If you’ve come to this page expecting to be told to buy a book where you get to start out playing middle C over and over, I have news for you! You will be sightreading classical music and playing with both hands at your first lesson! Sightreading is a vital skill in learning to play the piano.
Bill Mayrath of Mayrath Home Video Solutions dropped by for a 30-minute piano lesson and he decided to record himself. See his results for yourself:
A study for a Master’s thesis by Dianne Hardy found:
Two hundred twenty one nationally certified teachers of Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) were polled about their teaching of sight-reading; if they taught it, how often they taught it and how they taught it. Finally they were asked to rate its importance on a five point scale. Of the 221 that responded, thirteen percent replied that it was the most important pianistic skill at the piano, 73 percent rated it highly important and the remainder rated it fairly important, while no one rated it as somewhat important or insignificant. [emphasis added]The benefits of skillful sight-reading are many. Fluency facilitates the learning of new pieces; it allows access to a wide variety of music and a more thorough knowledge of specific composers and style characteristics; it builds tactile, aural, and kinetic memory, which increases the player’s confidence; and it provides training for many professions in music. Yet in spite of the high value placed on sight-reading by teachers, piano students are often deficient in the skill, displaying a large gap between the reading level and the difficulty of performance pieces. And the consequences of inadequate sight reading skill are devastating. Giles (1983) asserts:
Probably more intermediate piano students give up their piano study because of reading problems. . . than for any other single reason. People don’t give up activities that they enjoy. But if each piece presents a learning prospect to be dreaded, the result is predictable. We should not be surprised that the country is overrun by millions of people who ‘used to play the piano,’ but who now cannot pick out a single-note melody at the keyboard.
Only seven percent of the certified piano teachers who responded to my study said that they addressed sight-reading in a systematic manner each week with the student and much of the literature I reviewed placed the blame for sight-reading deficiency on the current trends of piano training. [emphasis added]
Havill (1971) states:
It is only in recent years that piano sight-reading has been emerging from its role as a step-sister of performance. Contrary to the old saying that ‘sight-readers are born – not made,’ the art of sight-reading can be taught.
Regelski (1975) points out that most piano teaching tends to crystallize about repertoire building with the attendant stress on pure technique and polish of a few pieces a year. Sanders (1986) says that too often the desire for a good showing in recitals and auditions leads teachers to ignore functional skills, such as sight-reading. Gordon, Mach, Uszler (1991) concur citing how intermediate students will ” sight-read” a new repertoire piece, but are rarely assigned material specifically for sight-reading.
The majority of teachers in my study said that sight-reading was not included in their program because they didn’t know how to teach it. Many cited the reason being that instruction in teaching the skill is not included in the method book series that they use. Some did not even recognize it as a skill apart from the acquisition of repertoire and just said that students would get better with more years of lessons. A few teachers said they wouldn’t attempt to teach it because they were rotten sight-readers themselves. [emphasis added]
I know how to teach sight-reading and after the second year of instruction all my students are proficient at sight-reading.
Another common problem with playing piano is Repetitive Stress Injury, or RSI. According to a 1997 doctoral disseration concerning RSI and pianists by Hsu, Yu-Pin:
Postural misalignment and bilateral repetitive strain injury with chronic forearm myofascitis were listed as the highest diagnosis in subjects (98%), followed by thoracic outlet syndrome. Hand positions in playing keyboard/piano such as hyperextension of fingers, hyperadduction of thumbs, hyperflexion of fingers, ulnar deviation of wrist(s), and excessive force were found most frequently to overwork forearm muscles and fingers. In conclusion, research has clearly shown that keyboard players are especially prone to physical problems of the hands and arms. Postural misalignment (98%) and repetitive strain injury (98%) have been found as the two major factors which predispose musicians to their piano-related injuries. Ulnar deviation of wrists in playing was found among 96% of subjects in this study. There is a tremendous need for educators and musicians to acquire more knowledge and understanding about anatomy and the biomechanical functions of their bodies and hand positioning. It is important for musicians to learn how to express themselves musically without becoming injured. This responsibility falls not only on medical professionals, but on every music educator, student, institute, and school.
In other words, you have a 98% chance of developing RSI unless your teacher has had specific training on how to prevent it. I have known pianists with RSI who were not only unable to play, but unable to hold a fork, spoon, pen or pencil, open a jar or bottle, use a computer keyboard or mouse, or even unlock a door with a key, without immense pain. Your health is not worth the risk. I monitor my students at every lesson to ensure they are not developing playing habits that will put them at risk for RSI.
After the first year, you must have access to a piano, not an electronic keyboard. They’re not the same, no matter what anyone tells you, because a piano is mechanical, and an electronic device does not function in the same way as a mechanical one. There are subtleties of keystroke attack that are available on a piano that are not available on an electronic device.
What can you expect to play? Here’s an idea of what you might be playing for each year of study:
First year: Simple pieces by Bartok, Bach, Franck, Handel, Kabalevsky, Khatchaturian, Mozart, Prokofieff, Schumann, Schubert, Tschaikowsky and other classical composers, typically what you would find in pieces by these composers collected in Children’s Albums.
- Bach Preludes
- Beethoven Dances
- Clementi sonatinas
- Mozart Variations on Ah, je dirais-vous, Maman
- Prokofieff Children’s Suite
- Schubert Op. 33 or D.365
- Schumann Op. 68
- Tschaikovsky Op. 39
- Bach Two-Part Inventions
- Beethoven Op. 33, Op. 119
- Dvorak Op. 54
- Grieg Opp. 43, 68, 71
- Handel Suites
- Kabalevsky Op. 40
- Liszt Consolation no. 1
- Mendelssohn, Opp. 30, 62, 72
- Mozart Viennese Sonatinas
- Prokofieff Op. 65
- Complete sonatas by Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart;
- Bach Three-part Inventions and Fugues;
- Chopin Waltzes, Mazurkas, Preludes, and Nocturnes;
- Debussy Arabesques;
- Schubert Impromptus ;
- Tschaikowsky Op. 37a
The repertoire in my studio is individually selected for each student according to their abilities, needs and interests, from a collection of over eight million pages of sheet music, including repertoire used for skills like accompanying instrumentalists and solo singers, and chamber music. This includes music from the pre-Baroque, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Modern periods. Because all this music is in the public domain, it is freely available for download at no charge.