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What is the Fletcher Music Method?

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From Chapter 2:

In one class a teacher of forty-five years of age begged me to let her off the ear training part of the course. "I am getting so much more for myself out of the method," she said, "than I expected that I feel it would be right to give the time that belongs to me to these younger pupils. You see you cannot really do anything with an ear forty-five years old." "Now," I said, "If I could do something with your ear, would it not be the greatest object lesson to the class? Will you not sacrifice yourself to the experiment? If I succeed, these young girls will never dare to fail with any child." She consented and we started in. At the end of eight weeks she was tested and wrote correctly eight out of ten tones taken from the entire range of the piano.

The ninth was the right tone, but was placed an octave too high or too low, and the tenth tone was wrong altogether. She wrote it as another sound, although only one-half tone out of place, but it was a bad mistake looked at through Fletcher Method eyes.

It is the individuality connected with each tone that interests the child, and consequently his attention is gained. What constitutes success is not always the outside possession, but the vital inside possession. We teach the children in the form of play in order that we, the teachers, may bring certain knowledge, certain facts to their outside senses; but it is only in so far as the children themselves take this knowledge within and use it as material for thought; it is only in so far as it makes them, through happy interest, think, see again; with the inside eyes, hear again, with the inside ear, touch, feel, and in fact use again the mental equivalents of all the outside impressions, that the knowledge really does them any good.

From Chapter 10:

Some of the things we Fletcher Method teachers do not do and consider most uneducational in teaching scales are as follows: We do not allow the children to say phrases to remind them of the order of the sharps in the scales, such as, "Father Charles goes down and ends battle." We do not teach the child to look at the last sharp and say that the keynote is the note above. When it comes to minor scales, we do not get the relative minor scale by a minor third below. This would be starting from an unknown point to learn an unknown thing, and would necessitate our knowing a minor interval before we know a minor scale.

There are any number of vicious little tricks in music teaching which have been given to the pupil, and which endow him with the appearance of knowledge. A little incident will prove my point. Some years ago I was to lecture one afternoon in the leading conservatory of a certain city. In the morning the director showed me over the building, introducing me to several teachers. We had arrived at one teacher's room when the director was called away for a few minutes, so he left me with the young lady, telling me that she did the work with children and would be especially interested in meeting me. There was a little boy of eight or nine at the piano and the moment we were left alone she became so cautious, and so on guard and antagonistic, that I drew near the child instinctively, for have not children always been my good angels. The teacher began by saying that she believed she taught everything I did in my course to her children-- that she taught intervals, chords, transposition, etc. These assertions were made in quite a "defensive" manner, and presently she volunteered that Johnny should prove them. She said: "Johnny, find the common chord in the key of F-sharp." Johnny fumbled, hesitated, so the teacher corrected the question, "Well, find the common chord in the key of D-sharp." I trembled for Johnny. How would he find the tonic triad in the key of D-sharp if F-sharp was beyond him? But I might have saved my sympathy, for Johnny sounded it perfectly. "Now, play it in G-sharp." Again Johnny was victorious. I expressed surprise, genuine enough. Then the teacher proceeded to ply Johnny with other questions. "What is the value of a dotted eighth note?" "The dotted eighth note is equal to three-sixteenths." "What is the value of a dotted sixteenth note?" "The dotted sixteenth is equal to three thirty-seconds," answered Johnny. "How do you know?" I asked Johnny coaxingly. Johnny succumbed. "You take three every time, of the note of lower denomination," he said with a burst of generosity. Then the teacher turned to the intervals and Johnny was asked to mention what an inverted 4th became. "A fifth." A 2d became a seventh, a 7th a second, and so on. Johnny was certainly scoring, and I could not refrain from asking how he got these facts. "Do you think what you add to make nine?" I asked. "Yes," he said, "and that is the right answer every time." "Yes," I said, "but where do you get nine from in the scale? There are only eight notes-- C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. How do you get the number 9?" The child was completely at sea, and the teacher looked flushed and worried. It was cruel of me, so I told the little man the mystery and I had just finished when the director returned, fortunately for all concerned.

Now, the child proved that he was being taught by means of a series of little tricks and definitions. He was being taught the "circle of keys," a mental feat, which it is wiser to postpone just as surely as we postpone teaching our babies to "chin" themselves, although this is possible for a child, and a good physical exercise for an older person.

There seems something particularly mystifying in anything put into a circle for the child's mind to grasp. The adult mentality and the child mentality are not identical, and the circle of keys which adorns the first page of so many harmony books should be kept for the adult. Now, the fact that Johnny did not know the triad in the key of F-sharp proved that he had probably forgotten it, and these triads were all being learned as separate and distinct facts. If he really knew the triad in the key of D-sharp and G-sharp (and he certainly had a tactual memory of both), he should certainly have known it in the keys before G-sharp.

So many teachers seem to be incensed with the Fletcher Music Method because they imagine that it makes exorbitant claims of teaching things that have not been taught before. This is not the case. It is not that we teach anything new, but that we present the subject in such a manner that the child's volition is with us in the gaining of knowledge. This alone means that a sound and enduring musical understanding is being established.

That our young students have had in the past not much more than an aural and tactual knowledge of their scales can easily be proved. They do not analyze scale passages easily at sight. In the same way, until many of the prevalent methods of teaching intervals, are abolished, intervals will not be easy for children. It is difficult to find even an adult who reads easily an interval that has to be reckoned by tones and half-tones. Fortunately, this method is rapidly being discarded. But the really senseless reasons that are given to children for the names of intervals must be discarded too. I overheard the following conversation at the close of a lecture on harmony between the lecturer and an evidently earnest music teacher:

TEACHER: How would you explain why some intervals are called major and others perfect to children?

LECTURER: I would not teach it (with an indulgent smile).

TEACHER: But my children have come this far, and I think they should go on. If you wanted to teach it, how would you do it?

LECTURER: Why, then, I should show that perfect intervals when inverted were perfect, but major when inverted were minor, and hence the name.

Now, there is to my mind as little logic in this trite saying as there is in the statement John is John because when inverted he is John, but Fred is Fred because when inverted he is Tom. There is a sane reason which, with the help of seeing and feeling and hearing, can be perfectly grasped by any and every child.

Here also is the first chapter from The Fletcher Music Method:

The aim of the Fletcher Music Method is to reduce the mental strain which the study of music causes to children; to give a fundamental, systematic, logical musical educa­tion in a way that shall be thorough, natural, and pleasurable and thus make it possible for music to exercise her threefold power, and develop the child mentally, physically and spiritually.

During the last decade, or say quarter of a century, the child-idea has ruled supreme. It has been justly called the children's age, and the largest hearts and most astute minds have been busy studying the needs of children, and planning to meet these needs. It is therefore remarkable that no childlike-- that is, natural-- system has been developed for teaching the little ones music, one of the most complex subjects a child is allowed to take up. It is strange that the same methods have continued to be employed to teach music to both adults and children, while natural objective methods have been applied to nearly all the arts and sciences in existence, except music.

Let us consider music as a language and recall the manner in which the majority have in the past been taught this language. We were taken to the instrument, and before being conscious of the necessity for the signs or symbols of this language, we were confronted by a mass of signs which could have to us no meaning. Nor were we shown the beautiful thoughts for which these symbols stood. By and by we could express mechanically, with our fingers, thoughts in music that we had never thought, and which in many cases would have been quite unnatural for us, as children, to have thought. When we were able to read music and execute it, we were taught the harmony of music, which, in this comparison, we will regard as the grammar of this language-- music-- and, last of all, if we ever got that far, we were allowed to experiment with composition; in other words, to think our own thoughts in music.

Now I contend, and hope to prove by this method, that had we begun just in the opposite direction, we should be further along the road today, and the power of music in the world would be much greater for good. We would surely not attempt to teach a little child any other language in this ridiculously illogical manner. Think a moment how you would teach your baby the name of anything. As words are only symbols for the thoughts in speech, so signs are only symbols in music for thoughts, and unless the child can think the thought, the music is meaningless, and of as little value as the thoughtless words would be. But how many of us have ever been taught to think in music first? Children are intensely individual; in that they are like nature. Their natural impulse is to work from the within-- to create for themselves. Children are sensitive to law, and need lawful treatment, and it is because of this that they rebel at the unlawful means adopted so often for their musical education; and we find from the outset that a distaste-- amounting in some to positive hate-- is created, or that they are bribed and coaxed into learning what should be learned spontaneously. In this system we arouse the child's interest so that he works spontaneously. His self-activity is called into play constantly it is always a thought he can think, or something he can create for himself. We work from the whole to the part, and again from the parts to the whole; from the known to the unknown; from the simple to the complex; from the concrete to the abstract; from the seen to the unseen; and it has been abun­dantly proved by the Fletcher Method that the study of music, the beginning of which has been considered so difficult for children, is not difficult when we deal with the child in a natural, rational and lawful manner.

Music is, to a certain extent, crippled of her power in the world because the mental and technical difficulties are made so much of that in her threefold capacity she is seldom appreciated.  As all true education tends to develop physically, mentally and spiritually, so should music, were the means adopted natural and interesting; and whatever mental and technical freedom we acquire, without the spiritual development we must fail. Nor can we be free in either one of these three phases of development, unless we see in each the value of the other two.

Education is emancipation; but as a rule, a musical education has been anything but emancipation. The little music-loving student has had to realize at every turn how bound he was either mentally or technically; and alas! too often before he becomes mentally and technically free the love of music has been crushed out. Now, without the love of music, it is impossible to become an artist; yet the protection and development of this love has almost entirely been neglected. How many children dread their music lesson! How, then, can the artistic appreciation of music be developing with them?

Let me tell you of one little scene which I think will illustrate the point I am trying to make. While abroad in the spring of 1899, I visited a conservatory to meet an old teacher of mine, and waiting a few minutes for the interview, I roamed about the halls. Presently a young girl entered, accompanied by a servant, who carried her violin. They stood conversing in low tones. The child took the violin, and, nervously strumming on the case, looked anxiously toward a door. The servant seemed to be trying to encourage her, but she looked frightened and unhappy. Very soon the door toward which they had approached was thrown open, and there stood the master, tall, dark, impatient. "Well, well," he cried, "why do you stand foolishly outside, while I wait for you within? Come in, come in." The child entered, and the door slammed. The servant, with a sigh, turned and left the hall. I sighed, too, and thought, "Yes, perhaps you will be able to teach her something, technically or mentally, if you have not made her so frightened that she is almost stupid; but how much of the artistic part-- of the love of music-- are you going to encourage in the child's heart in this half hour?"

For my part, I believe it is our duty to make the childhood of children as happy as possible, for their greatest spiritual, mental and physical growth can go on only under harmonious and happy conditions. The soul of a child is so open to impressions, and we cannot deal with him without influencing him for good or ill; and herein lies our responsibility and our opportunity. More than this, children are so intuitive that the deed and word are not of more importance to them than the thought. To this tremendous power they are instinctively alive. Therefore, how careful should we be of our thought attitude toward the child.

Formerly the child was placed at the piano for his first music lesson, and forced to grasp-- for him-- abstract musical ideas through the eye and the ear, and in a complex form. The result was that whichever sense was keenest did the greater portion of the work; and so we often find children taught in this way playing entirely by ear; others, the sense of sight being keener, use this sense almost exclusively, and the ear is left undeveloped, etc.

In my method the sense of touch is brought in, and the meaning of every sign and symbol carried to the brain, not only through ear and eye, but also through touch. Everything in music that would tend to make it a difficulty to children, such as notation, rhythm, time, technique, ear training, scales, intervals, chords, keyboard, interest in composers and musical instruments-- all these subjects are taught separately, and in a pleasant, interesting manner, the necessity of each subject to music as a whole being made very apparent.

The aim is that the child shall not be technically or mentally hindered in expressing his own ideas of music when he comes to the instrument for the first time. Now, if the system is natural and lawful, it must be pleasurable, and whatever is a pleasure to children at all times tends to develop them in some way or other. And because music is in its nature beautiful, inspiring and uplifting, and because Children are responsive to an uplifting influence, we find it very easy to make them happy in the study of music.

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