As the eighteenth century witnessed an expansion of educational opportunities, learning to read and write music imbued amateurs with erudition and discipline. Printed instructional volumes utilized archaic abstract visualizations that encouraged a cerebral approach to learning music, and singing school classes relied on rote memorization of the “rules of music.” The potential drudgery of this approach was mitigated by the sociability of the schools. By the end of the century, volumes of instruction for instruments were increasingly available to American amateurs; these, too, relied on charts that abstracted musical knowledge. The expansion of secular instrumental instruction shifted the emphasis of education from piety (for sacred singing) to refinement. Even as printed instructions pushed toward standardized “rules,” manuscript music books reveal that amateurs embraced a wide range of literate practices, from quite rudimentary to highly advanced. Manuscripts also reveal individuals’ gradual improvement in the technical ability, aural skill, and knowledge of musical vocabulary.
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