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Chapter 2
Simple Melodies


T
he most simple melody in music is probably Mary Had a Little Lamb. One version of this uses only three notes. If you have no experience in playing by ear, this is a good one to attempt first.

Begin Anywhere

Any tune can be played beginning on any note on the key­board; but it is easier to begin on some notes than on others. Try beginning on various notes, and you will find that there are three different notes with which you can begin which will not require you to use any black keys.

Names of Keys

The names of the keys are not necessary in playing by ear; many expert ear players never use them. But we shall need them to give directions in the text; so let's learn them now. The black keys occur in groups of two and three. Just to the left of the group of two black keys is the white key C. This is the most important key on the piano, as we shall shortly see. Going down the keyboard to the left, we find the next note B and to the left of that A. Now going up the keyboard to the right of C we find D and then E, F, G, and then we come again to A, B, C. You will notice that this C is again that the 3rd finger comes on B. It stays in that position only a moment and then returns to the original position.

In most tunes requiring more than one position there is not just one place where the hand must jump to another position; generally it is left to the discretion of the player to determine where the change may be made most conveniently.

We do not want to become too conscious of fingering; we shall block our progress if we do. In playing by ear, however, the fingers must become associated with what we hear in our inner ear, and simple finger patterns form this association much more easily. Acquire the habit of not shifting the hand more than necessary, and you will seldom need to give any thought to the fingering.

Hand Position

Keep the fingers curved in a grasping position when possible. If you put your hand around an orange, you will have the most efficient position for playing the piano. The position is not very important now; but if you adopt good form at the beginning, the fingers become stronger, technique develops, and you will not need to practice exercises for some time. Baseball, golf, tennis, swimming—all require some attention to technique if one is to be even a fair amateur. The same is true of playing an instrument. Think about this hand position occasionally and you will save yourself many hours of practice later on.

Play What You Like

"With this much attention to the mechanics of playing, turn now to the music you want to learn. You will learn more quickly if it is a piece which you like. Although the numbers listed at the end of the chapter are named in order of their difficulty for the average ear player, you will do better to skip down the list until you come to one with which you are very familiar. Remember that your ear is your best guide and teacher; if it is not sure of the piece, you will have a difficult time.

Go as Far as You Can

Do not expect, however, to play the tune right off. If you can do this, the piece is too easy for you. Play as far as you can and then try to find the next note. If you do not find it in a few tries, you will probably save time by going back to the beginning and thus come onto the difficulty with a running start. If it still does not come, play up to the note which you cannot find and then sing or whistle the correct pitch. You will then be able to match the tone you are singing. If it still does not come, lay it aside until tomorrow or some other day. Try some other piece and you may find that you can play this piece another time without any difficulty. Often we seem to learn in our sleep.

All the pieces in this first list can be played entirely on the white keys, if you begin with the note indicated after the name. These are all in the key of C. You would be able to sing them better if they were in some other key, and you would probably like the sound of them better. They can be played in any key, but you will have to use some black keys. Try them in other keys at your pleasure. It is splendid practice and will give you great facility at the keyboard.

To find the next easiest key, begin on the note a fourth or fifth higher. For example, if the piece begins on C and you want to try another key, begin on either F or G, and you will need only one black key to play the piece. (In determining intervals, both the lower and higher tones are counted.) This relieves the monotony of hearing everything in one key. More about this in the next chapter.

Finding the First Note

You may want to try other tunes than those suggested here. The chief difficulty is usually to locate the first note so that the piece will fall in C or some easy key. To do this, sing or think the piece through to the last note. This last note will nearly always be the keynote—that is, C in the key of C. Then begin to sing the piece over again, and you can find the first note by its relation to C. Most pieces begin on C or E or G, if you play them in the key of C; but there are many exceptions.

Do not be disappointed if you are unable to play through any of the pieces you attempt. Nearly all compositions are harder about two-thirds of the way through, where they reach their climax. Keep playing the part that you do know and someday the rest will suddenly come to you. Singing them makes them more vivid and hastens the process.

When you have learned a few tunes so that you can play them easily, you may want to add chords in the left hand. If so, skip the next chapter and practice the exercises in Chapter 4. Sometimes it is easier to find the melody when one has a chord in the left hand. The chords make the melody sound different. However, if you are still enjoying working out single melodies, Chapter 3 will help you to find more complicated ones.

In addition to the tunes given in the list, you will find many good melodies with which you are very familiar among the folk songs, current popular music, and hymn tunes. Try the more familiar ones and you will be surprised how easily some will come to you.

Tunes in Five Finger Position

(Disregard the * and f for the present)

 

begins on

with finger

  * Mary Had a Little Lamb

E

3

  * Lightly Row

G

5

  * Oats and Beans and Barley Grow

E

3

  * Jingle Bells (chorus)

E

3

Tunes with a Slightly Expanded Position

 

begins on

with finger

  * London Bridge

G

4

** Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

C

1

** Lavender's Blue

C

1

     America

C

2

  * Are You Sleeping?

C

1

** Auld Lang Syne

G

1

** My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean

G

1

** Polly-Wolly-Doodle

C

1

** Comin' Through the Rye

G

1

     Softly Now the Light of Day (WEBER)

  1     E

3

** Gaudeamus Igitur

C

2

** Steal Away

C

1

** Home on the Range

G

1

** Marines' Hymn

E

1

  f Good Morning, Mr. Zip-Zip-Zip

G

1

** I've Been Wukkin' on de Railroad

C

2

** Three Blind Mice

E

3

  * Row, Row, Row Your Boat

C

1

  * All bugle calls (taps, reveille, etc.)

 

 


Tunes Requiring More Than One Position

 

begins on

with finger

** Lullaby (BRAMS)

E

1

** Swanee River

E

3

** Old Black Joe

C

1

** My Old Kentucky Home

E

3

** Home, Sweet Home

C

1

  * Long, Long Ago

C

1

** Massa's in the Cold, Cold Ground

G

4

  * The Farmer in the Dell

G

1

  t Carry Me Back to Old Virginny

E

4

** Dixie

G

5

** Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes

E

3

** Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

E

5

 Sweet Adeline

E

5

** Yankee Doodle

G

1

  t Caissons Keep Rolling Along

G

4

  * Where Has My Little Dog Gone?

E

3

  * The Campbells Are Comin'

C

1

**  Silent Night

G

4

  Adeste Fidelis

C

2

  Doxology

C

4

  Juanita

G

4

** O Tannenbaum

G

1

  Keep the Home Fires Burning

E

3

  God Loves America

C

4

** K-K-K-Katy

G

2

** Believe Me, if All Those

E

3

** Loch Lomond

G

1

All Through the Night

C

4

** Bells of St. Mary's (chorus)

G

1

 ft I Love You Truly

G

1

  f Beautiful Dreamer

C

5

 ft In the Gloaming

G

4

  t There's a Long, Long Trail

G

1

** Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen

E

5

  t Prayer of Thanksgiving

G

4

  f In the Good Old Summertime

G

2

  t Wearing of the Green

C

1

** Annie Laurie

E

3

  t Men of Harlech

C

3

  Calm as the Night

G

2

  Londonderry Air

B

1

  Blue Danube

C

1

  * La Palorria

G

3

 ft Barcarolle from tales of hoffman

E

2

 Songs My Mother Taught Me

C

3

 Finlandia

E

3


WHAT TO DO

Play the tunes that you know over and over again.
Play the tunes with the left hand as well as with the     right.
Play the tunes in both hands together one octave apart.
Play them in many keys.


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