The Listener’s Guide To Music- vintage book by Percy A. Scholes

The Listener’s Guide To Music, With a Concert- goer’s Glossary, by Percy A. Scholes. Ox ford University Press, 1919 ( Tenth edition, fourth impression 1945)

bookHere is a little gem of a book I got in a second hand bookshop some months ago. What a helpful little guide on how to listen to classical music it is, especially for a music beginner like myself (who studies online music courses).

There is an introduction by Sir W. Henry Haddow, which paints an evocative picture of a certain Mr H.E. Woolridge’s lectures, who was a professor at Oxford University.

HenryHow atmospheric these lectures must have been- candlelight and magic lanterns! Of course, today students have lectures with high tech smart-boards and projections from laptop computers. Magic lanterns and candles do sound far more charming though.

Whilst in places this book of course belies its era, the discussions and information in it are relevant and helpful to today’s concert goers and beginners in music such as myself. Mr Scholes had some very good ideas on how to listen to music, what to concentrate on in a way that would improve the layman’s understanding of classical music in order to make their listening experiences deeper and more enjoyable.

chapter1chapter1 second page

So as can be seen above, he aimed this book at the “ordinary listener”, and as a text book for those who attended music appreciation classes. I am one of those people he wrote this book for- 95 years later- though he could never have imagined online classes!

Here is the contents page:


Mr Scholes recommended that the concert goer/classical music listener should learn about the form of music, the history of music and a “trifle of instrumentation.”  He thought there was sometimes too much information being looked at which wouldn’t always improve listening ability – often being above the listener’s level of understanding.

What The Listener Really Needs To Know, Chapter 3:


So, I’m finding this little book a good starting point, in order for me to understand more about the music I listen to. I can describe the moods, emotions, tell you how I respond to it and a little about the form,  and identify some of the instruments, but I want to learn much much more.


Chapter 4, How The Composer Works:

One aspect of vintage books I love is the language they use- it is often quite poetical. In his consideration of the process of composing music and the subject of inspiration and work, which he calls “design”, there is an elegance of his prose, with delightful humour. His points are quite valid I think- composing requires both inspiration, then dedication and work to perfect those ideas.



I find it interesting that he compares the process of composing with the process of writing poetry, and refers to Edgar Allen Poe’s essay The Philosophy of Composition.



How often do we get a flash of inspiration, and not note it down right away, thinking we will remember it later? However it is often passed us by later on…

Inspiration in my experience is not always considerate- it will visit you as you are dropping off to sleep, or upon waking up. It can be impatient and want to be noticed there and then. It may not come back if you pay it no heed. Having a notebook and pencil/pen in one’s bag or pocket and by the bed, may be considered a little old fashioned in the age of ipads, but they will ensure the artist can note down ideas, impressions and melodies as they come, and not let them pass by…



2 thoughts on “The Listener’s Guide To Music- vintage book by Percy A. Scholes

  1. It is my suspicion that music education and appreciation courses these days are likely to be significantly poorer than those of a hundred years ago. Your excerpts from this book tend to substantiate that!

    • Well, I have only done online music appreciation courses with Coursera. Online learning is conducted a bit differently than classes one attends in person. I have never seen any music appreciation classes in local adult education centres- I don’t think they even exist. Though of course, one can go to beginner’s guitar classes.

      So, I am very glad for Coursera- I am finding their courses very good- that is the way of it these days- many leisure courses are online MOOCs these days.(Though Coursera do have many educational courses that can be accredited).

      Mr Scholes’ appendix at the end of his book on how to use the book are good. He wrote this book for French soldiers who were doing a “Listener’s Course in Music,” which was an Army education scheme run by the Y. M.C.A. He also stated that this book could be used by the WEA ( who held adult education classes, and still offer courses to this day) and used in short university courses ( what we call continuing education today).

      I used to do a lot of adult education classes but in the past 2 years , I have not- for two reasons- firstly they have not brought out any new courses and I have done the ones that interest me already, and secondly Coursera keeps bringing out courses in areas I want to learn about/explore.

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