#2 Learning to Play Melodies


If you’ve never played before

If you’ve never played before, I would recommend starting by exploiting what you already know. No matter how little you think you know about music, you know enough to start teaching yourself. In my private teaching studio, I use this method with people ages 6-76. There is much more to be gained from this than is immediately apparent so I recommend sticking with it. This addresses the fundamentals aspects of learning music- Ears, and melody.

1) Think of a tune you already know. The simpler the better (at least at first). Recommended tunes: Twinkle Twinkle, Mary had a little lamb, Happy Birthday, God Save the Queen, Row Row Row Your Boat, etc.

2) Sing it.
Don’t be shy. Part of your ultimate goal is that you will be able to play music that’s in your head without hesitation as well as playing music that you hear around you with the same ease. So step one is taking music in your head and learning it on piano. Now the big difference between singing a tune, and playing it on piano, is that you have probably been singing since you were a toddler. If you can’t sing it, you probably aren’t hearing it, so don’t be shy.

Find the first note that you sang on the piano. Now notice that each note is repeated about 6-8 times on the piano (I’ve never actually counted). Find the one that matched the register of your voice. If you are having trouble finding it, don’t worry. Just try to keep that note in your head by singing it over and over again (like when you are trying to remember a phone number). Start with a random key and listen to the note it produces. If you can tell how far away you are, follow you gut, but if you can’t, just try every note.

Now that you’ve found your first note, remember which note it is. Sing the first couple words of the tune (Mary Had-end). Now you are going to find the second note. using a similar process, except that you have a refernce point which makes it easier. Sing it and ask yourself: “Is it higher or lower?” “is it right next to the last note (part of a scale), or does it jump over a few notes?” “is it the same note or have you heard it already in the song”.

Repeat these steps until you have enough of a piece of the tune to practice. All you really need is a minimum of 3 notes to practice. Repeat this part you have learned until you can play it comfortably with your eyes closed (literally).

Continue this process through the whole tune breaking it into smaller pieces for ease of learning.

Once you can play the whole tune you can try some different things.
1) learn it completely in your other hand. Stopping to work out fingering issues as they arise.

2) learn it with both hands playing it at the same time separated by two octaves

3) Pick another note to start on and learn the tune again on this note.

Do this for many tunes. In fact this is an exercise that you can stick with for most of your life, as you will always need to learn more melodies. As you become more experienced at this, see if you can play a melody perfectly on your first try, but still practice it.

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