British female pianists and teachers: Annie Jessy Curwen

I’m continuing my ‘British female pianists and teachers’ series today. The third important female pianist (I have already looked at Lucy Anderson and Arabella Goddard in previous blog posts), was a woman who became well-known purely for her teaching methods. Annie Jessy Curwen (1845-1932) was an influential piano pedagogue and leading figure of the Tonic Sol-Fa teaching system in England. She anticipated Twentieth century pedagogical trends by applying progressive educational principles in her classroom teaching, keyboard instruction and innovative piano method series.

Curwen attended the Royal Irish Academy of Music from 1857 – 1865 and then taught the piano in Dublin before moving to Scotland. Here, she encountered the Tonic Sol-Fa system, a teaching method promoted by the music educator, Rev. John Curwen, and incorporated its principles into her school teaching. After marrying Curwen’s son, she published a series of books and music supplements for young children, including The Child Pianist (1886), teaching materials of Mrs. Curwen’s Pianoforte Method (1885 – ca.1920) and Psychology Applied to Music Teaching (1920). Her method was sold in Canada, America and Australia, and also sold successfully in England well into the 1970s. After World War I, Curwen method specialists continued to train music teachers and give examinations from her books.

Mrs. Curwen’s Pianoforte Method included teachers’ guides and training programs, which incorporated principles of Sol-Fa teaching and Herbartian psychology. Curwen and others following her method were innovators in classroom music teaching, primarily in areas of theoretical training that required observation alternated with actual music making.

The teacher’s manual is one of the most extensive of its time, presenting learning objectives for each lesson and practical guidance for teaching children. Curwen emphasized psychology and some physiology, covering topics such as perception, mental images, creativity, conceptualization, language connotations and denotations, student attention, habit and memory, methodology and teaching materials. The progressively ordered lesson plans and teaching materials integrated sight-singing, off-staff music reading and ear and rhythmic training.

Curwen advised pupils to begin with a singing course, and then take piano lessons until at least the age of 14, because piano study allowed the greatest field for observing musical pitch, range and rhythmic development. Her teaching objectives included making musical training enjoyable; promoting intellectual, spiritual and physical growth; developing intelligent listeners; and discovering talented musicians.

Since its inception, Annie’s educational methodology has significantly impacted music pedagogues. Some of the teaching practices of Annie Curwen and Rev. John Curwen have influenced the work of Zoltán Kodály (with hand signals in vocal instruction), the authors of the Oxford Piano School (with the song approach) and many other Twentieth century music educators.

Main Source: Wikipedia


Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.

For more information, please visit the publications page, here.

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