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A Change for the Better

October 26, 2013

Last week, I promised to continue a summary of how Frances Clark’s method books were incomparable.  Believe it or not, there is still more to be said about the Clark piano course.  For example, did you know that the concept of a comprehensive piano library in itself was a novel idea?


Contrary to many other methods, the Clark course integrated all aspects of keyboard musicianship and presented a graded series of piano literature from each style period.The elementary books provided exercises in note reading, rhythm, technic, theory, and sight playing.  The intermediate literature books, which included baroque, classical, and romantic repertoire, were also supplemented by six volumes of technic and theory. In addition, Frances Clark prepared a companion set of student collections by master composers of the twentieth century.  Aware that few collections of contemporary literature were published, she selected music from the public domain as well as commissioned new compositions by Ross Lee Finney, David Kraehenbuehl, Douglas Moore, Elie Siegmeister, Alexandre Tansman, and Alexander Tcherepnin.  The commissioned repertoire was composed as Miss Clark requested; each piece addressed some particular challenge such as playing in two keys or understanding the intricacies of tone row composition.


As Frances Clark dedicated her life’s work to promoting high standards of excellence in piano instruction materials, her own piano course has undergone several revisions since it was first published in 1954-57.  Compositions by the Pulitzer prize winning composer, John LaMontaine, were added to the original Write and Play Time elementary series, and in 1962, Time to Begin was retained as the primer for a new elementary course titled Look and Listen.  This new series incorporated the method, teaching repertoire, and technique exercises within a primary lesson book and introduced new landmarks for note reading (five C reference pitches were replaced with Treble G, Bass F, Middle C, High G, and Low F landmarks). A third revision of the elementary method books titled The Music Tree was published in 1973.  Aside from a selection of the best compositions from the Look and Listen series, The Music Tree included commissioned repertoire by celebrated composers, most notably, Jon George.


The second and third revisions of the elementary course as well as new editions of several books from the intermediate series were based on research conducted at The New School for Music Study, where experimental teaching had proven the revised teaching material more effective.  The 1993-96 revision and current edition of The Music Tree were also evaluated and tested at The New School before being published.


As I write this series of blogs, I still find the story of Frances Clark’s legacy interesting. l have additional information about how the Clark course was so carefully structured. If you take a good look at the method books, you can see for yourself how her new approach must have required a great deal of thought and effort.

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This site is created by the faculty of the New School for Music Study, a division of the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.

February 13, 2018

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