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So go ahead—learn to be a good reader. Not just a good letter reader, be a phrase-wise reader. Be aware of everything printed on page, but read between lines. Like a good actor, put yourself in role and project your feelings to your listeners . Don't let your development stop with just reading pitch and time. Include those little nuances: delicate shadings of volume, elasticity of tempo�the phrases that punctuate your musical story. Those are things that make music from printed page.
Now you know your answer. It is not wrong to learn to read fluently. Reading, as well as good technique, is a vital part of a musician's craft. And more automatic your reading and technique become, easier it will be to learn new music. That, of course, is one big advantage fluent reader has over ear player—the player who reads can learn new music he or she has never heard.
Perhaps your second question is also answered. Of course, you can enjoy music even if you have to dig out every note phrase by phrase. A few hints may help you decide how to choose your music and how to go about learning it. First:
Choose music that is well within your present level of playing so you won't have to work forever on once piece.
Don't worry about challenging yourself.
Don't dub yourself lazy just because you play easy pieces. Who cares what grade level your music is? Just play melody so beautifully that everyone wants to hum along.
Keep beat moving smoothly and with proper accent so everyone will want to tap their toes.
Put in enough subtle changes of volume to make phrases speak.
Deviate from established beat just enough to enhance natural flow of rhythm to make music come alive.
Ron Worthy is a Music Educator, Songwriter and Performer. His Web Site, Play Piano Like a PRO, offers Proven Tips, Tool, and Strategies (that anyone can learn) to Play Rock, Pop, Blues and Smooth Jazz Piano. http://www.mrronsmusic.com/playpiano.htm