A Comparison between the Development of Music among Savage Races and the Mind of a Child - Let Instruction be Natural Development, and Avoid the Stereotyped System of Initial Lessons
When does a child begin to show an instinct for music, and when should she begin to have that instinct cultivated and developed?
The answer to these questions must depend upon what is understood by "musical instinct." Music in the child and in the primitive races is not exactly what cultivated men and women of to-day understand by music. To all alike, however, it is a means of expression, a language. In its fullest development it is also a great mystery, with a potent power to suggest ideas and emotions. It can dominate the imagination of the sensitive, and express to them what otherwise would go dumbly unexpressed.
The primitive effort towards music was further extended by making a regular recurring noise. Walking along the sea-shore a savage picked up two empty shells, and as he struck them together the rhythm of their meeting and parting gave the grownup child of the past definite pleasure.
Later, he stretched dried skins over empty shells or nuts, and made .out of them primitive "drums." He beat upon them with his hands, or with dried bones, and felt the curious joy and exhilaration of the reiterated beat.
That savage joy still is ours. Who cannot walk more gaily and bravely if he has the incentive of the insistent, reiterating drum? What soldier does not appreciate this fact?
Now, however, we have learnt to add harmonies, and they further engage our hearts and minds. But the drum alone, as we all know, can incite and excite us to a wonderful extent. Are we, therefore, still at heart savages, or just grown-up children ?
The next step in the childhood of music was to sing and make tunes or melodies, invocations to the gods, wild love songs, laments and death songs. Very few notes were used, but the simple and monotonous tune was dominated still by an insistent rhythm. Man had found in "melody" a further way of expressing himself. Later on, he fixed a gut string, poised on a roughly made bridge, across a tightly stretched skin. Then he either plucked the string with his fingers, or set it vibrating by passing a rudimentary bow over it. This was the first tentative effort towards the birth of stringed instruments.
In early pictures we see these crude efforts represented, and through them we can watch their gradual growth and development. After the pipes and reed instruments were made, the next step - which was a giant one - was the combining of sounds. This gave "harmony," and endless possibilities of invention, development, and beauty.
The connection is strong between the evolution of music in a race and the development of music in the individual.
To seek out, foster, educate, and develop this wonderful gift and instinct in the individual child is no puerile task, and it should be undertaken with great enthusiasm and intelligence. In the tiny savage of the nurssry, whacking her bricks together with great glee, who knows whether she is not trying to express the first instinct of tuneless music? Later on, perhaps, the same child will be content to thump one note on the piano for hours together, and, if the walls are thick enough, let her.
Listen, if you can bear it, and probably you will find that she keeps all the while to the same grouping of her note. Perhaps she will weary of that particular rhythm, and suddenly change it to another. But it will be a definite change, and not accidental. Who knows whether here is not a Mozart in the growing, who will in time, like Mozart, shed sweetness and light on the world by her wonderful music?
If the child has a distinct instinct for music she will probably show it definitely before she is three.
Mozart, the son of an accomplished musician, showed such astounding gifts by the time he was three that he could imitate on the harpsichord everything that he heard his sister play. His next development, at the age of four, was to compose little minuets in imitation of those his father had given him to learn to play, and in the museum at Salzburg is preserved the little manuscript book in which Mozart wrote these early tunes. Inside are the following words written by the proud father: "The preceding two minuets were learnt by my little Wolfgang in his fourth year." And further on there is a little piece by Wolfgang himself, signed and dated May 11, 1762.
Haydn, who was the son of sturdy Austrian peasants, began his serious study of music when he was six, but long before then his parents had wisely encouraged and cultivated the strong musical instinct which he showed.
Bach, of course, came from a long line of musicians, and his infancy and childhood were steeped in music. Before he could speak distinctly he could express himself in music.
Handel, on the contrary, had no hereditary advantages, nor, indeed, any environment to help him. His father positively disliked music, and the atmosphere around him left the boy unaided in the battle for fulfilment and success.
Unmusical parents often say, "It is no good teaching music to our children because there is no music in any of the family." Surely these instances refute the argument. Heredity is great, but a sympathetic, intelligent environment is greater. When to Begin Instruction
When the study of music should begin depends on the individual child. Do not wait, however, for any particular manifestation of talent; it may not be there at all, or it may not develop noticeably until she has reached the age of thirteen or fourteen. If you want your child to love music, begin as soon as possible gently to foster the smallest feelings she shows for it.
When she has thumped the life out of the long-suffering piano by herself, begin to try to get her to imitate the rhythm of notes you will play to her. Play her groups of three notes, then groups of four, and try and amuse her by doing so. Then sing to her, and encourage her to try to pitch her voice on some of your notes.
By the time she is four she should try to imitate on the piano the notes of the cuckoo, or any other sounds. With one finger let her try to pick out simple little tunes. Praise her when she makes soft, pretty sounds, and let her feel how ugly is the ' thump " on the note. Then onwards !
Let her musical education begin, not in the conventional, hopelessly ignorant way of the average nursery " music lesson," but, from the first, let each lesson be given in an intelligent and fascinating way. That so few girls, comparatively, who learn music ever become artistic in their playing is mainly the fault of the mother, who thinks that any teacher will do for the initial lessons.
Let every child begin upon the piano, learning the value of notes and time, and, above all, learning to pick out tunes with ease. Then, at five or six, let her try the violin, or at nine or ten the 'cello. During a part of the daily lesson the child should sing the notes before playing them. Choose a clever teacher, and one who knows the difference between "patience" in difficulties to be mastered and "intolerance" for bad, unintelligent work. From the first the child should learn to criticise the sounds she is making, and to know when they are beautiful and when otherwise. How Not to Teach
Scales should not be taught at first on any instrument. Technically, a scale is a difficult thing to play for a child with a tiny hand. The "ladder of sound" - which is what a scale should seem to a child - should be sung and understood before it is attempted on an instrument. Then it should be learnt, playing it ascending only, beginning on different notes, and noticing the small and large intervals occurring in each scale.
The very first real music lesson given a child should be one on interpretation, though such a hard word, of course, must not be used. "Interpretation" means that, from the first, the child must try to make the notes she plays mean something. Supposing a little melody is given with a single note with one hand; let her sing her tunc until she knows it. Then let her play the accompaniment with her other hand alone, and get someone else to play or sing the air. Try to get a different quality of tone into the notes played as a tune and the notes played as a groundwork or accompaniment.
Probably you will not succeed at once, but when success has been achieved it will be found that it was the trying which helped and interested her.
Rhythm lessons must be given for a few minutes every day. Try to get her to group notes in certain times, giving the strong accents where those accents should be.
How Instruction Should be Given
The girl who comes home from school with a piece to play is generally a bitter disappointment to the musical mother or father. She probably could not sing a bar of the tune of her piece, and, though she has played it for months, probably does not know, or care to know, that there is a tunc. She cannot tell you whether the piece is sad or gay, a waltz or a hymn, but she probably knows that she is thoroughly tired of it, and has found no beauty in it. And this is the fault of the ignorant, patient, underpaid drudge who is thought quite good enough to "start the children." What a hopeless handicap this is in the search for one of the most "beautiful expressions of Art.
At the beginning of this article I have said "instruction must be a natural development, and that the stereotyped system of initial lessons should be avoided."
Do not misunderstand me. The natural development must be trained and helped, but let that help and training be adequate, and from the first - professional. Not only has the mind and instinct to be guided and developed, but the technical side must also be carefully and intelligently trained. In beginning any instrument there is a right way and a wrong way, and the clever teacher is the one who combines the fascinating musical side with the purely technical and mental side. By the phrase "stereotyped system" I do not wish to disparage the systematic good teaching so often given in schools and by visiting teachers, but I do want to uphold a more critical and intelligent choice of both teacher and method.
Is music worth all the patience, the toil. the fatigue, and disappointments? Why. yes! All that, and more. For itself, and also for this reason: All "things beautiful" - are they not the handwriting of the Great Unknown?
The technique of music will be dealt with in future articles.