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Author Response to Robert Pace Keyboard Approach

Response to The Robert Pace Keyboard Approach 

Editor's Note: Clavier Companion has invited the authors or representatives of each method series reviewed to respond to that review in the following issue. The response to last issue's review of The Robert Pace Keyboard Approach is presented below. 

Robert Pace, who passed away in September 2010, would have been honored to have his work featured in "Perspectives in Pedagogy." Many thanks to Editor Rebecca Grooms Johnson and Clavier Companion for including an overview of the Robert Pace Piano Series in the September/October 2011 issue. I would also like to thank teachers Kathy Van Arsdale and Julie Lovison for their excellent, informative review of the Robert Pace Approach. 

Kathy Van Arsdale and Julie Lovison speak of the "big picture," and "layers of understanding" that characterize the Pace Approach. These elements relate to the frequently asked question, "How can beginners learn so much—all major/minor chords, key signatures, I-V7s, transposing, improvising—within so few pages?" The teaching of key signatures illustrates the answer. On page 11 of Music for Piano Level 1, students learn: "Look at the last sharp and count up one letter." A "big picture" concept, this empowers students immediately. They now can figure out every major sharp key signature name, and its "key-note" on which to "tune up." Similarly for flat keys: "find the next to last flat." During the weeks that follow, students will begin "layering in" new understandings. They will progress from deliberatively "figuring out" key signatures, to "instant recognition," through games, flashcards, and Theory Papers exercises; and, especially, through identifying the key signature of each new piece they learn. Over months and years, they will "layer in" minor key signatures, corresponding scales, and so on. While some students can instantly recognize key signatures sooner than others, the "big picture" puts virtually all students on the same page, in having the means to identify any key signature, and use it to play in any given key. 

Robert Pace wrote about big-picture teaching, when he discussed presenting the concept of minor: "Do not bog down on details—rather, present the idea of minor along with its sound, then give students time to grow with it. They will be getting many examples of minor in the next few weeks, so keep moving!" (Robert Pace, Teacher's Guide: p. 40a). 

In Pace's approach, concepts are anchored to one another through similarities and differences. These interrelationships allow students to move smoothly, concept to concept. New concepts differ from preceding ones by a small degree. For example, beginners first transpose from a C major "tune-up" to G, on the opening page of Music for Piano Level 1. The similarity between playing in G and C—same melodic contour, fingering, and all-white five-key set, assures students' success. Only the tonality differs, implementing interesting variety. In the next step, transposing "Up and Down" to D and A major, in Creative Music, the difference is incremental. A black-key middle tone is added. Other similar/different connections: a skipping melody (1-3-5) "is" a stepping melody minus tones 2 and 4; minor chords "are" major chords with the middle note lowered a half step; V7s are built from I chords by raising the middle and lowering the bottom tones. 

Not only do students develop an effective learning strategy through identifying differences and similarities, but they also gain a basis for creating new, "different" music from a given piece of music, and they acquire a feel for nuance that contributes to sensitive musical performance. 

Creativity and variety are cornerstones of the series. Transposition, inversion, melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic variation, repetition and sequence, parallel and contrasting question and answers, and various forms all provide tools with which students both learn and create music. From preschool to adult levels, the core books provide essential concepts for students to apply to limitless repertoire and creative experiences, according to individual abilities and tastes. 

In the four-book series, books Music for Piano, Creative Music, Theory Papers, and Finger Builders work together. Concepts thus receive four pages of collective attention, from the standpoints of repertoire, creativity, fundamentals and technique. Detailed directions appear on each page of these books, so that a manual is unnecessary. However, a revised edition of the Teacher's Guide will become available in early 2012, for those interested in more background on lesson sequences and philosophy. Options for Teacher Training, an invaluable resource, may also be found through Lee Roberts Publications. 

To successfully teach the Pace piano series, it is helpful to remember that Robert Pace meant his approach to be taught in an "on-the-job-learning" style, through real world application rather than theoretical explanation. He expected teachers to "plant" concepts for continuous future use. "Don't get stuck on a page," he wrote. "Your students will learn more about flats, sharps and key signatures by using them in daily practice than by getting a theoretical discussion of them now" (Teacher's Guide, 11a). The "big picture," in conjunction with "layers of understanding," allows students to stride rather than struggle through material rich with concepts, leading the way to independent learning and lifelong musical enjoyment. 

For information, contacts, or a first lesson "Test Drive," please visit www.leerobertsmusic. com. 

—Cynthia Pace President, Lee Roberts Music Publications

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