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History and Evaluation of Piano Study Materials

February 20, 2016

As planned, I intend to finish this series of blogs on the piano pedagogy programs at The New School for Music Study before turning to other topics. If you have been following my blogs, you may remember reading that there were two programs when the school still offered training for teachers who wanted to pursue a Master’s degree. After Westminster Choir College was granted state authorization in 1981, a joint program was established by combining the pedagogy curriculum at The New School with a degree program in piano performance.  Pedagogy students could then choose to receive a “Certificate of Professional Achievement” or they could attain a degree by doing course work at both schools. Today, I am giving an overview of one more class. In a few weeks, I will list other requirements for the degree program that I have not already outlined and describe special course offerings.



The development of keyboard instruction books from Baroque collections to the most recent modern methods was reviewed in the class, “History and Evaluation of Piano Study Materials.” Ted Cooper taught this course when I visited The New School to observe teaching. Mr. Cooper and I discussed what the course entailed, and he made the following statements in one of several interviews:


“The course provides an in-depth study of piano methods. We look at older methods as well as instruction books and supplementary materials that are currently available. Choosing the right lesson book can make all the difference. Most importantly, the repertoire has to be motivating or else we end up spending a lot more of our lesson time convincing students that they need to practice. New concepts must be reinforced with a sufficient number of playing and writing assignments before a new concept is introduced. If the lesson moves on too quickly or too many concepts are presented at one time, you should reconsider the method book. After finishing this class and the piano literature class taught by Phyllis Lehrer, young teachers have a working knowledge of the teaching literature, and they are able to select a method based on whether or not the course is well designed.”


Many method books were evaluated. A survey of European methods began with an overview of C. P. E. Bach’s Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments. The Standard Graded Course of Studies for the Pianoforte in Ten Grades by W. S. B. Mathews was first studied in a retrospective of American methods. Class piano instruction was traced to the innovative teaching methods of pioneers Calvin B. Cady, Thaddeus P. Giddings, and Raymond Burrows. In addition, educators who have made significant contributions to the training of teachers were named in a history of piano pedagogy. Because this course involved looking at numerous instruction books, class projects were needed to review the material. For example, graduate students analyzed a piano method published after 1955.


I recall Mr. Cooper remarked that it is important to study the history of piano instruction  in order to understand methods in current use. I was inspired to do my own study as I wanted to also affirm which methodology has proven to be well founded. For my thesis, I compared sixteen contemporary piano methods using a chart that illustrated how The Frances Clark Library for Piano Students has influenced the design of other instruction books. There was a clear-cut demarcation. Since the publication of The Clark Library in 1955, the number of methods that include off-staff notation, unmetered rhythm, and intervallic note reading has increased. These features of the Clark method that were innovative when the instruction books were first published have certainly improved piano education. In particular, intervallic note reading has made notation easy to understand for many students who have had to depend on mnemonics (e.g. Every Good Boy Does Fine).  We are fortunate that Frances Clark and Louise Goss recognized the need for improvement. It remains to be seen whether or not new and future revisions of current piano method books will stand the test of time in the same way that Frances Clark’s groundbreaking method of teaching continues to endure.

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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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