5 Frances Clark quotes that will change the way you teach

This year, we at The New School for Music School have issued ourselves the challenge of contributing daily to our teaching website, www.pianopedagogy.org.  


To help us better complete our goal, we structured our year through a “Quote of the Week.”  Our quote of the week is often, but not always, some words of wisdom from Frances Clark.  In addition to inspiring our blog posts, these quotes permeate our lives at the school.  We discuss them in faculty meetings and with each other in between lessons.  


And, a funny thing has happened.  We have found these quotes quietly, stealthily, creeping in to each lesson that we teacher, overtaking us and molding us even more into the teachers Frances would want us to be!  Though she is no longer with us, Frances Clark is still developing teachers, and transforming lives!






So here they are, our top five Frances Clark quotes.  Check back at www.pianopedagogy.org throughout the year for more inspiring words from Frances Clark!



“As teachers, what we want is a student who owns the rhythm. He owns it, he doesn't have to borrow it from the teacher. So that he can use it whenever needed, in any piece in the whole wide world. He's got it for life!”

When students are able to perform a rhythm in any context without any assistance or hints from the teacher, rhythmic independence is achieved.  If the teacher needs to demonstrate this rhythm and the student copies, the student does not “own” the rhythm.  Rhythmic fluency and independence must be cultivated with care. New rhythms must be introduced weeks before their appearance in repertoire. In addition to careful preparation, a steady pulse must be in place. 

Rebecca Pennington has made a goal to do large body movement activities with each student this year to establish (and reestablish) the feeling of pulse at each lesson.  (http://www.pianopedagogy.org/my-new-years-resolution-large-body-activities/)  In addition, Frances has taught us to prepare the concepts far in advance of the student reaching that point in the book.  We use the process: SOUND, FEEL, SIGN, NAME.



“We must rid ourselves of the notion that in each day of practice, we make less mistakes than the day before.”


When students play correctly the very first time, there is nothing to undo.  Practice can be spent repeating

this “perfection,” and students can begin focusing on expressing the meaning of the piece.  Frances

provided many tools to make this kind of accuracy from the start possible.  Carefully chosen repertoire,

practice steps, and an examination of what is “true for the whole piece” will help students begin with the

right habits.  Frances knew better than anyone the strong “pull” of habits, and the importance of

establishing “friendly habits” from the start.



“Meet the student where they are, not where you are, and not where you want them to be, but where they really are.”

Our students are different people each week. And we are different teachers each week.  Every lesson is a new slate in which we must work to meet the student where he is.  Too often, we are guilty of putting our own wants and desires ahead of the music.  We have become bored with a piece even though the student likes it, we are ready for the student to move on to more advanced repertoire before the student is ready, or we want a student to respond to our coaching in a prescribed way.  When a student is not progressing the way we think they should, Frances reminds us to take a step back and ask if we really are “meeting the student where they are.”




Teaching is not telling. Tellers belong in banks, behind bars.”

It is not what we say to the students that matters; it is what the students experience during the lesson that matters.  Too often we assume that a student understands a concept because we’ve “told” them about it.  Leading students to discover the meaning is the opposite of “telling.”



"There's music in every child. The teacher's job is to find it and nurture it.”


"There's music in every child:" This philosophy is in opposition to the belief that only the "talented" can succeed at the piano. "There's music in every child:" These words can be too easily dismissed, without processing the call to action behind them. If be believe that there is music in every child, we must take our responsibility to each child very seriously. If a student is not playing fluently, easily, and with joy, we must examine ourselves to find what needs to change in our teaching to bring about success in each student. "There's music in every child. The teacher's job is to find it and to nurture it."


Frances Clark has a way of knowing exactly what we need to hear.  The reminder to remain student-centered, yet committed to excellence in playing well at every level inspires us to do our job with passion, commitment, vigor, and creativity.  We hope that you will take these quotes and display them prominently in your studio so that they may serve as encouragement and inspiration every day that you teach.  



FREE PRINTABLE: Click here to download a large version of the Frances Clark "Music in every child" quote!






Amy Glennon studied piano pedagogy with Frances Clark and Louise Goss and has been on The New School for Music Study faculty since 1996. She is the co-author of the Side by Side duet collections.






Rebecca Mergen Pennington is the Administrative Director of the New School for Music Study, where she has been on the faculty for six years. She holds a DMA from the University of Kansas.