Learning the Piano: 5 Ways to Bring Out the Melody in Songs


How do you make your melodies shine when you’re learning the piano? Read on as Powell, OH teacher Sara Marie B. shares some exercises to try…


As you’re learning the piano, one of the most difficult things to do, especially for young children or beginning pianists, is to bring out the melody. Simply saying it does not help, so I’ve found I need to provide students with ways to practice this at home, guiding them toward the correct sound. If you’re listening well and spending time focusing on hearing the repertoire performed correctly, you will be more successful more quickly.

Here are five ways to practice bringing out the melody:

1) Crossing your hands. Cross your right hand over your left, or your left over your right, and make sure you can hear the hand that has the melody. By scrambling what your eyes see as the upper hand, you’re able to allow your ear and body to do the work.

2) Stop and prepare. When the sections come in the piece where you have to switch to a different melody, such as the melody changing from right hand to left, stop and prepare. What this means is to literally stop (while you’re practicing of course, not during performance), think, prepare yourself, and then move on. Teachers can mark this in the music. After stopping and preparing for some time, the change will happen on auto-pilot.

3) Elephant vs. mouse. Children especially love this one, using an elephant to provide imagery. I personally have stuffed animals on the piano, and the elephant comes out to play when a hand is supposed to be the melody and moves to that side of the piano. I have a small little frog for the hand that is supposed to be the accompaniment. This imagery works well with children, especially if you have stopped and prepared (see #2).

4) Ghosting. This is probably my favorite idea, and seems to work the best. There are three parts to this, though. First, play the section with the melody only (assuming the melody is in the right hand, play only the right hand). Once or twice should be fine. Next, “ghost” the left hand, or non-melody hand, by lightly touching – but not sounding or pressing down – the keys of the notes from that section. Repeat this a few times. Finally, go one small step past ghosting and actually make the keys sound. You will find that 9 times out of 10, the result is a perfect balance between right hand melody and left hand accompaniment.

5) Teacher plays left hand accompaniment. Sometimes, all it takes is to hear it correctly. It’s not enough to have your teacher play both hands. When you’re playing the melody (again, assuming it’s right hand) and your teacher plays the accompaniment, you’ll be able to feel the right hand movement while also hearing and seeing what the left hand should be like. The demonstration, followed by a dutiful imitation, will help you understand what the balance in sound should be.

How long you play each of these is not relevant. Your teacher should assign a certain number of repetitions for each, and also do one or two of these with you during the lesson. These ideas do work – I’ve seen them produce fabulous results in my own studio! And now, every student can have a beautiful, singing melody.

SaraSara Marie B. teaches piano, singing, songwriting, music theory, and more in Powell, OH, as well as online. She has been teaching music lessons since 1992, and has been involved in music and performance since 1983. Learn more about Sara Marie here!

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