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School of Music

Faculty and Staff

Sara M. Ernst

Title: Associate Professor / Piano and Piano Pedagogy
Keyboard Area Coordinator / Director, Center for Piano Studies
School of Music
Website: Sara M. Ernst
Phone: 803-777-1688

Room 229


Piano Pedagogy at USC
Center for Piano Studies


Sara M. Ernst, PhD, NCTM, is an active piano pedagogue, teacher of all ages, pianist and is Associate Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy and Keyboard Area Coordinator at the University of South Carolina. She is a leader in the field, also serving currently as the Director of Teacher Engagement for the Frances Clark Center, where she directs the program of the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy (2021 Virtual and 2023) and contributes to teacher seminars and online courses. She was the recipient of the Outstanding Service Recognition Award from the Frances Clark Center in 2021. Other leadership roles have included serving as the South Carolina Music Teachers Association President (2018–2020) and on the National Committee for NCKP 2019.

Dr. Ernst's research and scholarship in piano pedagogy includes investigating teaching effectiveness, the use of language in instruction, and best practices in elementary piano instruction and curricula. In addition, she frequently explores pedagogical music of the 20th and 21st centuries and examines the pacing of instruction through the intermediate years. Her presentations, lecture recitals and posters have been featured at numerous conferences including those of the Music Teacher National Association, GP3, National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, College Music Society and many state conferences. Her articles have appeared in the PIano MagazineClavier Companion and the American Music Teacher.  She designed and contributed to the first two online courses for the Frances Clark Center, The Beginner Course and The Pianist's Guide to Teaching Online. She authored modules on teaching elementary students for the Royal Conservatory of Music's online teacher training courses.

She is a frequent adjudicator for piano events and competitions in the southern U.S., and an examiner for the Royal Conservatory of Music in the U.S. and Canada.  Furthermore, she assisted in the music selection of multiple volumes of the Celebration Series (2015) and reviewed the RCM PIano Syllabus (2015).  Additionally, her perspectives on piano music and educational materials have been solicited by the American Music Teacher and Clavier Companion as a reviewer and content contributor. 

While at UofSC, she founded the Center for Piano Studies, which has grown into a vibrant community of piano students from the Columbia area. This program features private lessons, group classes, performance opportunities and festivals, for all ages and stages, and serves as a teaching and research laboratory for graduate students and undergraduate student interns. She also coordinated the Group Piano program (2013–2021), directing the team of Graduate Assistants, revising existing curricula, creating new coursework, and overseeing the renovation of the Group Piano Lab (2014).

Prior to her position at UofSC, she worked at the New School for Music Study (a division of the Frances Clark Center) in New Jersey as the Administrative Director and an instructor of piano lessons and group classes. Dr. Ernst has taught at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan and piano and piano pedagogy at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Her teaching was honored with a campus-wide Graduate Teaching Award at the University of Oklahoma (2009) and with the Studio Fellowship Award (2006) from the Music Teachers National Association.

Dr. Ernst received a PhD in music education with an emphasis in piano pedagogy from the University of Oklahoma. She completed her dissertation on the teaching philosophy of Mr. Marvin Blickenstaff, a widely admired piano teacher. Her other degrees are from the University of Missouri-Columbia and Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Her former piano and piano pedagogy teachers include Jane Magrath, Barbara Fast, Karen Larvick, and John Strauss.


  • PhD, Music Education with an Emphasis in Piano Pedagogy, University of Oklahoma, Dissertation: The Legacy of Master Teacher Marvin Blickenstaff: His Pedagogy and Philosophy
  • MM, Piano Pedagogy, University of Missouri
  • BA, Music and Mathematics, Luther College

Select Recent Publications and Presentations

  • “Practicing Alongside Our Intermediate Students,” The Piano Magazine, Winter 2021-22
  • “Practicing Piano from the Early Stages,” Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy, Webinar, 2021
  • “A Tribute to Marvin Blickenstaff and his Pedagogical Legacy,” The Piano Magazine, Spring 2020
  • Panel, “Creating Opportunities—Online Performances for Students,” Independent Music Teachers Forum, South Carolina Music Teachers Association, Virtual Conference, 2020 
  • A Pianist’s Guide to Online Teaching, course designer and contributor, Frances Clark Center, 2020  
  • The Beginner Course: A Firm Foundation for Young Pianists, course designer and contributor, Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy, 2019
  • Co-presentation, “Guiding Principles of Virtuosic Teacher Talk,” Music Teachers National Association, National Conference, 2019, Virtual Conference 
  • Lecture recital, “Reaching Young Children and Families: The Story of Babar by Poulenc and Other Works for Piano and Narrator,” National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy, Music in Early Childhood Preconference, Chicago, 2019
  • Co-presentation, “Celebrating Excellence: Innovative Principles of Piano Teacher Education Sixty Years Later,” Music Teachers National Association, National Conference, Spokane, WA, March 17, 2019
  • “To Play and to Study: The Thrill of Discovery,” The Piano Magazine: Clavier Companion, Nov/Dec 2018
  • Panel, “Academia and Motherhood: Navigating the Demands of Work and Home Life,” College Music Society, National Conference, Vancouver, October 12, 2018
  • “Choose Your Words Carefully,” Music Teachers National Association, National Conference, Orlando, 2018

Courses Taught at UofSC

  • MUSC 573—Performance Pedagogy I (Piano)
  • MUSC 574—Performance Pedagogy II (Piano)
  • MUSC 573L, 574L, and 575L—Pedagogy Laboratory
  • MUSC 774—Seminar in Performance Pedagogy II
  • MUSC776—Special Topics in Piano Pedagogy
  • Applied Piano (MUSC 101, 111, 211, 311, 411, 711)
  • Treatise and Dissertation Preparation (MUSC 898, 899)
  • MUED 156—Group Piano II

Notable Recent Service

  • Director of the Program, National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy 2021 Virtual
  • Member of the National Committee, National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy 2019
  • 2020–2022 Past President, South Carolina Music Teachers Association
  • 2018–2020 President, South Carolina Music Teachers Association
  • 2016–2018 Vice President of Conferences, South Carolina Music Teachers Association

Joined the UofSC School of Music in Fall 2013

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.