The August 2004
Dr. Robert Pace, Piano Educator, Author,
Chatham, NY USA
Robert Pace, born in Kansas, began his formal piano
studies at the age of six. By eight, he and his sister, 3 1/2 years his
elder, were giving recitals. Later, the two young artists had their own
weekly radio program. Robert won his first state contest at twelve
continuing as state winner for the next four years. At fifteen, he won
first rating in National Competition and continued successfully for the
next three years.
He met the famous piano team, Josef and Rosina Lhevinne,
Colorado and was accepted as a scholarship student at the
Juilliard School of Music in
New York City. During
World War II he served for nearly three years in the combat infantry in
After the war, he returned to Juilliard to finish his degree and also
become a member of their piano faculty. In 1948, he began Masters
Degree studies at Teachers College,
University and received his Doctorate in 1951. He was appointed
Assistant Professor of Music Education and head of Piano Instruction at
Teachers College in 1952, and later became chairman of the Music
Department in 1969.
During these years, Dr. Robert Pace--composer, concert
pianist, lecturer, and music educator--brought new concepts to piano
pedagogy. His desire to enable all students to achieve their musical
potential by becoming musically literate and independent had a major
impact on keyboard pedagogy, being the subject of numerous radio and
television programs. His piano instruction books have been translated
into seven languages.
Dr. Pace was Piano Editor of The Music Journal, National
Piano Chairman of the Music Educators National Conference, and
Educational Director of the National Piano Foundation until 1977, at
which time he became Executive Director of the International Piano
Teaching Foundation. He served on the original four-member committee
appointed by President John F. Kennedy to make a study of music in the
Robert Pace always displayed unusually diverse personal
and professional interest ranging from classroom music projects to
concert performances and active farming to worldwide seminars. To
expedite his travel to and from seminars throughout this country he
earned his pilots license with both instrument and multi-engine
ratings. With his wife Helen (also a Juilliard graduate) the two
participated in a variety of professional activities ranging from joint
concerts to the creation and preparation of new keyboard materials.
Although he is officially Professor Emeritus at Teachers College, he
continues in an advisory capacity with doctoral students and to offer
special courses in Keyboard Pedagogy.
did you find your way into music?
To answer the question, "how did I find my way into music," I can't actually
remember when I wasn't "in music." My earliest recollections were my
enjoyment in going to a beautiful and very ornate Story and Clark pump organ
in my Grandmother and Grandfather's living room. (I still have it today!)
I remember that, as a three year old, I would pull out the various stops
and be fascinated by the different sounds that I could get. In a corner of
the same room was a "state-of-the-art," wind-up Victrola, complete with
numerous records of the best voices in opera and a variety of both Sousa
marches and the "pop songs" of the day. Also, I recall my mother's playing
piano solos on our very large upright. Although her major instrument was
clarinet, as a self-taught pianist, she managed to play a fairly wide
variety of keyboard repertoire. Perhaps my main enjoyment was "helping" her
by crawling under the piano and holding the sustaining pedal down to hear
the big build-up of sound.
Piano lessons began for me at age six when my sister, who was three and a
half years older than I, started her violin lessons. I was soon drafted to
play her accompaniments and by the time I was nine, we had our own radio
program, consisting of both violin and piano solo repertoire!
was the most influential person in your years as a student of the piano and
It would be impossible to say who was "the most influential," since there
were several people at different stages in my life who were very important
in my development, both as an individual and as a pianist. One such person
was the piano teacher I had from the time I was ten years old through high
school and accepted into Juilliard to study with Josef and Rosina Lhevinne.
He guided me through these times when I was firmly convinced that I wanted
to be a professional baseball player, or thought that playing basketball,
hunting, and fishing were all more important than practicing the piano.
There were other teachers along the way who influenced my decision to pursue
music professionally and helped me achieve the ultimate goal of studying
with Josef and Rosina Lhevinne at the Juilliard School of Music. Since
both of the Lhevinne's loved to teach, they definitely influenced my
decision to combine teaching with performing as a career. The concept of
teaching a partner lesson (2 students) plus a larger group actually grew out
of my experiences both in Rosina's weekly master class and my regular lesson
where another student was frequently asked to play the second part of a new
concerto. During my masters and doctoral study at Teachers College,
Columbia University, Raymond Burrows, my program advisor helped me
appreciate the effectiveness of group teaching as a vehicle for enabling us
to cover more material in a given amount of time. His guidance during my
doctoral study and the ultimate appointment as an Instructor in the Music
Department were key factors in my music development.
do you enjoy most about teaching music and helping those who teach music?
My biggest enjoyment is being able to help people grow musically and
professionally. Our only limitation on this growth is "time." Music is a
unique non-verbal means of expression and communication, and when deeply
experienced brings unparalleled satisfaction.
an author of the "Pace method" books, how did you become interested in
publishing teaching materials?
I became interested in the publication of teaching materials in the early
50's when I found myself spending too much time bringing together different
materials for the lessons I was about to give. I was spending more time
searching for materials than I was on my own professional development. I
found lots of materials that were excellent as such, but really didn't fit
together into a good learning sequence. I wanted to establish my own
"laboratory piano studio" where I could develop and test materials that
would become the essential elements of a well-balanced program of keyboard
do you see as the "philosophy" behind the Pace books? What distinguishes
them from other method materials?
Today there are many piano methods on the market, each with its own
rationale for why it is superior to the others. Realistically, no approach
is any better than the understanding and sensitivity of the teacher using
it. The "philosophy" of the Pace Approach is to develop, from the
beginning, a real musical independence, based on understanding what you are
learning, and being able to think musically. Above all, rote memory, and
learning without understanding what you are doing should be avoided. To
develop independence, students must become acquainted with music
fundamentals, rudiments, harmony, ear-training, etc. from the very very
beginning, since these are the "foundation" of musical understanding.
Students in the Pace Approach learn to teach themselves, since, in reality
they must be their own teachers 6/7ths of the time during their practice
between lessons. The ability to sight-read at the level of the repertoire
being studied and being able to improvise and create one's own music are
both essential skills. To accomplish this, the Pace Method stresses being
able to play in any key with a good and responsive technique which will
enable the learner to get the right note at the right time with the right
intensity. Students must never practice pieces in a repetitive, mechanical
way--rather they must play musically even as they sight-read the piece. The
goal is to play both accurately, and musically from the beginning, albeit
In short, the multi-key approach with the integration of music fundamentals
at every level are two distinguishing features of the Pace Approach.
special advice would you give to other teachers who might wish to use your
teaching aids or materials?
My special advice to teachers interested in these materials would be to read
the various monographs and reprints of articles I have done in recent years,
plus examine carefully the basic books from preschool through level five to
understand "spiral learning" and the process of sequential development.
is taught somewhat differently around the world. What do you find most
attractive about the way piano is taught outside the U.S.?
I have given seminars and lectured in many countries around the world, and I
truthfully cannot say that I find any single factor "most attractive" in the
way piano is taught outside the USA. I do admire the seriousness with which
some music programs in other countries are approached, but sometimes this
can be self defeating by giving some people the feeling that music is only
for the few "talented."
there any special aspects of training in the U.S. that you feel teachers
around the world could usefully apply in their own teaching?
I feel that teachers in some other countries should allow their students
more freedom in their learning processes, and encourage more input from
students rather than simply expecting students to accept the teacher's views
as irrefutable. This is particularly true in developing skills for musical
interpretation in contrast with imitation of the performance of another
person. Often there are several different ways to phrase a passage of music
or to conceive the overall feeling of a particular composition. Obviously
some ways will be better than others, but students should be allowed to
explore their options in order to develop a broader musical understanding.
Also, I feel that teachers in other countries should use more peer
interaction in lessons so that students teach each other as they learn how
to teach themselves.
and more adults are taking up piano. Is there a significant difference in
your mind in the way adults should be taught vs. teaching children?
There are differences, but none are really "significant" since both adults
and children need to acquire fundamental musical knowledge to become good
sight-readers and independent "problem-solvers." At the same time, they
both need to develop their psycho-motor skills to play musically and to
create their own music. Adults can handle more complex concepts, but
children tend to be less inhibited and more willing to try new things. I
have found group instruction to be the best way to teach both adults and
children the most in a given period of time.
are one of the best-known proponents of group teaching. What do you see as
the advantages of group teaching, for the teacher and the student? Any
disadvantages or pratfalls to avoid?
The advantages are many of which the following are good illustrations:
1. Music fundamentals (rudiments, harmony, ear-training, etc.) are
basics to be taught to all. In groups, the teacher can present a point
one time to 8 students instead of eight times to 1 student as in private
2. Through peer interaction in groups, teachers get feed-back on what
students are actually comprehending as preparation for home practice the
other 6 days. The emphasis is on helping students improve their own
learning "processes," not merely turning out "products."
3. Students grow by helping each other as they all learn how to make
direct, positive, and thoughtful criticism.
4. Students come in contact with more music literature in group
instruction, and have greater incentive to be well prepared. Peer approval
as a member of a group is powerful incentive to "keep going" and not
The biggest disadvantage of grouping teaching is that it involves more work
on the teacher's part, such as solving scheduling problems in face of
complex after-school conflicts and adequate lesson planning to achieve
reasonable long-term goals.
scheduling difficulties preclude regular group teaching for some students,
how can teachers build some of the advantages of group teaching into private
The main problem with the private lesson paradigm is "lack of time." Basic
harmony, improvisation, ear-training, and sight-reading are courses
traditionally called "fundamentals of music," that are taught at the college
level in classes as required subjects. My point is that if they are
"fundamental," they should be taught to all beginners and not delayed to the
college level for the few people who have survived music instruction without
these subjects. Therefore, the answer to your question would be if you can't
get students together in a group, then your only alternative is to extend
the length of the lesson. Unfortunately, that is usually not feasible either
schedule-wise or economically.
there any special advice you would give a teacher considering using group
Yes! Recruit from 4 to 8 students with no previous music study who
are approximately the same age (can have a couple of years spread). Each
will have a "partner" lesson and a larger "group" (can be 4 to 8 students."
Both sessions can be the same day if necessary and can over-lap each other.
By teaching students with no prior instruction, the teacher new to group
teaching will not be dealing with preconceived notions about the structure
of a piano lesson.
there any aspects of piano teaching that you would like to see changed for
There are several things that could and should be changed immediately.
First of all, avoid rote learning (something that is learned without
meaning or understanding) like the plague!!! This type of instruction
eventually produces frustrated drop-outs. Also, teachers should place more
emphasis on developing musical literacy and musical creativity, rather than
the emphasis today on memorizing pieces for a recital or a contest (again,
too often learned "by rote"). After 2 or 3 years of this type of lessons,
students find their practice sessions boring and not enjoyable. Eventually
they become musical drop-outs to join the ranks of the millions who have the
misguided notion that they were simply "not musical."
have emphasized the importance of being able to improvise and create one's
own music. How can teachers structure lessons to foster improvisation and
First of all, students will need harmony, ear-training, and a knowledge of
music rudiments to do any meaningful improvisation or composition , all of
which are traditionally taught in groups. During the group session, teachers
allot from 5 to 10 minutes to review the necessary harmony, procedures for
improvisation, and to let students demonstrate that they knowhow to do it.
Then they move on to the next part of the lesson.
advice would you give to students of the piano?
Concentrate when you practice and think about what you are doing.
Develop good sight-reading and improvisation skills with the technique to
get the desired results quickly.
Be sure you understand the musical structures you are studying and see how
much you can remember without actually playing it on the keyboard. See how
soon you can get the piece to sound the way you really want it to sound.
Explore music of all periods, including today's "pop" music.
much practice is the right amount? Is it possible to practice too much or
not enough? Any tips for students about their practice sessions?
These are always problems of concern for both teachers and parents and I did
an article, "Productive Practicing" for Clavier Magazine, July/Aug 1992,
which attempted to give some detailed answers. However, to address your
questions, it would be impossible to specify the "right amount" of practice
time, since it depends on the expertise of the individual, the material
being studied, and the ultimate musical objectives of the person doing the
practice. However, it is obvious that 20 minutes of complete concentration
on the music being studied can be highly beneficial, while an hour of
daydreaming during practice is worthless. Unfortunately, most people do not
concentrate deeply enough when they practice.
If a student is learning a piece by rote repetition, it is easy to practice
too much for the amount of good one will derive at his or her efforts. I
always tell students to see how quickly "you can get inside the music, so
the music can get inside you." Give the music to be learned more thought and
less repetition, which will result in shorter practice time before results
are seen. Unfortunately, a great deal of the practice done everyday by
students is "incorrect," since they too often set their fingers in motion
before they have identified the musical problem and have figured out how to
suggestions would you have for parents of a piano student or prospective
Keep in mind the uniqueness of music--it is the only subject in the
curriculum for which everyone is genetically "wired," therefore its study
should be considered "basic," not as an "enrichment" or elective. Music
study is a wonderful way to develop the ability to think creatively and
critically, as we learn how to "think in motion" and attend to several
things simultaneously. Don't prejudge whether you child will be a
vocational or avocational musician--that will evolve over time. The main
objective is to enable everyone to develop their reading and creative skills
so that music can be a natural and integral part of their lives.
does it take to be a "successful" musician or music educator?
If I could give a quick answer to that question, I would be the happiest
person alive, since I see too many well-trained, aspiring young artists not
making it professionally. Although I don't know of any sure-fire solution,
here are several points to consider:
1. Try to conceive your future in music as sharing your performances with
others, not just in terms of "concert performances," but also in terms of
"teaching performances." Teachers should be sensitive performers and
performers should be teachers able to share their expertise with those in
the earlier stages of music learning.
2. Diversity in musical background is particularly desirable for keyboard
majors planning a teaching career at the college level. In addition to
teaching piano, other subjects such as Keyboard Harmony, Music History,
Musical Analysis, Music Literature,and Ensemble are important adjuncts.
3. Get a good academic background with courses in the humanities,
psychology, philosophy, and any other courses to give breadth of knowledge.
were your best and worst teaching experiences?
I truthfully can't think of a "worst experience," and I have taught students
ranging from ghetto kids to some of the brightest and most gifted. I feel
that teaching is an art in which I have had the good fortune participating
for many years. There have been far too many "best experiences" to try to
advice would you give to the student contemplating a music major in college?
I would refer students to the points I listed in the previous question on
being a successful musician or music educator.
you have a favorite pianist and, if so, what attracts you to that person's
Not really. There are any number of young pianists with amazing techniques
and extensive repertoire. I always enjoy most those who pay special
attention to phrasing, range of dynamics and flowing melodic lines.
can we do as musicians to interest more people, children in particular, in
This is an extremely important question which defies a quick, easy answer.
Since the advent of "Rock" 50 years ago, our so-called "pop" or "Youth
music" has become simpler in terms of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic
structures, and more driven by continuous beat, incredibly loud sounds, and
a vast array of theatrics. Often, it is much more visual than aural, and
when combined with enough repetitive movement and high decibels, can create
a sort of mass hypnosis for the younger set. As they see others responding,
they join in, so that a sense of "belonging" develops.
It has been my experience that students who study music in a group setting
see that there are others their age who have similar musical interests, and
in that way serve as a "support group" for each other. Group instruction
provides the arena for presenting a much wider range of materials to more
students in a given time period than is possible in the one-on-one private
lesson. In this situation, students gradually work out their own criteria
for what differentiates "good" from "junk" music, and eventually they will
have a more sophisticated understanding of the endless variety of music in
our universe, including the past, present, and future.
do you feel about the role of technology (computer software, MIDI
instruments, MIDI editors, etc.) in the studio? How can these relatively new
tools be put to best use in the teaching studio?
For years I have been a strong advocate of using technology in both school
and studio settings from the early grades through graduate school. Digital
keyboards coupled with lap-top computers provide endless possibilities for
teaching music fundamentals, ear-training, sight-reading and improvisation
in the private studio. We have only seen the beginning of new ways
technology can help our teaching.
a piano student need to be particularly talented before they perform? How
can the "average student" take advantage of performance opportunities?
I don't feel we should be as concerned with "how much" talent students have
as we are with what they do with whatever talent they have. There are
probably many, many people who had "talent," but somehow never developed
it to the point of giving themselves any personal pleasure.
speaking, do you find membership in music teacher organizations valuable?
What could such organizations do to help teachers more? What should
teachers themselves do to get the maximum benefit from such organizations?
Music teacher organizations can only be as valuable and effective as the
input they receive from their members. If members actively participate in
committee assignments and communicate with those involved in convention
planning, our professional organizations will be more effective. However,
this involves "giving time" and that is something that is in short supply
for most of us.
this is your personal soapbox. What would you like to say to students,
parents, and teachers of the piano?
Recently genetic research established that human beings are "wired" for
music, which helps explain our instinctual responses to music throughout our
lives. It is a universal language, and despite its many different
"dialects," is a powerful means of communication. Music study can develop
our abilities to be creative "problem solvers," to think in motion as we
learn to deal effectively with several different things simultaneously, and
to communicate with other in a non-verbal way.
Music should be a basic element in our school curricula--not an elective or
an "enrichment," and its study, whether during the school day or later in a
private studio should be regarded as an essential part of the total
education of every child. Parent, teacher and student are a team that must
You can ask your own questions of Dr. Pace by email to
firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about
Dr. Pace and his teaching philosophy, visit the
Lee Roberts Music
site. The Piano Education Page reviews of the Pace Method and materials can
be found on our Piano Methods page.
Over the years, we have interviewed many well-known and not-so-well-known artists and
educators. Each interviewee has a unique take on their art and their career in music. We
recommend that you sit down and spend some time with each of these previous interviews.
You'll find them just as interesting and thought-provoking as the current one.