by Marie Howland
Why is it that the knowledge of
music is not more common?—that is, why is it that there are so few people in
this and every other country who are able to read and write music as they read
and write their mother-tongue? Is it that the musical ear is a rare gift?
Evidently not, for music is composed of a small number of elements, which are
found for the most part in any popular air, and almost every person can sing one
or more of these airs correctly. It is not, then, the musical ear nor the sense
of time which is wanting. Neither is the cause to be attributed to the fact that
few study music; for, although the teaching of music is by no means so general
as it should be, still it is taught in our schools, public and private,
singing-schools are common even in our small villages, and there is no lack of
teachers both of vocal and instrumental music. And yet out of every hundred who
take up the study of music, it is safe to say that about ninety abandon it after
a short time, discouraged by the almost insurmountable difficulties presented at
every turn. Only those succeed who are endowed with rare natural aptitude, an
indomitable will, and time—four or five years at least—to devote to an art which
is as yet a luxury to the masses of the people.
M. Galin, his pupil M. Chevé and
other advocates of reform in musical notation declare that the people are
deprived of this grand source of culture because of the blind, inconsistent and
wholly unscientific nature of the ordinary musical notation. At first this seems
incredible, but one has only to compare this notation with that elaborated by
Émile Chevé after Galin's theory to become convinced that the statement is true.
People are apt to say, "Why, it cannot be that our system of writing music is so
defective: in this age of improvements and scientific precision gross
inconsistencies would have been eliminated long ago." And so, indeed, they would
have been but for the fact that the very basis of the system is altogether at
fault. How are the Chinese, for example, to "improve" their system of writing?
It is simply impossible. They have some thousands of abstract characters,
hieroglyphs standing for things or thoughts. All these must be swept away, and
in their place must come an alphabet where each letter stands for an elementary
sound. These elementary sounds are few in number in any language. So of our
musical notation. It is doubtful if it can be materially improved; it must be
discarded for a system of fewer elements and a more clear and precise
combination of them.
No, it is not strange that we have
not adopted a better method of musical notation before this. Think how long a
struggle it required to abandon the cumbersome Roman notation for the short,
clear and precise Arabic—how many centuries of feeble infancy the science of
mathematics passed before the invention of logarithms rendered the most tedious
calculations rapid and easy. Most people take things as they seem, giving but
little thought to their meanings and relations to each other; and so an awkward
method may be followed a long time without protest. People are blamed for their
devotion to routine, but devotion to routine is perfectly natural. It is mental
inertia, and corresponds to that property in physics—the inability of a body of
itself to start when at rest, or stop or change its course when in motion. And
then the general distrust of new things—"new-fangled notions," as contempt terms
them—retards the examination and adoption of improved and labor-saving methods.
It is more than fifty years since
Pierre Galin, professor of mathematics in the institute for deaf mutes at
Bordeaux, published his Exposition d'une nouvelle Méthode pour l'Enseignement
de la Musique, and more than thirty since his distinguished disciple, Émile
Chevé, demonstrated practically, in the military gymnasium at Lyons, the
immeasurable superiority of that method; and yet such is the repugnance of
teachers of music to any change in their routine that they have paid little or
no attention to the work of Galin and his followers. The Méthode élémentaire
de la Musique vocale, by M. and Mme. Émile Chevé, has never been translated
into English. It was published in Paris by the authors in 1851—a work of over
five hundred pages in royal octavo, and a most clear and exhaustive exposition
of the method which they followed with such success.
In proof of the superiority of
that method, an account of M. Chevé's test-experiment at the military gymnasium
at Lyons in 1843 will be interesting. The gymnasium was at that time under the
direction of two officers of the French army, Captain d'Argy and Lieutenant
Grenier. The facts are taken from their official report of the experiment.
By order of Lieutenant-General
Lascours the soldiers of the gymnasium were placed at the disposition of M.
Chevé, that he might make a trial of his method. General Lascours further
ordered that the officers in charge of the gymnasium should be present at every
lesson, and report carefully the progress of the pupils and the final results of
The members of the class were
taken at large from the twelfth, sixteenth and twenty-ninth regiments of the
line, fifty from each. M. Chevé accepted all as they came, and agreed formally
to bring eight-tenths of the class of one hundred and fifty in one year to the
following results: (1) To understand the theory of music analytically; (2) To
sing alone and without any instrument any piece of music within the compass of
ordinary voices; (3) To write improvised airs from dictation.
"Candor compels us to admit," says
the report, "that nearly all of the soldiers showed the greatest repugnance to
attending the course, and did so only because they were ordered to do so.
Several months elapsed before this bad spirit could be conquered, and before the
majority of them could be brought to practise the vocal exercises. Some even
refused to try to sing, on the ground that they were old, that they had no
voice, that they could not read, etc."
The first lesson took place
October 1, 1842. There were five a week, of an hour and a half each. At the end
of the month the professor wished to classify the voices, and required each
pupil to sing alone. The experiment was rather discouraging. More than
two-thirds were unable to sing the scale: twelve refused to utter a sound,
and declared that nothing would induce them to try. These twelve were
immediately dismissed. The rest remained, though some confessed that they had
not sung a note since the beginning of the course. These, however, now promised
to practise all the exercises in future. Under these unfavorable circumstances
the professor engaged anew to fulfil his contract, on condition that the pupils
would submit to practise the exercises conscientiously and attend regularly.
From this time, with the exception of three or four rebellious spirits, none
The month of October was not very
profitable to the pupils, on account of continual absences necessitated by
military reviews. April and May of the following year (1843) also brought many
interruptions through the various demands of the service. Sickness, promotions,
punishments, mutations, and the disbanding of the class of 1836, which took away
several under-officers, gradually reduced the class, so that in July only a
little over fifty were left. This falling off greatly troubled Professor Chevé,
especially when the army at Lyons went into camp and left him with only
twenty-eight pupils. This reduction of the class could not have been foreseen or
prevented. M. Chevé could not be held responsible for the fulfilment of his
promise, except to eight-tenths of those that remained.
Two months after the opening of
the course M. Chevé printed at his own expense a collection of one hundred and
forty pieces of music from the best composers, and gave a copy to each of his
pupils, that they might read from the printed page instead of the blackboard.
Three months after the opening of the course General Lascours visited the
gymnasium and was present during one of the lessons. He was struck, as were all
the visitors on that occasion, by the progress obtained. The pupils were already
far advanced in intonation and in time: they read easily in all the keys, and
sung pieces together with great spirit and correctness.
On April 25, 1843, the general
returned, accompanied by Madame Lascours and all the officers of his staff. The
following was the programme of the occasion: (1) A quartette from Webbe; (2) A
Languedoc air in three parts, from Desrues; (3) A trio from the opera of
Œdipus in Colonna, by Sacchini; (4) Singing at sight intervals of all kinds,
major and minor; (5) Singing at sight in eight different keys; (6) Two rounds in
three voices from Siller; (7) A quartette from the
Clemenza di Tito of Mozart; (8) A quartette from the Iphigenia of
Gluck; (9) A trio from the Corysander, or the Magic Rose of Berton;
(10) Exercise upon the tonic in all the keys, major and minor; (11) Exercise in
naming notes vocalized; (12) Singing at sight a trio from the Magic Flute
of Mozart; (13) Ave Regina, by Choron—three voices; (14) The Gondolier,
a round in three parts, by Desrues; (15) A quartette from the
Magic Flute; (16) Chorus from the Tancredi
of Rossini; (17) The "Prayer" from
Joseph, by Méhul.
This is certainly a remarkable
programme to be filled by illiterate soldiers with only six months' training.
"It would be difficult," says the official report, "to paint the astonishment of
the spectators upon this occasion. The confidence and readiness with which these
soldier-students of music sang at sight the most difficult intonations, major
and minor, the facility with which they read in all the keys, and, finally, the
certainty and spontaneity with which they all, without exception,
recognized and named various sounds vocalized, showed clearly that they
possessed a very superior knowledge of intonation. All the pieces which they
sung were rendered with irreproachable correctness, though the professor did not
beat the time, except through the first bar to indicate the movement.
"With the consent of General
Lascours, all the teachers and professors in the city, including the members of
the Royal College, were on one occasion admitted to a private rehearsal of M.
Chevé's class. The result was the same—admiration and astonishment. The
professor received on all sides well-merited praise for a success gained in so
short a time and with such unfavorable conditions.
"These soldiers have at this
moment (September 1, 1843) reached a degree of power in intonation and in
reading music at sight which is fairly wonderful. They can sing together at
sight any new piece in three or four parts, the music being written, after the
new method, in figures. If the piece be written in the ordinary musical
character, no matter what the key, they can also sing it at sight together after
they have together sung each part by itself. All the members of the class
understand thoroughly the theory of music, and are able to write from dictation
a vocalized air never heard before, no matter what the modulations may be.
"Such are the results obtained by
Professor Chevé from a mass of men taken at hazard and against their will. The
experiment to-day has had eleven months of duration, seventeen or eighteen
lessons being given every month. The pupils have never studied at all between
the lessons, and those who remain at the present time have lost many lessons
from punishments, illness, leave of absence, etc.
"As to the method pursued by M.
Chevé, it is as follows: In theory he demonstrates de facto the
inequality of major and minor seconds, and from this he deduces the theory of
the gamut. Here he follows in the footsteps of his master, Galin. The theory of
time he takes from the same source. In practice, he employs the Arabic figures
for the musical notes, as proposed by J. J. Rousseau and modified by Galin,
using a series of exercises created by Madame Chevé. To these exercises
especially does M. Chevé owe his ability to make his pupils masters of
intonation in an incredibly short time. He teaches time by itself, using a
language of durations invented by the father of Madame Chevé, M. Aimé Paris, and
tables of exercises in time made by Madame Chevé. Transposition is also taught
separately, and never does M. Chevé require his pupils to execute two things
simultaneously until they understand perfectly how to do them separately.
"In this way M. Chevé leads his
pupils through every step of the theory of music until they are able to read
in the ordinary notation every kind of music, and to execute during any
piece all the possible changes of mode or key."
The report—which is duly signed by
the officers having charge of the gymnasium—ends with the expression of their
"profound conviction that the method of teaching music employed by Professor
Chevé is faultless, if it may be judged by its practical results."
There is a very common impression,
in this country at least, that the best new method of writing music has been
tried and abandoned, weighed in the balance and found wanting. This is far from
the fact. It is doubtful if there is one person in a hundred in this country who
ever heard even the name of Galin or Chevé. Some twenty years ago there was a
little interest excited in a new method of musical notation. A class was formed
in Lowell, Massachusetts, and a "singing-book" was used there with the notes
written with numerals on the staff instead of the usual characters. But it could
not have been the Chevé method that the Lowell professor used, for he employed
no new system of teaching time—a prime characteristic of that method.
Those who examine the subject
fairly will be compelled to take the position held by Galin, Chevé and their
school, that a new method of writing music is imperatively needed, because that
now in use lacks the essential elements of a scientific system: it is neither
simple, clear nor concise. There are certain elementary principles which must be
observed in the exposition of any science, and especially in that of music,
which is addressed to all classes of intelligence. Among these principles are
the following, as stated by M. Chevé:
1st. Every idea should be presented to the mind by a clear and precise
2d. The same idea should always be presented by the same sign: the same
sign should always represent the same idea.
3d. Elementary textbooks or methods should never present two difficulties
to the mind at the same time; and such textbooks or methods should be an
assemblage of means adapted to aid ordinary intelligences to gain the object
4th. The memory should never be drawn upon except where reasoning is
Let us test the exposition of the
ordinary musical notation, and also that of the school of Galin, by these
principles and compare the results.
First. Is every idea presented by a
clear and precise symbol?
In the ordinary method, certainly
not. The musical sounds or notes are represented by elliptical curves with or
without stems; by spots or dots with plain stems, or with stems having from one
to four appendages, or with these appendages united, forming bars across the
stems. These curves and dots are placed on the five parallel lines of a staff,
as it is called, or between the lines of this staff, or on or between added or
"ledger" lines above and below the staff. Certainly, these cannot be called
precise symbols, especially when we reflect that
any one of them placed upon any given line or space may represent
successively do, ré, mi, fa, sol, la, si, or the flats or sharps of these
notes. The notes, indeed, have no names, being all alike for the various notes;
but names are given to the lines and spaces of the staff; and, alas! the names
of these lines and spaces change continually with the change of key or pitch.
For example: if we commence a scale with C, our do will be on the first
added line below the staff, and its octave, do, on the third space
counting from the lowest. If we commence a scale with G, our do
will be on the second line from the bottom, and the octave on the first space
above the staff; and so on for all the other scales except those which commence
a semitone below or above. For example: the scales of the key of G and of G flat
would be placed exactly the same upon the staff, though the signature of G would
be one sharp upon the staff at the beginning, and that of G flat would be six
flats. The same may be said of the keys of D and D flat, F and F sharp, etc.
Again: the scales of the keys of G
flat and of F sharp are the same—are played on precisely the same keys of the
organ or piano—yet they are placed on different lines and spaces of the staff,
and the signature of the first is six flats, and of the second six sharps.
Think of the disheartened state of
the victim of this notation when he has learned to read comfortably in one key,
and then, taking up a piece of music written in another key, finds that he has
all the lines and spaces to relearn! The wonder is that he does not lose his
Compare this maze of notes and
lines and spaces, for ever changing like a will-o'-the wisp, with the following:
Here everything is as clear as
day. Take any note—as 5, for example. This is
sol—always sol, and never by any chance anything else. If it has a
dot under, it is sol of the octave below the middle; if it has no dot, it
belongs to the middle octave; and if it has a dot above, it belongs to the
octave above the middle. These three octaves are amply sufficient for all the
purposes of vocal music, which alone is considered here. For instrumental music,
where many octaves are used, the system is modified without losing its
simplicity and conciseness. To represent the flats, Galin crosses the numerals
with a line like the grave accent, and marks the sharps by a line like the acute
represent do flat, ré flat, mi flat, etc.:
represent do sharp, ré
sharp, mi sharp, etc.
A score of music in the new style
of notation has no signature—that is, no flats or sharps at the beginning. Above
the line of numerals is written simply "Key of G," "Key of A flat," etc. The
pitch, of course, must be taken from the tuning-fork or a musical instrument, as
it is in all cases.
Second. The same idea should always
be presented by the same sign: the same sign should always represent the same
It has already been shown how this
principle is disregarded; but take, for further illustration, the symbols
indicating silence. There are seven different kinds of rests, and there is no
need of more than one. These signs are:
Again: these rests may be followed
by one or two dots, which increase their duration. For example: an eighth-note
rest dotted equals an eighth note and a sixteenth; and followed by two dots it
equals an eighth, a sixteenth and a thirty-second note in time. That is, the
first dot prolongs the rest one-half or a sixteenth, and the second dot prolongs
the value of the first dot one-half or a thirty-second.
To a disciple of Galin it is
really amazing that such a bungling, unscientific way of expressing silence
should have been tolerated so long. Compare these "pot-hooks and trammels,"
dotted and double-dotted, with Galin's symbol of silence, the cipher (0)! This
is all, and yet it expresses every length of rest, as will be shown presently.
Let us now examine the symbols
representing the prolongation of a sound. There are three ways by the common
notation, where there should be but one. First, by the form of the note itself,
Second, by one or more dots after
a note, the first dot prolonging the note one-half, and the second dot
prolonging the first in the same ratio. Third, by the repetition of the note
with a vinculum or tie, the second note not being sung or played. Galin uses
simply a dot. It may be repeated, as a rest or a note may, but then its value
is not changed, any more than in the case of notes or rests repeated. For
|KEY OF E.
Here are the first measures of a
well-known hymn in common time, four beats to the measure. As all isolated
signs, whether notes, prolongations or rests, fill a unit of time, or beat, it
follows that the dots following sol and mi
prolong these through an entire beat, for the dots are isolated signs. Whatever
the time, each unit of it appears separate and distinct to the eye at a
glance; and all the notes, rests or prolongations that fill a beat are
always united in a special way. This will be more fully shown hereafter.
Third. Elementary textbooks or
methods should never present two difficulties to the mind at the same time; and
such textbooks or methods should be an assemblage of means adapted to aid
ordinary intelligences to gain the object proposed.
The first thing that the student
of music encounters is a staff of five lines, armed with flats or sharps, the
signature of the key, or with no signature, which shows that the music upon it
is in the key of C. On this staff he sees notes which are of different pitch,
and probably of different length. In any case, there are at least three
difficulties presented in a breath—to find the name of the note, give it its
proper sound, and then its proper length; and these difficulties are still
greater because the ideas, as we have seen, are hidden under defective symbols.
Take all the teachers of vocal
music, says M. Chevé, place them upon their honor, and let them answer the
following question: "How many readers of music can you guarantee by your method,
out of a hundred pupils taken at random and entirely ignorant of music, by one
hour of study a day during one year?" The reply, he thinks, will be: "Not many."
And if you tell them that by another method you will agree in the same time to
teach eighty in a hundred to read music currently, and also to write music, new
to them, dictated by an instrument placed out of sight or from the voice
"vocalizing," they will all declare that the thing is impossible.
The great composers and renowned
performers are cited as examples of what the ordinary methods have accomplished.
No, replies Chevé: they are exceptional organizations. The methods have not
produced them. They have, on the contrary, arrived at their proficiency despite
the methods, while thousands fail who might reach a high degree of excellence
but for the obstacles presented by a false system to a clear understanding of
the theory of music, which in itself is so simple and precise. In the study of
harmony especially, says the same authority, does the want of a clear
presentation of the theory produce the most deplorable results. It has made the
science of harmony wellnigh unintelligible even to those called musicians. Ask
them why flats and sharps are introduced into the scales; why there is one sharp
in the key of G major and five in B major; why you spoil the minor scale by
making it one thing in ascending and another in descending—that is, by robbing
it of its modal superior in ascending and of its sensible in descending. They
will in most cases be unable to answer, for neither teachers nor textbooks
explain. The catechisms found in most of the elementary works upon music are
replete with stumbling-blocks to the young musician. Mr. R. H. Palmer, author of
Elements of Musical Composition, Rudimental Class-Teaching
and several other works, says in one of his catechisms that "there are two ways
of representing each intermediate tone. If its tendency is upward, it is
represented upon the lower of two degrees, and is called sharp; if its tendency
is downward, it is represented upon the higher of two degrees, and is called
flat. There are exceptions to this, as to all rules." This is deplorable. Music
is a mathematical science, and in mathematics there is no such thing as an
exception to a rule. But to quote further from the same catechism: "A natural is
used to cancel the effect of a previous sharp or flat. If the tendency from the
restored tone is upward, the natural has the capacity of a sharp; if downward,
the capacity of a flat. A tone is said to resolve when it is followed by a tone
to which it naturally tends." How long would novices in the science of music
rack their brains before they would comprehend what the teacher meant by a tone
tending somewhere "naturally," or by the tendency of a restored tone being
destroyed by the "capacity of a flat"? The same writer, speaking of the scale of
G flat, says it is a "remarkable feature of this scale that it is produced upon
the organ and piano by pressing the same keys which are required to produce the
scale of F sharp." This is precisely equivalent to saying that it is a
remarkable feature that the notes C, D, E, F are produced by pressing the same
keys which are required to produce do, ré, mi, fa.
One more citation from the same
author. Speaking of the formation of scales, he says: "Thus we have another
perfectly natural scale by making use of two sharps." This vicious use of the
term "natural" is deplorable, because it is apt to give the pupil the notion
that some scales are more natural than others. A certain note is called "C
natural," and it is not uncommon for learners to suppose that it is easier or
more natural to sing in that key, as it is easier on the piano to play anything
in it because only the white keys are used, while in any other at least one
black key is required. Indeed, a pupil may study music a long time before he
finds out that there is no difference between flats and sharps, as such, and
other notes—that all notes are flats and sharps of the notes a semitone above
and below. Seeing the staff of a piece of music armed with half a dozen sharps
or flats, the first thought of the pupil is that it will be rather hard to sing.
And many really suppose that flats and sharps in themselves are different from
other notes—a little "flatter" or "sharper" in sound perhaps—and secretly wonder
why their ear cannot detect it. Of course it may be said that there is no
necessity for pupils to have such absurd notions, but it is inevitable where the
theory of music is made so difficult for the beginner. No doubt the ambitious
and naturally studious will delve and dig among the rubbish of imperfect
textbooks, analyzing and comparing the explanations of different teachers, until
order takes the place of chaos; but textbooks should be adapted to ordinary
capacities, and thereby they will better serve the needs of the most brilliant.
Fourth. The memory should never be
drawn upon except where reasoning is impossible.
In science you have general laws,
and from these deduce particular facts depending upon them, but collections of
facts and phenomena without connection you must learn by heart. The extensive
and involved nomenclature of music, added to the complicated and inconsistent
system of notation, is a continual and exhausting strain upon the memory.
Teachers commence their drill in vocalization, as a rule, with the scale of the
key of C, and the pupils, fired with a noble ambition to become musicians, make
a strenuous effort to remember where do, ré, mi and the
other notes are placed on the lines and spaces of the staff. Presently the "key
is changed," and with that change comes chaos. All the notes are now on a
different series of lines and spaces. The confusion continues until the series
of seven notes is exhausted. Then come scales with new names, commencing upon
different notes (flats and sharps), but with places on the staff identically the
same as others having different names!
Long before this point is reached
by the pupil his courage flags, his ambition cools, and in the greater number of
cases dies out altogether. To be sure, if he has the rare courage to persist he
will come to recognize the notes of any key, not by the number of lines or
spaces intervening between them and some landmark, but by their relative
distances from each other measured by the eye. But this requires long practice.
At first he must remember if he can, and when he cannot he must count up to his
unknown note from some remembered one. It is, at best, a labor of Sisyphus. With
many people—bright and intelligent people, too—it requires years of practice to
read new music at sight even tolerably readily; for it is not simply a question
of learning the notes, difficult as that may be: there is a further difficulty,
and to many even a greater difficulty—that of the measure. Not the number of
beats in a measure or bar and their proper accentuation—this is but the alphabet
of time—but to group correctly and rapidly the fractional notes, rests and
prolongations in their proper place in time. In very rapid music this becomes an
herculean task, requiring long-continued and arduous practice. It is not simply
a question of nice appreciation of rhythm, but of mathematical calculation, to
know instantly and unhesitatingly, for example, that one-sixteenth, one half of
one-sixteenth and one thirty-second added together equal one-eighth—that is,
one-third of the unit of time or beat in six-eighths time.
Any one can see that such mental
feats, ever varying as they are in music, and demanding instant solution at the
same time the attention is given to the intonation, style, etc., must require an
exceptional temperament and natural capacity. The fact is, it is beyond the
power of most musicians. They must practise their instrumental and vocal music,
and learn it nearly "by heart," before they attempt to perform it for others.
The writer of this has attended a
class taught by one of Chevé's pupils, and can testify to the efficiency of the
method, though the lessons were a very modest attempt to exemplify the
perfection of the system. The lessons of M. and Mme. Chevé were divided into
three parts: first, a drill in the principles of the theory of music; second,
singing scales and exercises; third, drills in "reading time," beating time,
analyzing time, etc., ending with some diverting "round" or "catch" or some
exercise in vocal harmonies. On their method of teaching time, more than on any
other part of their system perhaps, did the grand success of the Chevés depend.
Rhythm was always taught separately from intonation, it being contrary to their
principle to present two difficulties together before each had been mastered
The first grand law of Galin's
system is that every isolated symbol represents a unit of time or beat,
whatever the measure. For example:
||, unit of sound articulated.
||, unit of sound prolonged.
||, unit of silence.
The second law is that the
various divisions of the unit of time are always united in a group under a
principal bar, and such a bar always contains the unit of time—never more, never
less. To illustrate:
Here the units of time—the
numeral, the dot and the cipher—are divided first into two equal parts, and then
into three. In both cases the groups represent units of time—one beat of a
measure—according to the rule. It will be noticed that the form of the notes is
the same whether whole or divided into fractions; that is, there are no
different forms for "crotchets," "quavers," "semiquavers," etc., the expression
of time being better provided for. Thus, halves or thirds are indicated to the
eye by a single bar surmounting two signs for halves, three for thirds. If the
halves or thirds have in their turn been divided by two, then the
principal bar covers two little groups of two signs each; if the halves
or thirds have been divided by three, then each principal bar covers two
or three little groups of three
Nothing could be more simple than
this. The eye has always before it, separate and distinct, the unit of time or
beat; and the mind apprehends instantly the number of articulated sounds,
prolongations or silences (rests) that must be sung or played during that beat.
The eye has no hesitation, the mind no calculation, as to what note commences or
ends a beat. Even the most modest student of music will see the immense
advantage of this. Nor is there any need for the multiplicity of fractions to
express different kinds of time. The moment the eye rests upon the score the
student knows the measure as definitely and certainly as he knows the letters of
"And is this all there is in this
system of notation?" some one will ask. Practically, Yes. There are the symbols
of intonation, the numerals and the dot—the dot below or above the notes showing
the octave (
); the two diagonal lines indicating flats or sharps (
); the horizontal bar indicating the time (
); and the vertical line or bar dividing the measures ( 1 2 3 | 4 3 2
The following is the air "God Save
the Queen!" or, as we call it, "America," written in this method. The lower
line, of course, is the alto:
KEY OF G.
It will be noticed that the dot in
the second measure which prolongs the note
si ( 7 ) is not placed against it, as we are accustomed to see it.
It is carried forward into the second beat, where it belongs. There it is
grouped with the note
do ( 1 ), and occupies one half of that unit of time; for all the
signs grouped under a line or under the same number of lines are equal in time
to each other, the same as all isolated signs are. In the sixth measure the dot
is isolated; therefore it fills the whole beat, while the following beat is
represented by a rest ( 0 ). In two of the measures there are groups of
two notes. Each of the notes in these groups of course equals in time half of an
isolated note, for each occupies half the time of one beat.
The French say déchiffrer la
musique—to puzzle it out, to decipher it, as one would say of hieroglyphs on
an Egyptian sarcophagus. The term is well chosen. The causes of the obscurity of
musical notation are numerous, but the most prolific is undoubtedly expressing
time by the form of the symbols of sound. In slow movements, and where only few
modulations occur, this does not seem to be a serious objection; but in the
rapid movements of compound time it becomes insupportable—at least after one has
learned that there is a better way. An example in 6⁄8
time—six eighth-notes to the measure—will illustrate this:
Here each triplet fills the time
of one-third of a beat; that is, three-sixteenths equal one-eighth, according to
the sublime precision of the old notation! But then no such thing as a
twenty-fourth note is in use: three twenty-fourths would just do it! This is a
part of a vocal exercise. The learner would have to divide each beat into three
parts each, unless very familiar with such exercises; and one of these divisions
would fall on a rest, another in a prolongation, another in the middle of an
eighth note. In the new method see how the crooked places are straightened:
_____ _____ _____ _____
1 0 2 3 4 3 2 1 • 2 3 • 4 5
It "sings itself" the moment you
look at it, after a little study of this rational notation. Note also that there
is no mathematical absurdity here: the division is logical, and yet the air is
perfectly expressed in every particular.
The mastery of time in music is at
best an arduous task, yet teachers of music, as a rule, expect their pupils to
learn it incidentally while studying intonation. They give no special drill in
pure time at every lesson; and the result is that army of mediocre singers and
players who never become able to execute any but the very simplest music at
sight. They may know the theory of time, may be able to explain to you clearly
the divisions of every measure, but this is not sufficient for the musician: he
must decipher his measures with great readiness, precision and rapidity, or he
never rises above the mediocre. The ambition to excel without hard labor is the
bane of students of the piano especially. It leads them to muddle over music too
difficult for them; finally, to learn it after a fashion, so that they may be
able to "rattle and bang" through it to the delight of fond relatives and the
amazement and pity of severe culture. Not that we should have consideration for
all that passes for severe culture and exquisite sensitiveness among musical
dilettanti. In no field of art is there so much affectation, assumption and
charlatanry as in music. Some years ago a musician in New York of considerable
reputation refused to play on a friend's piano because, as he said, it was a
little out of tune and his ear was excruciated by the slightest discord. The
lady wondered that the instrument should be out of tune, as it was new and of a
celebrated manufacturer. She sent to the establishment where it was made,
however, and a tuner promptly appeared. He tried the A string with his
tuning-fork, ran his fingers over the keyboard, declared the piano in perfect
tune, and left. That evening the musician called, and was informed that a tuner
had "been exercising his skill" upon the instrument. Thereupon he graciously
condescended to play for his hostess, and the sensitiveness of his ear was no
longer shocked. She never dared to undeceive him, but mentioned the fact to
another musician, a violinist, who exclaimed, greatly amused, "The idea of a
pianist pretending to be fastidious about concord in music! Why, the instrument
at its best is a bundle of discords." Both of these musicians were guilty of
affectation; for, although the piano's chords are slightly dissonant, the
intervals of the chromatic scale are made the same by the violin-player as by
the pianist. What right, then, has the former to complain? To be sure, the
violinist can make his intervals absolutely correct: he can play
the enharmonic scale, which one using any of the instruments with fixed notes
cannot do. But does he, practically? Does he not also make the same note for C
sharp and D flat? The violinist mentioned of course alluded to the process
called equal temperament, by which piano-makers, to avoid an
impracticable extent of keyboard, divide the scale into eleven notes at equal
intervals, each one being the twelfth root of 2, or 1.05946. This destroys the
distinction between the semitones, and C sharp and D flat become the same note.
Scientists show us that they are different notes, easily distinguished by the
ear. Representing the vibrations for C as 1, we shall have—
each note being increased by one
twenty-fourth of itself, or in absolute vibrations—
This is the enharmonic scale,
having twenty-one notes. The chromatic has eleven, and the name—it may be
remarked in passing—is from the Greek word for "color"
χρωμα because the old composers wrote these notes
in colors, and had them so printed. Not a bad idea, surely: many a learner on
the piano would be overjoyed to see all the ugly flats and sharps on the staff
in brilliant holiday dress.
There is no reason at this day,
when science in all fields is making such progress, why the ordinary
music-teacher should have so limited a knowledge of his subject. He should be
able to explain the fundamental principles of the different scales upon the
theory of vibration, and to so educate the apprehension of his pupils that they
will not be content with the imperfect catechisms of the music-books in vogue.
And with the adoption of a rational system of writing music, which will reduce
the time and labor of learning it to one half, there will be time for the
niceties of a science of such vast importance to the culture—and, indirectly, to
the moral progress—of the world.