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22 minutes reading time (4456 words)

A survey of current methods: The Robert Pace Keyboard Approach

his issue concludes Clavier Companion's survey of piano methods.Looking back over the past two years, I have come to realize that we are blessed with a tremendous variety of excellent, pedagogically sound materials. Several of my core beliefs have been confirmed: no one series is right for every teacher, or for all of any one teacher's students; when used by the right teacher with the right student, all of the reviewed teaching approaches can produce happy, enthusiastic, well-prepared students; and we must never stop examining and testing new methods as they are published. 

Each article in this twelve-part series has had three sections—an introductory synopsis by the Associate Editor, two articles written by teachers who have used the method extensively in their studios, and a response from the authors of the method surveyed in the previous issue. We hope that you found these articles to be an interesting and helpful overview of the most popular methods currently on the market. My deepest thanks go to all the teachers who wrote about their experiences with each series, and to Pete Jutras and Steve Betts for their editing expertise and always patient help. It has been a pleasure. 

The Robert Pace Keyboard Approach—by Robert Pace 

Publisher: Lee Roberts Music Publications, Inc; distributed by Hal Leonard Corp. 

Levels:

Books 1—4 (Revised) Music for Piano, Theory Papers, Finger Builders, Creative Music 

Book 5—Music for Keyboard, Skills and Drills 

Book 6—Music for Piano 

Initially influenced by the Oxford Piano Course and the Burrows-Ahearn materials, Robert Pace was an early leader in the multi-key pedagogic movement. He wrote: 

In my own mind, I had no doubts that key diversity should be an essential aspect of every piano student's learning from the very beginning, although that was contrary to the practice of the most widely used and popular piano methods on the market at that time. It was in this context that I decided that any method books I created would be "Multi-key" with no key restriction.2

The original method was first published in 1961, and revisions were made from 2006 to 2009. 

Alpha: Moving at a breathtaking pace, Book 1 begins with six pages of off-staff pieces introducing note direction and steps/skips in the C and D major five-finger positions. The Grand Staff is presented with emphasis on the four As, and rhythmic counting is nominative. Sharps, flats, and key signatures are introduced on page eleven, and pieces are immediately transposed into various keys. Occasional "variations" of pieces are given—students are encouraged to find the differences and then change a note or two to make their own new piece. Chords in all twelve major keys are introduced on two pages in the middle of Book 1, followed by I and V7 melodic harmonization in each hand. Relative and parallel minor tonic and dominant chords appear in the final pages of the first book along with a piece introducing Alberti bass accompaniment style. Nominative counting continues throughout the presentation of eighth notes and compound meter. There are no graphics or color in any of the core books in this series.

Music for Piano: Repertoire in the lesson books begins with an emphasis on folk songs and pieces by Robert Pace, then quickly moves to original works by classical composers. Opportunities are provided for transposition and improvisation. 

Book 2 introduces waltz bass, the damper pedal, Dorian mode, twelve-tone row, sub-dominant chords, diminished triads, diatonic triads of the major scale, blues scales, and Phrygian mode. The final piece is Soldier's March by Robert Schumann. 

Book 3 teaches the I-IV-ii-V7-I cadence and melodic harmonization; augmented triads; whole-tone scale; twelve-tone row with retrograde; twelve-bar blues; canon at the octave, the second, and the fourth; bitonality; quartal harmony; secondary dominants; all seven modes; mixed meter; and non-chord tones. It concludes with a Ländler by Franz Schubert. 

Book 4 is essentially an early- to midintermediate book of repertoire in sequential order of difficulty with brief performance suggestions at the top of some of the pages. Bagatelle, Op. 119, No. 1, by Beethoven, is the last piece in this book. 

Books 5 and 6 continue the format of Book 4, concluding with the Chopin Nocturne in E Minor, Op. 72, No. 1 (posthumous). 

Theory Papers: Offering extensive opportunities for drill and reinforcement, these books provide necessary support for the extensive array of theory concepts presented in Music for Piano Books 1-4. There are no games or graphics. 

Creative Music: In describing these books Pace writes: 

Creative Music I Revised contains materials both for sight reading, transposition, and for improvisation which are closely related to those presented in Music for Piano I Revised. Here the learners reapply in slightly altered fashion the basic musical ideas just encountered. The goal is for students to be able to read and understand music at the level of their current technical advancement and to be able to apply the appropriate concepts to each new example. (From the Foreword of Book I, Creative Music I Revised.) 

Books 2-4 feature examples for sightreading on even numbered pages and creative activities such as improvisation on the facing odd numbered pages. 

Finger Builders: Short technical exercises are given in Book 1 with various suggestions for hand position, wrist movement, and an emphasis on musical playing. Oneoctave major and parallel minor scales appear in Book 2, interspersed with longer technical exercises. Books 3 and 4 provide work on two- and four-octave major and minor scales, arpeggios, more advanced technical exercises, and Hanon (with instructions for transposition). 

Skills and Drills: Listed as a companion for Book 5, this volume provides extensive work on chord progressions, harmonizing melody lines, seventh chords, modulation, and improvisation. Short pieces and technical etudes comprise a section on sightreading and transposing, with a concluding section listing major and minor scales and arpeggios, and more advanced technical exercises. 

Compact Discs: Neither compact discs nor MIDI files are available for this series. 

Teacher's Guide: No Teacher's Guides for these books are currently available, although workshops are offered. Dates and locations for the training workshops are posted on the Lee Roberts website: leerobertsmusic. com. 

Omega: If one ends the series with Book 4, students will be at an early intermediate level. The sequenced repertoire in Books 5 and 6 extend to early-advanced literature. 

Reflections: It has been interesting to review this series, not only because it was one of the revolutionary pedagogical influences in the recent history of piano methods; but also because of the direction James and Jane Bastien took some of its concepts in their own piano series.3 The most obvious adaptations were a slower pace, less emphasis on traditional classical repertoire with more pop and rock style pieces, reduced levels of theory concepts and, of course, the use of color and graphics. (For more information on this adaptation, see Jane Bastien's discussion at www.namm.org/ library/oral-history/jane-bastien). New publications such as Succeeding at the Piano continue to use the multi-key philosophy as a major portion of their eclectic pedagogical approach.4 I wonder if, when Robert Pace first wrote these books, he ever imagined they would have such a farreaching and lasting influence on how thousands of students learn to play the piano.

A revolutionary change

by Kathy Von Arsdale

Aformer student of Rosina Lhévinne holding a performance degree from Julliard, Dr. Robert Pace made the remarkable decision to revolutionize the art of piano teaching in America. Deeply rooted in a philosophy of music education he called "Comprehensive Musicianship," his dynamic approach was well ahead of its time.

Dr. Pace often pointed out that only approximately one hundred pianists earn a full-time living as concert artists. Establishing the vital role of music making in the lives of all learners became his mission. Not only are technical performance skills and repertoire taught in Comprehensive Musicianship, but learning PROCESSES— original thinking and imagination—are emphasized. Among the first to stress the importance of early childhood music education at the piano, Dr. Pace developed an inventive program for preschool students. Offering an early, consistent incorporation of music theory, history, analysis, performance practice, composition, and aural skills, this original multi-key approach develops higher level thinking skills from the very beginning. Peer learning and teaching begin immediately. 

By incorporating the ideas of important learning theorists and psychologists such as Jerome Bruner, Jean Piaget, Howard Gardner, and Abraham Maslow—as well as various contemporary researchers and neurologists, a breakthrough in educational methodology was achieved. Teaching music conceptually through spiral learning became the basis of the Pace pedagogical approach.

Multi-key, multi-level, multi-purpose materials provide a masterful basis for instruction and offer limitless potential in the hands of imaginative teachers. Inventive supplementary materials for all levels (including advanced students) continue supportive options beyond the scope of most series. Even at the elementary level, materials include unusual offerings such as modal, bi-tonal, twelvetone row compositions, and circle-of-fifths pieces. Duets are found in every level of the Music for Piano books. Many flashcards are available, including off-staff materials. 

Supporting each piece 

Core materials are structured into four books: 

  • Finger Builders takes students from five-finger positions in all keys through scales, technical exercises, arpeggios, and cadences in all keys. 
  • Music for Piano provides music literature that, in intermediate and advanced books, includes outstanding short examples in their original form organized into repeated cycles of music history. A huge variety of musical sound is presented. 
  • Creative Music offers sight reading, transposition, harmonization, and improvisation related to the music literature.
  • Theory Papers supports literacy through written activities for each level—from note, interval, and chord identification through formal analysis. 

Each piece is supported by appropriate technical skill builders in every key, theory related to the piece of the week, improvisatory and compositional exercises in the style of that piece, sight-reading, and aural skill examples. Integrating the whole musical picture into a comprehensive, easy-to-teach unit is a tremendous strength of the series. All four books are interconnected to concepts related to the masterwork-centered music literature. Earl Ricker's Escape to Sherwood is an intermediate-level student favorite due to its big, exciting contemporary sound (see Excerpt 1). It incorporates a number of concepts including triads, extreme dynamics, bi-chordal composition style, program music, crossing hands technique, and changing meter.

Excerpt 1: “Escape to Sherwood” by Earl Ricker, from Music for Piano, Book 3, mm. 1 – 37.

Researched, tested, and ready to teach with carefully designed progressions of musical concepts, the series requires no hunting for the next sequential piece, technique, or theoretical concept. Although all materials are organized and correlated in a complete package of musicianship, teacher and student creativity is encouraged. Spiraling conceptual learning ensures review of each concept: review pieces are woven into the books, and often developed through activities in Creative Music or Theory Papers. One of the activities I like to use is the Question and Answer game. This dialogue begins with a four-measure question from Creative Music such as this one from Book 4, performed by the teacher or all the students (see Excerpt 2). Individual responses are performed until all have supplied an answer or two.

Excerpt 2: Question and Answer activity from Creative Music, Book 4.

Appropriate for all students 

Students of diverse learning styles, backgrounds, and personalities comprehend and enjoy the music, finding at least one way in which they can shine. For younger students, learning through play is emphasized by using musical games and songs. Gifted learners skip ahead at their own rate, and delight in perceiving the big picture presented in the materials. Pace materials are particularly strong in the areas of standard piano literature, the integration of music theory from the start, and an emphasis on improvisation and composition for every student. 

With the exception of a few books, this is a non-graphic method. Dr. Pace opposed selling books via color pictures, and chose to let the beautiful music speak for itself. Piano class becomes the place for visuals and weekly "hands-on" activities. Flashcards, chalkboard games, finger puppets, fine art reproductions, flannel board, board games, and student art projects reinforce concepts. Student imagination is piqued by aural and visual design. 

What about classes? 

The stereotype that this is a "group method" scares many away. Although the method can be implemented in a wide variety of ways, it may be best used in a combination of partner and group lessons (about forty minutes each). This requires studio reorganization, with long- and short-term teacher design and planning. Who has time to teach all this? Consider using weekly groups to teach concepts, gain an instant ensemble, and use peer learning and teaching; then add repertoire lessons (partner or private) for individualized attention.What can you do in weekly piano group? 

  • Fun activities—many can be found in Creative Music and Theory Papers 
  • Games from Gloria Burnett Scott's wonderful book, Musical Games and Activities (Hal Leonard, HL00372363, $14.95) 
  • Aural skills, performance and critique, flashcards, dictation 
  • Ensemble work using Pace's many supplementary duet books demonstrating various compositional techniques 
  • Board games and other materials from a variety of publishers. 

Group learning reduces quirks and inappropriate behavior, develops discerning listening skills, models expressive performance, increases fun, and provides encouragement and social support—keeping students engaged longer to develop studio loyalty. The traditional "big me, little you" teaching dynamic is erased. 

Teacher training 

The Pace method can be daunting without proper training, which is available at locations throughout the nation. It is a relatively unknown method with little name recognition, and thus, little music store display space. Materials can be difficult to find (online is best). 

Pace program certification provides training in topics such as educational theory, business practices, psychology, early childhood education, teaching methodology for lifetime retention, and the comprehensive approach to music learning. Ideas can be infinitely interrelated, reshaped, and revisited. Teacher support and continuing education is possible in local groups of teachers of the Pace method, or online.

Innovative Pace materials are applicable in a wide variety of ways, stimulating students AND teachers. Teachers find the series comprehensive, engaging, and challenging. An invitation to inventive teaching, the series provides a tested and trustworthy template for instruction. Because it is intellectually appealing, teachers avoid burnout. This method speaks to teachers through its strong philosophy, the possibility of implementing individual teaching strengths in working with groups, conceptual thinking, and perceiving the big picture. As a Guild adjudicator, I have seen all the methods performed. My transfer students bring in their old methods. Having implemented this method in my home studio for thirty years, it's clear I'm a true believer. Never stagnant, every teaching day with Pace is greeted as a joyful opportunity.

Building layers of musical understanding

by Julie Lovison

I teach the Robert Pace approach because I can't imagine not giving my students the benefit of having a broad understanding of music that makes studying more fun, more practical, and a more thoroughly rich experience. The beauty is in how students build their understanding one layer and one concept at a time. There is simply no other approach that so totally integrates comprehensive music study and builds layers of musical understanding— from the first basic concept that melodies go up, down, or stay the same, to the intricacies of I-vi-IV-ii-V-I progressions, secondary dominants, modulations, and diminished-seventh arpeggios found in Levels 4 and 5. 

This method is not about flashy graphics and student-friendly songs. It is up to the teacher to romance the material and involve students. This is hard work, but the method itself is exciting, prepares the student for all the music they will ever play, and is, therefore, well worth the effort. 

Building a foundation 

Whenever possible, I prefer to start students in the Moppets (four- to five-year-olds) or Kinder-Keyboard (six- to seven-yearolds) programs, where we can have a few years to get comfortable and develop familiarity with basic, but powerful music concepts. What we love about the Moppets course is that it includes creative movement, singing, playing and acting out songs, rhythm instruments, xylophones, improvisation, listening games (for ear development), and even drawing and coloring—all natural parts of a child's world. Students experience a wide spectrum of songs that use major, minor, pentatonic, Dorian, and whole-tone scales in 4/4 and 6/8 meter. Students learn to recognize melodic patterns that repeat, sequence, and invert; steps, skips, and larger intervals; and discover the relative position of the ABCs to the twin or triplet black keys, all while encouraging each student's creative ideas. It is truly a musical playground, where the toys are musical concepts they can use the rest of their lives.

Songs are highly patterned in Kinder-Keyboard. I put the patterns of the songs on flash cards and color code repeated patterns (see Excerpt 3). Students enjoy a game of unscrambling the patterns as each child plays one pattern of the song, then we switch. Separating the cards helps them see and learn the individual patterns. In another game, we pick a new five-finger pattern for transposition. One student will play a steady beat as a duet—with notes one and five of whatever key we are in, or F# and C# if it's a pentatonic song. Then we may take turns improvising a new melody with the same rhythm, incorporating ear training as students try to duplicate what each student improvised. Another day we'll play a fishing game with the melodic patterns and use additional cards with various combinations of steps and skips patterns. Six year olds appreciate being able to move around in class, rather than sitting at the piano for the entire lesson.

Excerpt 3: “April Showers” from Kinder-Keyboard.

Transitioning to the core books 

Students who have completed Moppets and Kinder-Keyboard can comfortably jump into Book 1 at page 12, poised to move quickly from there. If students begin with Book 1 materials, they will need time and lots of reinforcement with the basic concepts, often through playing musical games. Although the series can be used successfully with individual students, it only takes a brief encounter to see how much better these books can be experienced through group activities. Although each level's four core books give plenty of reading, writing, and creative improvisation practice, a teacher who wishes to supplement with repertoire from other series can easily relate concepts such as intervallic reading, transposition, question and answer phrasing, repeats, sequence and inversion, and the application of I and V chords to these supplementary pieces. I have successfully used Alfred's Basic Piano Library Prep Course books to ease the transition from Kinder-Keyboard to Book 1 and solidify reading skills, but any contemporary series could be used. 

Combining activities 

Technique and theory can be effectively combined. For example, the Hanon exercises presented in Level 2 Finger Builders (see Excerpt 4) can be played in the right hand while the left hand (or a second student) can play the I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viio chords that have been taught in Music for Piano and reinforced in Theory Papers. These chords can first be played in block form, then Alberti bass. Just as the melody would be in a piece, the right hand should be louder and perhaps crescendo as the notes ascend. For added fun try the left hand in calypso style rhythm (eighth, quarter, eighth, quarter, quarter). Try reversing the hands—or my student's idea, play a crossed-hands version. 

Students learn that ascending or descending diatonic chords can be an accompaniment device, and experiment with applying this bass to "Merrily We Roll Along" and other folk songs (see Excerpt 5). Later, the right hand can play a two-octave scale while the left hand plays a I-IV-V-I chord progression in Alberti bass pattern. Studying upper and lower neighbors, passing tones, and parallel and contrary sixths and tenths in Book 2 is so helpful in preparing to play Bach Inventions, Schumann character pieces, and Mozart sonatas, as well as jazz studies.

Excerpt 4: “Legato Study” from Finger Builders, Book 2.

Applying skills and knowledge 

I always explain to students that the eight-measure pieces in the Music for Piano Books 1 and 2 are there to teach something important about music that they can apply to other music.We establish a routine for quickly evaluating the melody, rhythm, and harmonic patterns before playing; then we discover the new concepts and immediately transfer them to other musical situations. Students enjoy being able to easily transpose, improvise, play by ear, and find appropriate and interesting harmonies based on chord formulas and their knowledge of musical scales and styles. 

They are truly engaged in their practice because they know how to study music independently. Songs are learned quickly since all the notes are meaningful to them. They understand the phrase structures, chords, and melodic components, and develop a comfortable technical facility to perform with stylistic accuracy. Because most have learned with partners or in a group from an early age, they have developed a healthy collaborative approach to music and a confident, realistic attitude about their strengths and areas to improve.

Excerpt 5: “Merrily We Roll Along” from Music for Piano, Book 2.

Recommended teacher training 

The teacher's manuals for Music for Moppets and Kinder- Keyboard are essential to understanding how to teach these books. Currently in revision and projected to be published in early 2012, the Book 1 Teacher's Guide provides detailed page-by-page directions. Additional training with seasoned teachers who studied with Dr. Pace is invaluable for practical structuring advice. Pace teachers typically continue their training by regularly meeting together to practice teaching and share creative ideas. If a Pace group is not available, getting together with other instructors who teach in groups is also helpful. 

The delight in completing the Pace series comes from being able to boil advanced literature down to simple concepts, thus making Mozart, Beethoven, and Persichetti as easy to play as Hot Cross Buns. Having the technique in place, along with the requisite theory knowledge, enables students to learn pieces quickly and interpret them sensitively and musically .We all desire this intensely rewarding musical experience for our students. My excitement in using the Robert Pace approach is that even students who end formal lessons after Book 1 or 2 have a more profound understanding and a set of practical skills to enable them to continue a satisfying lifelong involvement, with a healthy enthusiasm for playing and sharing music with others. 

1 The aim of this series is to review the core materials of piano methods that are either new or substantially changed since a similar series of articles appeared in Piano Quarterly in the 1980s. Please see the September/October 2009 issue of Clavier Companion for more details on this project. For reviews of methods that are older or have not been revised recently, we invite you to revisit the original Piano Quarterly series.

2 Pace, Robert (2010). Why Multi-Key? Retrieved from http://www.leerobertsmusic.com/ dynamic-learning-robert-pace/why-multi-key-robert-pace.pdf 

Please see the Clavier Companion March/April 2011 issue for the Bastien Piano Basics review. 

4 Please see the Clavier Companion September/October 2011 issue for the Succeeding at the Piano review. 

All excerpts in this article © Lee Roberts Music Publications, Inc. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

Author Response

Response to Succeeding at the Piano review

Editor's Note: Clavier Companion will invite the authors of each method series reviewed to respond to that review in the following issue. The response from the author of Succeeding at the Piano is presented below.

I would like to thank Rebecca Grooms Johnson, editor of "Perspectives in Pedagogy," for including the Succeeding at the Piano method in the July/August issue, as well as both Gail Lew and Sylvia Coats, for their detailed assessment of the method. The reviewers did a fine job of identifying the core pedagogical issues of SATP. They deserve our appreciation for their expertise, and our thanks for the time they have devoted to this important, informative series. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Frank J. Hackinson, President and CEO of The FJH Music Company Inc. His unwavering commitment to pedagogical quality, as well as to aesthetic detail, has served as a cornerstone to our field of piano pedagogy. 

  • Here is a quick review of some of the defining characteristics of SATP: The reading approach in Succeeding at the Piano combines conventional note reading with reading by intervals. This means that from the first lessons students learn to read patterns naturally and easily. By the end of the 2B level, students know both staffs completely as well as ledger lines above and below the staffs. The system works the best when the Theory and Activity Book is used along with the Lesson and Technique Book. For students who need a little extra help, the Flash Card Friend as well as the Succeeding with a Notespeller books provide further reinforcement. The Recital Book is also another way to review the reading skills learned in the Lesson and Technique Book
  • Correct information for healthy technique is included in the Lesson books. Students learn that technique is an essential part of their everyday routine. 
  • Students are introduced to the elements of musicality as early as the Preparatory level book. Recurring activities that promote excellent musicianship fill the pages of the Preparatory Book. I am sure that when you use these activities and observe the great results, you'll see why I included them. 
  • Interesting repertoire: With music by six leading pedagogical composers and historical pieces, students are engaged in a wide variety of musical styles with roots firmly grounded in the classics. 
  • Succeeding at the Piano recognizes that learning is non-linear and uses a pacing system that accommodates natural learning cycles. Within each carefully leveled grade, SATP's natural learning cycles move students through units that fluctuate slightly in difficulty. Athletes have long known that this is a more effective way to train, and we see that students are happier and psychologically healthier when they learn this way.  
  • Familiarity training is another important pedagogical approach used in Succeeding at the Piano. As Rebecca Grooms Johnson aptly stated in the initial review, my goal with familiarity training is to introduce concepts "in the order of: listen, play, see, learn, and reinforce concepts." Familiarity training works, and it helps to ensure healthy, motivated, successful students. 

With students playing musically, learning excellent technique, and developing strong reading skills, they progress quickly and confidently. I wrote Succeeding at the Piano to serve students and teachers and encourage a love for piano playing that will last. 

Succeeding at the Piano is designed as a core piano method, with typical starting ages of five to nine years old. 

—Helen Marlais Author, Succeeding at the Piano

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