The Right Materials for the Situation

“The art of teaching: Creating an environment in which a student wants nothing more than to learn, and having the right materials for the situation.” – Frances Clark


“Having the right materials for the situation.”  This part of the quote always stands out in my mind.  Isn’t the first part of this quote strong enough to stand on its own?  In fact, Frances’ quote is stronger without the ending “coda…”  “The art of teaching:  Creating an environment in which the student wants nothing more than to learn.”

It must have been very important to a woman who chose her words carefully to add:  “and having the right materials for the situation.” What does she mean by “materials?” If we take this word literally, it means having all of the physical items at hand. Have you ever taught a lesson and not had something you need? For example, the student forgets her book and you haven’t brought duplicate books to the lesson? The teacher loses time and the lesson loses momentum.  The moment we feel scattered, flustered, or disorganized is the moment we cease to focus fully on the student.  One way to free oneself to concentrate on the student is an assignment sheet prepared in advance of the lesson.


As I tried to sort out what Frances meant by “materials,” I consulted two friends.  One friend indicated that he believed that Frances was referring to repertoire:  choosing the right piece at the right time.  Another believed that Frances was speaking to her audience – pedagogy students.  She tailored what she said to be appropriate for each situation, each audience.  I believe both of these answers are true.  I also had my own epiphany, finally, which I believe gave me some insight into Frances Clark’s sharp mind.  She used both hands when teaching pedagogy, always:  in one hand she held the  idealistic and philosophical, in the other, the practical application.  It is not enough to speak of ideals, philosophers… one must know how to bring these ideals to life.  I learned so many practical things under her guidance.  I believe that the full quote, including “the right materials for the situation” illustrates Frances’ commitment to practical piano pedagogy.  Perhaps the “coda” is not an afterthought, after all.


2 thoughts on “The Right Materials for the Situation

  1. Interesting concept. I’m not sure how much emphasis should be placed on materials, although they are important to a degree. Some people take this to the extreme and feel like kids need the latest and greatest technological gizmo in order to learn. I don’t think this is the case – many people have been highly educated with much, much less. I think the motivation to learn is key, and having the right materials is secondary.

    In other words, you can have all the materials you need, and more, but if your students aren’t motivated to learn, then the materials are useless. Thanks for the post!

    1. Mark, it’s interesting that you bring up technology. I mentioned technology in the first draft of this blog… Though technology can be a useful tool, all we really need is a student, a teacher, and a piano. The sequencing of materials is up to the teacher. What we do in our planning of the lesson, the student’s course of study, and who we are as teachers can and does have a profound impact on student motivation.

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