The powerful, comprehensive music education of the Neapolitans and what we can learn from them today
Songbird Music Academy is greatly inspired by the Music Conservatories of Naples. There is a reason for this. Historical research has uncovered just how incredibly comprehensive and effective their method of music education was.
In the video above, Professor Robert Gjerdingen, author of the recently published "Child Composers", lists the various core areas of instruction that a young student (frequently orphans):
Solfeggi - Italian Sol-faing with the traditional hexachordal system of Solfege that is very different from today's Fixed or Move-able Do. Before students could play on any instruments, they required at least 3 years of Solfeggio.
Partimenti - Keyboard improvisation over bass lines that dramatically increase in scope and complexity. Led ultimately to partimento fugues.
Keyboard Studies - Playing of intavolature (fully realized keyboard works) and other instrumental practice.
Counterpoint - Written counterpoint that was more strict than partimento practice. No parallel 5ths or 8ths, even within the middle voices. Culminated in fugal writing.
The training would last upwards of 10 years of instruction and created some of the most formidable musicians of the era.
How do we apply these concepts to modern practice?
The first is to understand that singing, but in particular singing with the rediscovered method of Italian Solfeggio is a crucial element that every student should add to their curriculum. Most instrumental players leave singing to singers but the benefits of singing are massive. In addition to developing intonation and the fundamentals of music rudiments, singing through Italian Sol-fa will also develop improvisation, counterpoint, composition and other fantastic skills. A rigorous study of the Italian Sol-fa method will go a long way to later partimenti and counterpoint study.
Next is playing the keyboard, which should be known to all music students, not just pianists. The practice of partimenti is a keyboard art and while it could be realized on a guitar or another harmonic instrument, it was really developed for the keyboard. The study of partimento is a required first step before the study of counterpoint. Fenaroli advised to study the first 3 books of partimenti before embarking on the study of counterpoint. Practicing partimenti would require a study of the keyboard. So to that end, every music student should play the keyboard.
Finally, the study of counterpoint has received a bad rap ever since the rise of the "harmony". The Neapolitans did not have a class called "Harmony" (or even "Ear Training") but counterpoint they did have and it was a rigorous and comprehensive course leading up to fugues. Is this something we should guide the modern student towards, I believe so. A mastery of counterpoint is essentially the mastery of composition and completely in line with our values.
To summarize: sing, play the keyboard in addition to your primary instrument, study counterpoint. Focus on improvisation and composition, not memorizing repertoire for recitals. Focus on being creative and a thinking, composing musician.. and start young!