After teaching for a number of years Debra observed that some of her students could sight-read with ease while others struggled to read new music. While she was pursuing a masters degree at Michigan State University Debra researched the reasons for this discrepancy and wrote a thesis on her findings.
Recent research measuring the eye movements of music readers revealed that good music readers read groups of notes or tonal patterns while poor readers see and read only one note at a time. Debra examined early intermediate piano literature in order to identify some of the most common patterns. She then conducted a 2-year study with MSU college class piano students. Half of the students were taught to recognize and to play tonal patterns while the other half (control group) received no pattern instruction. Those who learned to read and play patterns progressed faster and were able to read new music more easily than those who didnít.
Carolyn was a student in one of Debraís college piano classes. She confessed at the beginning of the semester that she had tried in vain to learn to play the piano as a child, and had also failed at her attempts to learn to play the clarinet and violin. She announced that she was trying one last time to learn to play the piano. Carolyn was taught to read patterns along with the rest of the class and progressed very quickly. Late in the semester she shared that she had picked up a piece of music that she had attempted to learn before taking the class. She spotted patterns everywhere and was so excited to be able to play the piece with ease.
Debra has continued to teach tonal patterns to all of her beginning piano students and to those who have struggled with sight-reading. Students learn to hear and play 5-finger patterns, triads and many other tonal patterns before reading them in musical scores. Patterns are drilled along with individual note names. As a result, her students learn to sight-read with ease.
Miren walked into Debraís studio in the fall of 2009. She had started lessons with another teacher, but after a few months of lessons she and her mother were frustrated with her struggles and inability to read music. Debra shared some fun tips for remembering her note names and pointed out the patterns that were in the pieces in her beginning method book. Within two weeks Miren was reading and playing her music with ease. The smiles on the faces of her mother and her were priceless! Miren has continued to progress quickly and loves playing the piano.