Violin Pedagogy: How Did They Learn?

Early Instrumental Teachers in the United States

by Dr. Robin Kay Deverich

Some of the earliest instrumental classes in the United States followed a pattern similar to British adult violin classes: singing school teachers adapted their singing methodology for strings. Sollinger described violin instruction in early America:

During the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, instrumental class teaching was perpetuated by the students of two kinds of teachers: 1) the singing school teachers who taught primarily popular and dance music, and 2) the conservatory professors, usually trained in Europe, who taught European art music.[68]

The enterprising efforts of singing school teachers included individuals such as James L. and Joseph Howell, "music men" in Arkansas 1849-61. They held singing school classes, sold instruments and music, and taught instrumental classes based on singing class methodologies. Their method book, New Class Book, 1859; was designed so students could sing and play their instrument at the same time.[69]

Another example of entrepreneurial music teachers include Lewis A. Benjamin and his son, Lewis Benjamin Jr. Beginning in 1847, for over fifty years, members of the Benjamin family sold instruments and taught vocal and instrumental music to thousands of students in academies and free violin schools in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Camden and Pittsburgh.[70] To illustrate the popularity of their efforts, their concert in May 1891, the Benjamin's Children's Carnival held in Philadelphia, featured an orchestra of five hundred and a chorus of two thousand.[71]