About a week ago, I received an email from a reader who states that he is learning the Bach-Petri transcription of “Sheep May Safely Graze.” (You may recall me posting a YouTube video of it here.) He writes:
I am by no means a concert pianist, but I did take piano lessons for 14 years (1 year into college), but I have never encountered such a challenging melody as is presented by this piece.
Obviously, this piece will take a lot of time to master, but I am determined to learn it. However, I was wondering if you could please offer some practice tips such as how to bring out the melody, for instance, in measures 10 & 11? I just don’t know the best method to train my 2nd and possibly 3rd fingers to bring out the melody while the other fingers play the counter melody.
Learning to bring out the melody properly is not easy! However, the good news is that once you’ve developed this skill, you will likely be using it again for situations in other pieces.
Here are a few general practice tips for bringing out the melody:
- Play the RH part with two hands instead of one. This may seem strange and perhaps pointless, but dividing up the chord to play between two hands allows your ears to hear how you’d like the end product to sound. Once it’s in your ear, somehow it helps your fingers know what to do! I’m always amazed at how helpful this is when I’m practicing.
- Sing/hum the melody while you play. Similar to what was mentioned above, this helps your ear/brain hear the melody and learn what the end product should sound like.
- Practice playing just the melody line (using the fingering you would use if you were playing the harmony notes too). After you master that, try practicing just the harmony notes (again, using the same fingering as you would when playing everything).
- Keep the non-melody fingers as close to the keys. In fact, see if you can make them maintain contact with the surface of the keys at all times. The fingers playing the melody line, however, should lift and drop (as usual) in order to make those notes sing out.
- Break up the chords and take them out of their rhythmic context. Try playing the melody note first and hold it, and then play the rest of the chord staccato. Find other ways to break up the chord and take it out of rhythm for the sake of practicing (try playing the chords in a long-short-long-short rhythm, then try short-long-short-long). And don’t forget – practice slowly!
The tough thing about this Bach-Petri arrangement is that the melody is not always the top note of the chord! You can view the first page of the sheet music here at SheetMusicPlus.com. This is not an easy piece to learn. I have not worked on this piece myself, but I imagine it requires a great deal of control to bring out the melodies/countermelodies in a musical way.
Have more practice tips about bringing out the melody? Share them in the comments below.