Counting Aloud

Sometimes we run across some wisdom gem or quote or insight that we just have to share with everyone else.  It is especially exciting when that gem happens to back up something we believe and have tried to convey to others, as in,”See?  I TOLD you so!” If you have ever ‘liked,’ ‘shared’ or ‘retweeted’ you know exactly what I mean.

First the back story:  Just a few hours ago, I was talking with a piano student (“JH”) about the need to count aloud.  He knows he should, but it isn’t easy for him, so it is an exercise that tends to get dropped.   I told him of a conversation I had (decades ago) with some other music students. These adult-but-beginners had gathered at my house for a spring potluck.  There was no need to scare everyone off so we didn’t call it a recital, but that is really what it was.  Over lunch, these students and friends were comparing their challenges of music study.  Just as I walked by, I heard one say how much she hated to count out loud.   The one seated next to her added, “Gail makes you count out loud, too?  I thought she only did that to me!”  And so it went around the table, having to count aloud being the great equalizer.

JH smiled and nodded in total agreement and understanding with students he had never met, promised to try to work on it, and we moved on.

A short time later, I was looking through my personal library, and opened a book given to me years ago by a dear friend, Karen Cook Merchant. It fell open to a page that has the following:

It is always difficult to count aloud, since one has so much to think about, but it is absolutely indispensable.  The author has taught music for twenty-five years, and he has never known a pupil who did not count aloud to do good playing.   When a piece is well learned then he may keep time mentally, but he must think the one, two, three, four, or whatever the time may be, seeing critically that the notes correctly fill the time.  Of course you will hear fine players and you will not see them count, but if they are really fine players they are certainly keeping the time.  You may want to know when one will not need to  count.  It will be when he can live without eating [emphasis happily mine!]. Don’t ask your teacher to count for you; it will do you no more good than if you asked him to eat for you.  But the mere speaking of the counts is valueless unless you think the time of the music; and bring every note in its proper relations to the count.”

Reed Organ Method Book, 1891
Reed Organ Method Book, 1891

This gem is by Charles Landon, from his book “Landon’s Reed Organ Method,” published in 1891. Yes, you read that correctly: a 1891 lesson book for REED organ, as in pump organ, or parlor organ or the charming little oak or mahogany organs that you see in antique stores that sound like overgrown harmonicas.  This makes his advice either very outdated, or perfectly ageless.  I’m going with perfectly ageless because it is exactly what I believe and have found as true.  Besides, we all can use some affirmations from time to time. 😉

Keep counting aloud, everyone!