Before I begin where I left off, I have to admit that writing a blog on Frances Clark is not an easy task. Miss Clark accomplished so much that it is difficult to summarize what needs to be said. Nevertheless, I will try to describe what made her piano method unprecedented.
Developing an expansive library of teaching materials was certainly a challenge. Beginning with grade six and working backwards, France Clark and Louise Goss first organized a series of intermediate literature books, as well as a collection of correlated instruction books for each level of study. With the intermediate series already planned and in the making, the authors designed a series of elementary method books as a preparatory course. Frances Clark relied on Louise Goss for her expertise as a writer. Following Miss Clark’s counsel and direction, Miss Goss wrote the text for the elementary series and composed many of the elementary compositions. She also became the general editor.
The elementary method books of the Frances Clark Library for Piano Students included the primer Time to Begin and Parts A and B of Write and Play Time, Tune Time, and Technic Time. In Time to Begin, note reading was simplified and progressed in steps. Reading was introduced with staffless notation; notes were pictured off-staff in unmetered rhythm. The interval of a second was then defined using only a few lines and spaces of a staff, after which lines were added to the incomplete staff for larger intervals. When grand staff notation was presented, landmarks/reference pitches were designated. Reading range extended gradually as notes were named in relation to the nearest landmark in Parts A and B books. Like Time to Begin, the six elementary books were well-planned in both content and order, an innovation that Frances Clark deemed essential.
Miss Clark realized how important it was to follow a step-by-step approach when she began teaching. Turning to her own teachers for inspiration, Miss Clark observed that her liberal arts teachers emphasized the necessity of following a sequential approach and teaching students “how to learn.” With this in mind, she set out to design a method that was student-oriented. Instead of beginning with the complexities of grand staff notation, her elementary course introduced one new concept at a time. The teaching of single concepts was structured using a sequence of preparation, presentation, and follow-through.
Preparation began with listening to the sound. The presentation of the symbol for the sound was then reinforced through repeated performance and application. To engage students in the learning process, text questions were directed to the student. Established learning theories supported a sequential approach. Robert Kern concludes his dissertation on the Clark method by saying, “Frances Clark is thought to have been the first to apply these theories of education to piano instruction systematically, and in so doing, she revolutionized whole concepts of piano education.” To date, Miss Clark’s achievement stands as one of the most important advances made in contemporary piano pedagogy.
I will detail other features of the elementary books that made the course a model for later methods. In addition, I will offer information about the intermediate series of The Frances Clark Library for Piano Students. And yes, the collection of intermediate literature was also unique.