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Christine Bemko Kril is a musician and music educator whose work with students with autism, Asperger syndrome, Down syndrome, and others who need learning support began in 1982 in Hawaii with a young boy name Ivan. His mother said he had learning challenges in school and difficulty controlling his body, but he loved music.

Image by Felicia Buitenwerf

"Ivan was a 10-year-old who wore a helmet to protect his head from his frequent falls. Charming and funny, Ivan wanted to learn to play piano the way his mother played, but could not understand the dots and lines that made musical notes. His hands and fingers were loose and limp. I decided to teach him: key names first, and work on strengthening his hands. In a moment of inspiration I found myself creating a song for him using letters - familiar symbols that Ivan knew and could understand. 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' was Ivan's first song and it was a big hit!"

Ivan enjoyed the  lessons and Christine's list of songs grew quickly. She had been invited to work on music and piano with very young beginners at a local Montessori preschool, and she saw that they too  benefited from starting with a pre-notation system. Not only could they play easy songs, they also had a strong understanding of key names and locations that made introducing notes and note reading a simple next step.

"I began to see that learning to play melodies and fun tunes on the piano, the way Ivan and my young  preschool students were learning, was an engaging and interesting way to make music accessible. They were so happy to be playing the piano." 

Her teaching studio grew rapidly and attracted other music teachers and soon Christine opened a music school with a wide and varied population of students. She started a children's music program at the school for groups of young beginners, and developed it for piano and general music. When she found that adults also enjoyed the easy pace of this pre-notation introduction, the idea for a book was born.

Christine moved to Virginia and decided to publish her materials as the I Can Do It! Piano Book, First Book of Favorite Songs in 2005. Convinced that piano is a remarkably appropriate vehicle to train the hands and brain to work together, Christine wanted to make her introduction more widely available for beginners and children with special needs. Since then, she has traveled around the country introducing her book and supporting teachers who are working with this population of beginners. Her book is currently in it's second printing and Kapok Press issued a digital edition (2020) to make it available online and around the world.

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"Recently I have started working on a book that teaches notation and note reading. It builds on the colored letter concept and helps students transition to notes easily. Once again my students have shown me a new path to teaching. It is a delightful process as we work together to find new ways  of learn!"

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Christine has a bi-weekly blog about her creative journey with the children in her studio, and is developing a community of teachers for sharing ideas and supporting each other in their educational goals. Christine is passionate about the strong positive impact music can have on the lives of children. She is committed to studying the needs of all beginners in piano, to better serve them and to find ways to serve the music learning community at large.

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