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Set a Good Example

November 6, 2015

Once again it is time to post another blog about the pedagogy programs that were offered at The New School for Music Study. If you have not been reading my blogs, let me start by saying that I have already shared an ample amount of information. In a series of postings, I have been giving an overview of the piano pedagogy programs organized by Frances Clark and Louise Goss. Together, Miss Clark and Miss Goss co-founded the country’s first post-graduate teacher-training program at The New School in 1960. Years later in 1981, they then instituted a Master’s degree program in association with Westminster Choir College.  I have been sharing my research that I conducted in the last few years before 2000.


Graduate students completed a survey of intermediate and early advanced piano repertoire in a course taught by Phyllis Lehrer, “Piano Literature for Pre-College Teaching.”  This class was scheduled at the beginning of every school year so that first-year students could continue to analyze the Clark intermediate series as they began to teach their pupils who were studying intermediate repertoire.  Many books from The Clark Library were examined, including Piano Literature Book OnePiano Literature from the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries 2-6B, Contemporary Piano Literature 1-5/6, Piano Etudes for the Development of Musical Fingers 1-4, Supplementary Solos 1-3/4, Themes from Masterworks 1-3, and Sounds of Jazz 1-2.


Graduate students were asked to study and play assigned solos and duets.  In this course, students did not practice teaching the literature, but instead, they analyzed the form of every piece, marking difficult passages, and summarizing how they intended to teach fingering, phrasing, keyboard moves, etc.  Professor Lehrer gave insightful advice gleaned from years of experience. Just as Frances Clark and Louise Goss instructed, she also emphasized that piano students need to understand principles of good fingering so they can choose correct fingering without turning to the teacher for answers.  Pupils should be able to tell the teacher why a particular fingering is preferred, or if fingering rules have yet to be fully learned, they can select the better of two fingerings provided by the teacher.  Phrasing can be taught by having the students sing.  After singing a melodic line with a rise and fall of voice inflection, they tend to repeat the same phrasing when they play.  Because there are many effective methods for teaching keyboard moves, teachers must learn to assign exercises that best suit the movement. For example, crossing hands can be practiced on the keyboard cover to experience freedom in arm motion.  Wide leaps are made less troublesome by having the student play the last note before moving and preparing the next position (play-prepare new position). To extend this, the student then plays the last note plus the next measure that follows the move.


In addition to performances in class, two recitals were held every semester.  During the first semester, graduate students played teaching repertoire from levels one, two, and three of The Clark Library. Another recital was given after a study of level four was completed in the second semester.  Repertoire from levels 5-6 of the Library and early advanced compositions from well-known collections were performed in the last recital scheduled at the end of the school year (e.g.Two and Three-part Inventions by J. S. Bach, single movements of easier sonatas by Beethoven and Haydn, etc.). These performances were critiqued and graded.


Class instruction also included an evaluation of other teaching materials that were currently on the market such as teaching literature by Dennis Alexander, William Gillock, Martha Mier, Eugenie Rocherolle, and Catherine Rollin. For each level of intermediate study, graduate students chose four solos, two duets, and two standard twentieth-century compositions that they would recommend as teaching pieces.  Professor Lehrer compiled the lists, adding some of her own recommendations.  An evaluation of available teaching material was useful to graduate students in choosing supplementary music.  After completing a broad-based survey, they were also aware of new trends in teaching literature.  The reports were graded.  A final semester grade was calculated by combining this grade with grades received for performances and class participation.


When I observed pedagogy classes, it did not take long for me to see that the curriculum was both comprehensive and challenging.  Graduate students had to undergo rigorous training in order to qualify as well-educated teachers, and this included playing every piece they would be teaching with mastery. In other words, teachers should exemplify high standards if they expect to hear the same caliber of performance by all of their students.


Check back in the coming weeks and months if you would like to keep learning more about the pedagogy curriculum. The classes that Frances Clark and Louise Goss deemed essential were tailor-made for the novice teacher, and nothing was left unexamined. Even the task of managing a piano studio was addressed, a daily consideration for teachers who are trying to juggle their own schedule with that of their busy students.

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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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