Welcome back. This week, I want to take a closer look at the elementary books of The Frances Clark Library for Piano Students. Along with my own analysis, I found information from several sources, including Robert Kern’s dissertation and the video: Conversations with Frances Clark, vol. 1: Her Life and Teachings. In addition, I conducted interviews with Louise Goss, co-author of the Clark Library.
Frances Clark’s method of teaching is established on the premise that “learning is a natural and logical process.” Once a concept is understood, a new concept that relates to what students already know and understand can be presented. This approach is dependent upon active student participation in the learning process. Students must be taught to think for themselves. As Miss Clark would often say, “Teaching isn’t telling.” In other words, teachers should ask questions and encourage students to correct their own mistakes. Knowledge must be discovered and then applied. If students are taught how to learn, they do not need to depend on memorization of isolated facts; experience precedes symbolism. Self-discovery also allows students to progress at their own pace and instills a love for knowledge.
Designed to promote learning through discovery and experience, the Clark piano course offers a well-structured approach to teaching note reading, rhythm, technique, and theory. Information is arranged in a progressive order. The “known leads to the unknown” as “readiness of the child” dictates the presentation of concepts (discoveries are introduced using appropriate imagery that appeals to a young student’s interests and understanding). All new concepts are prepared for presentation. Beginning with staffless notation in the first lesson book and continuing throughout the elementary series, sound is experienced before the symbol for the sound is defined. Students first describe what they hear as they answer questions about each piece and compare songs in order to identify new sounds. After students discover what it feels like to play the sound (the technique that is needed to produce the sound at the keyboard), they then learn the sign and name for the sound. This is referred to as the sound-feel-sign-name sequence.
New concepts and skills are tested through performance and application. Playing assignments provide immediate reinforcement of new concepts. The review of concepts with playing and writing activities require students to apply what they have learned. As soon as each concept is tested, the next related concept is introduced, and the process is repeated: after preparation and presentation, new discoveries are reinforced with repertoire and written work. For extended follow-through, every unit reviews discoveries made in previous lessons.
Frances Clark believed that the seeds for the development of comprehensive musicianship must be sown in the early years of piano instruction. Intermediate study has to be built on a sold foundation in order for students to progress as “complete and well-rounded musicians.” The title “Music Tree,” which symbolizes strong roots and gradual growth, is appropriate for the Clark course.
Read my next blog if you are interested in learning more about The Frances Clark Library for Piano Students. Although other series of instruction books have adopted features of the Clark Library, the method remains unique. Why? Exceptional teaching materials stand the test of time.