The Benefits of Excellent Reading Skills
 Laura Styer Kirk

 "An ability of playing from sight is an invaluable asset to music students and amateurs because it opens to them a wide field of music literature beyond the necessarily limited "repertory" of pieces they have carefully studied.
Unfortunately, music teachers generally do not realize the importance of sight reading".
"The problems of sight reading are somewhat different in the various fields of performance. In piano playing the difficulites are considerably greater, owing to the greater complexity of the music. The greatest obstacle to sight reading on the piano is the customary emphasis on memorization of a few selections."
The Harvard Brief Dictionary of Music
 Willi Apel and Ralph T. Daniel

Studies are showing that because of the linear, spatial correlation between the keys and the notes, learning to read piano music enhances intellectual development. Some scientists believe that such music-making creates and strengthens synapseses between neurons in the brain. The result is better symbol decoding, problem solving and thinking skills.

My own studio experience has taught me that the process of learning to read well also promotes better overall piano performance skills. The traditional approach to piano study is to concentrate on and memorize a few pieces of music at a time. too often, in the all important early years, these pieces are confined to a very limited number of 5 finger patters such as C or G major. This practice not only limits the exposure to various keys, but it also greatly limits the opportunity to internalize rhythmic, melodic, technical and harmonic patterns.

On the other hand, if a student plays a large volume of shorter, varied, multiple-key pieces each week, combined with standard perfomance Pieces, the overall playing level is accelerated. The student becomes able to grasp patterns more quickly with greater accuracy and more dependability. The constant exposure to and review of a wider array of musical concepts promotes integration and internalized learning.

It has been my experience that most people can master the ability to read and interpret music well (regardless of musical talent) when they are presented with the proper program of materials, timing and guidance. It has been my challenge as a piano teacher to provide this for all of my students.
During my first 15 year of teaching I struggled with the challenge of meeting the material needs of my students. It was true then and true today that the standard teaching method books become too difficult too soon. I used to deal with this by switching back and forth from various same level method books in an attempt to provide the needed reinforcement and review. No matter how I combined the existing methods, I was unable to provide the volume of quality, properly graded pieces needed for strong reading, interpretive and technical skills. I discovered there was no way for any complete method or combination of publications to prepare my students for true multiple-key literacy. With a stong background in composition from the University of California, addressing this issue became my professional priority. At first, I began writing music for my students to fill in the gaps as I perceived them at the time. The more I experimented the more I found that the gaps were gaping crevices. I came to realize just how much was required for students to internalize the skills necessary for true musicianship. As I was increasingly able to meet my student's needs, I became energized by the improvements in their interest and abilities - reading, artistry and overall performance. I have always believed that excellent reading skills were important but I came to realize that internalized reading skills are essential for a solid foundation. I cannot express what a joy it became to be able to consistently assign pieces that students were adequately prepared to play. It was a relief to alleviate frustration and relace it with a solid foundation for continued success.

My students began calling their muiscal collections Kirk Books. 17 years later, the books provide an unusually hight volume of gradually graded, multiple key and varied hand placement pieces. The ongoing success that my students experience keeps them interested and motivated. The theory they learn becomes internalized - a part of their pattern of thinking. They learn to transpose easily and develop an ease with reading in different keys. They exhibit confidence and gradually acquire a healthy independence because learning new pieces becomes easier and easier. 

Kirk Piano Studio hosts 6 recitals a year.  Students are able to choose new repertory for each one from a large lending library of celebrated compostitions.


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