematics, drawing, etc., etc., which should not be neglected, for the study of music alone will never lead to anything great, even for a professional musician, who would experience great unhappiness in life, and even much hindrance if he were deprived of all other instruction, and had never learned anything except music. Now these three half-hours a day, well-employed, are perfectly adequate to obtain the desired result at this period of education.
During these primary studies, which may be pro-longed, according to the temperament, the activity and the degree of intellectual receptivity of the neophyte, from two months to two years, it is well to observe him attentively and minutely, for a happy circumstance, often the most unforeseen of all, may chance to reveal some splendid aptitude in him and indicate the exact path into which he should be directed. Whatever this may be, we shall never have to regret the time so far devoted to the elementary study of Solfeggio, Dictation and Theory, for in any case it will be necessary to pursue them, and for a long time. They form the best and the most solid basis of all musical instruction ; but we have said that it becomes necessary thenceforth for us to form a definite aim, to know what we wish and whither we are going, for ” an education without a definite aim produces a character without force,” as Legouvé has said excellently. It is well not to let the slightest hints escape you, to take note of them, to compare them, to put them together, and finally to stop with some determined object. Upon what does the course of a river depend? Upon the first stone that it en-counters on its way. What is it that decides the course of a whole life? Often a fortuitous meeting, a circumstance of futile appearance, a word heard by chance. Nothing should be neglected.
Here it is as though we were at a railway junction. Upon the line that we shall choose, the entire continuation of the route will depend. Therefore we cannot reflect too maturely nor examine the matter too minutely before making a choice that will certainly have a great and decisive influence upon the future.