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A New Approach Leads the Way

November 16, 2013

Having read my other blogs, you should be somewhat familiar with The Frances Clark Library for Piano Students.  To recap, I have explained how the Clark Library is designed as a comprehensive piano course based on a thorough analysis of the learning process. I have also stated that the advantages of Frances Clark’s teaching approach have been recognized.  After the publication of the Clark course in 1954-57, there has been an increase in the number of methods that include innovations implemented by Miss Clark. Now, I will compare the Clark Library with other piano instruction books.


If you take some time to look across the board, you can see specific traits held in common.  Many current methods introduce note reading with black key staffless notation of compositions that are played in the middle register of the piano (for most, a one or two-octave keyboard range is written).  White key staffless notation is then combined with a Middle C and/or multi-key approach, followed by an explanation of grand staff notation and intervallic note reading.  Like the first and subsequent publications of the Clark course, the format of a graded series of instructions books is favored.


Teaching materials have been revised, and yet, the Clark Library retains its status as an exemplary method.  Let’s look at the elementary series.  Because the use of intervals simplifies note reading on the grand staff, students play and then name as opposed to older Middle C method books in which students name and then play. These methods often rely on the well-known “Every Good Boy Does Fine” mnemonic.  As the majority of contemporary methods incorporate a Middle C position and/or five-finger pattern, keyboard movement is restricted, and students sometimes depend on finger numbers for note reading.  In the Clark course, keyboard registers are explored, a set hand position is avoided, and unnecessary fingering is omitted (fingering is given for the first notes and to help students move from one position to the next).  In addition, only a few method books systemically name and drill notes above and below landmarks.  Again, most methods that designate certain pitches as “guide notes” relate these pitches to a Middle C position or five-finger pattern.


Here’s a bonus feature that not all methods provide.  Selected solos and duets recorded by Sam Holland are available on compact discs and MIDI files.  As a teaching tool, the recordings are invaluable.  Special sound effects like the roar of an engine for an airplane are exciting, and a secure, steady tempo that comes from playing along with the recordings assures a successful performance. Most importantly, the recordings motivate students to practice.  Handbooks that give detailed instructions for teaching The Music Tree do include suggestions on how to use the recordings in lessons and at home.


In summary, The Frances Clark Library for Piano Students has much to offer.  The analytical thinking and work required of a well-prepared teacher have been done for you. Your job as an instructor certainly doesn’t end there, but you can simply teach the course as guided and enjoy the process.  If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to use the Clark Library. The course is endorsed by many of today’s leading pedagogues as well as our faculty at The New School for Music Study.


I hope you continue to check in from time to time.  Please feel free to submit any questions.  As I have said before, there is always something new to learn at The New School, and we want to share our discoveries with fellow piano teachers.


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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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