Whitney's Music Studio

in Shallowater, Texas and Lubbock, Texas area

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Many Changes in Piano Pedagogy

By: Robert Pace

From: Clavier, January 2001

There seem to be relatively few changes in keyboard teaching over the past 40 years. Spring recitals, adjudications, jury exams and contests still take place; and students go to lessons, practice, and memorize pieces essentially as they did in 1960. Some ripples from new pedagogical theories and research have developed in these decades and may help to promote the value of piano study, reducing some of the problems that have haunted piano teachers.

In the decade preceding the first issue of Clavier, the baby-boom era produced an abundance of 6, 7, and 8 year-olds who were eager for piano lessons. By 1960 the waiting lists of private teachers overflowed. Most music-school graduates simply taught as they were taught because few bachelor of music programs for piano majors included piano pedagogy courses or supervised student teaching. Some public schools offered class piano instruction as part of the general music curriculum, but there was no specific methodology in the music education degree programs to prepare music students for keyboard teaching.

During the baby-boom era, some studio teachers modified the structure of class piano and one-on-one lessons to create a new approach to group piano instruction. This included two sessions per week; two students, called a dyad, together studied solo and ensemble literature; and groups of eight to twelve students met for theory, ear training, sight-reading, improvisation, and technique. Most teachers who had some training to teach groups reported that students enjoyed learning with others and many accomplished more in daily practice.

The fact that group teaching called for more preparation time was a problem most teachers accepted. Although teachers and students favored this type of instruction, many families had a difficult time bringing children to two sessions a week, especially families with one parent whose time was already stretched. As a result lessons with two sessions per week declined in use.

Even with increased popularity and growing media attention to the piano, during the next 15 years most people thought of piano instruction as an after-school activity, similar to dance lessons, horseback riding, and scouting. Few saw any connection to the core subjects in the school curriculum, and administrators relegated it to after school, when most students were drained of mental and physical energy.

From the 1960s into the 1980s music educators and learning theorists encouraged schools to include music as a basic part of the curriculum rather than a peripheral subject. The impetus for this point of view grew out of symposia, such as the 1978 Aspen Conference, as reported in The Arts, Cognition, and Basic Skills (Cemrel). Martin Engel made the case for the arts as cognitive processes, the “mental activity of creating, perceiving, using, and enhancing.” Howard Gardner’s book, Frames of Mind (Basic Books), provide reliable data about the benefits of including keyboard instruction as a part of basic education.

The names of several educational theorists, including Abraham Maslow and Jerome Bruner, came up at piano pedagogy conference. Maslow’s philosophy of people striving to fulfill their potential incentives to continue learning was presented in his book, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (Viking Press), and was advocated in many piano pedagogy programs. Equally important was Bruner’s concept that “all powerful human skills involve the mastery of a series of prerequisites” and that “a major function of pedagogy to develop and provide the means that allow learners to use the prerequisites successfully” (The Relevance of Education, W.W. Norton).

Undoubtedly one of the most significant changes in piano teaching in the last 40 years was the development of new pedagogy programs to prepare undergraduate and graduate students who will teach students, 98% of whom will not become piano majors. In recent years college keyboard pedagogy courses have fostered instruction at all levels, from preschool to the most advanced, using materials that are neither too difficult nor too easy. This in turn emphasized the value of class teaching as one aspect of piano pedagogy courses.

As electronic technology has become part of music education, from digital pianos to educational programs, the possibilities for creative keyboard teachers have grown. Depending on the hardware, instruction in a keyboard lab may include in a single session, a one-on-one lesson, partner instruction , quartet playing, or the entire group. Teachers now have new and interesting ways to help students with sight reading, improvising, ear training, technique, and memorization.

In the article “Independent Piano Teachers: Where do They Stand?” (Clavier, January 1987), Marsha Wolfersberg assessed the progress of keyboard instruction in private studios, schools, and colleges. Her profile of studio teachers also raised questions about the economic viability of piano teaching as a profession. After many discussions with independent, private school, and college teacher, I believe there are significant improvements in the academic and musical preparation of piano teachers today plus significant increases in teaching fees. With the dramatic increase in community music schools the professional standing of piano teachers has risen.

Research in recent years has probed the effect of music study on brain functions, and there appear to e some identifiable benefits from music study, but the results as yet are not definitive. Continued research on the effects of participating in music, especially for children, could move piano instruction from an after-school activity to the core of school teaching. With increased attention to the critical aspects of how humans learn, the value of music study may be higher than ever. With new developments in technology, this is a wonderful time to be part of keyboard pedagogy. I believe piano pedagogy has a very bright future.




"Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song." Psalms 95:2

"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music." Psalms 98:4