The Catholic University of America

Centre for Ward Method Studies

Fr. Robert Skeris, Director

The Ward Method of music instruction is a progressive method of teaching elementary school children – through vocal instruction – music theory, composition, and conducting. The Method was developed by the foundress of the original School of Liturgical Music at The Catholic University of America in 1929, Justine Bayard Ward (1879-1975), to teach American Catholic school children the fundamentals of music which would enable them to sing the vast patrimony of musica sacra which is a part of the Roman Catholic Church’s tradition. The Ward Method is unique in that it has a basis in Gregorian chant, that “treasure of inestimable value” (Second Vatican Council, 1963).

Mrs Ward developed the Method in response to a request from Fr. Thomas E. Shields, chair of the first department of education at The Catholic University. Shields believed that from the earliest years, the child’s emotions must be developed to lead to the formation of worthy character. Writing in the Catholic Educational Review, he once said,

                       The real foundations of character are not
                       to be found in the intellect, but in the emotions
                       and the will properly enlightened through the
                       intellect, and it is through music and art that
                       the imagination and the emotions may be
                       reached and effectively developed.

Throughout its history, the Catholic Church has promoted the arts. Knowing man to be composed of both body and spirit, the Church understands man’s need for sensible, tangible things to relate body and spirit. In the Ward Method children are exposed  to truth and beauty through music so they will respond to emotional stimulus of a higher order.



The chief tenets of the Ward Method can be summarized in five points.

  1. The basic principle is that music is a fundamental element in the development of the intellect and the formation of character.
  2. The Ward Method correlates the study of music with the other subjects of the curriculum, with special attention to those aspects of music that foster appreciation of and participation in liturgical singing.
  3. Whilst the voice alone is the basis of the musical training imparted, foundations are laid for a deep and broad study of musical theory.
  4. The Ward Method consistently applies the pedagogical principle that the normal process of development is from content to form.
  5. The Method proceeds from germinal musical elements, through a series of easily graded developmental phases, toward the complex details involved in the artistic rendering of musical compositions.

Consequently, a typical Ward lesson of some twenty minutes’ duration will contain these elements :

  • Vocal exercises (tone quality, timbre);
  • Intonation (eye and ear training, pitch);
  • Rhythm gestures and dictation;
  • Staff notation;
  • Original creative work oral and written;
  • Songs with and without words.

Certification as a qualified Ward Method teacher requires successful completion of all four Ward courses:

  • MUS 543-01 = Ward Book I
  • MUS 543A-01 = Ward Book II
  • MUS 543B-01 = Ward Book III
  • MUS 543C-01 = Ward Book IV (Jr. High and High School)
  • MUS 547-01 = Gregorian Chant Practicum I
  • MUS 547A-01 = Gregorian Chant Practicum II
  • MUS 547B-01 = Gregorian Chant Schola
These courses are offered on a rotational basis, as needed by qualified students. MUS 547-01 Gregorian Chant Practicum is offered for graduate students, as is MUS 547A-01 Gregorian Chant Practicum II which is a continuation of Practicum I within the context of an Introduction to Gregorian Paleography. Intensive courses are offered every summer.


The following comparison is worthy of note:

National Standards for Music Education

  1. Singing, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
  2. Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
  3. Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments.
  4. Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.
  5. Reading and notating music.
  6. Listening to, analyzing and describing music.
  7. Evaluating music and music performances.
  8. Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts.
  9. Understanding music in relation to history and culture.


Ward Method in Relation to the
National Standards for Music Education

As it stands, the Ward Method is admirably suited to meeting the needs of virtually all the National Standards for Music Education:
  • From the beginning students are required to sing alone and with others (Standard 1), learning how to match pitch and sing in various scales and modes.
  • Through a variety of creative activities the students learn to improvise melodies and variations (Standard 3).

  • From first grade, students learn how to compose and arrange music within the guidelines specified by the Method (Standard 4).

  • At every level of the Ward Method, students are taught to sight-read music, first using number notation and solfège, then do clef, then treble and bass clef (Standard 5). A number of in-class and homework exercises teach the students to notate and visibly express the rhythmic movement of melodies.
  • In higher grades the students learn to use specific musical terminology to describe their compositions and those of others (Standard 6).

  • Using stated guidelines, the students also learn how to evaluate each other’s music (why one melody may be more expressive than another) and how the music is performed (Standard 7).

  • With only minor adjustments (e.g.. adding use of rhythm sticks) the Method can be used to teach percussion during rhythm exercises, whilst the simple melodies learned in early grades constitute a varied and easy repertoire for recorder and other instruments (Standard 2).

  • Concepts of melody, rhythm, arsis and thesis developed in the Ward Method can be applied to all forms of music, dance, movement etc. (Standard 8).

  • Singing a repertoire which ranges from Gregorian chant, simple folk songs, a Bach chorale to modern liturgical music allows students to understand music in relation to history and culture (Standard 9).


For information, contact the Director of the Ward Centre, Fr. Robert Skeris (


Sample Ward class - Sacred Music Colloquium, St Louis, June 2016