Can you think of any moments when, as a young piano student, you were
put on the spot or caught off guard being asked to play something for people and feeling the heat rise to your face because you weren’t able to do so “because you didn’t have any “music”?
I myself have had many experiences in this situation – sadly, even into my early adult years. Often, the request was a simple one – “Happy Birthday” – and yet to me, it was crippling and made me feel ashamed.
These people know me as THE pianist in their life. That’s what I’m known for! Why can’t I just sit down and play this simple tune without music?
Without a doubt, life experiences make up who we are today.
As a teacher, I’m now determined to help my students feel
ENABLED and CONFIDENT that, as pianists, they can sit down and play something anywhere and at any time – starting with the tune “Happy Birthday.”
Today I am excited to release the ultimate teaching resource for playing “Happy Birthday” by ear and am confident this is the only download you will ever need!
Avoiding a “Crutch”
Over the years I’ve come across a small handful of resources online for teaching happy birthday, but most of the time it’s a lead-sheet and almost always in the key of C.
While playing from lead-sheets is a skill I highly value and teach often in my studio, it wasn’t how I wanted to approach teaching a tune I wanted my students to always be prepared to play such as “Happy Birthday”.
If students are taught that the only way they can learn to play the piece is with music notation in front of them, then they will always feel that notation “crutch” – even if they memorize the tune after learning it with notation.
I really wanted to approach it from the sound side in order to give them the confidence they really CAN play it without music – and thus anywhere at any time.
Here’s a little preview of the first page (more previews below):
A Brief Word on Playing By Ear
Often, we are told often when playing by ear that you “pick out the melody” then memorize it.
Hmmm… I get where you’re coming from, but is that really a reliable and long-lasting process? I don’t know about you, but my memory is terrible. Even if I were to pick out a tune and memorize it, I’m not going to remember it a year later if asked to play it at the drop of a hat.
As someone who was taught very traditionally and completely by music notation, it never worked for me. Playing by ear always felt like “walking in the dark.” My ear had never been properly taught how to truly hear music with understanding (audition).
It wasn’t until I discovered Music Learning Theory in my adult professional life that I finally felt enabled to learn (and teach) how to truly “hear” music and understand what I was hearing.
Goals for this Resource
Besides making sure this was a resource that helped teachers approach teaching this piece by ear, I had a few other goals in mind:
First, while I have learned much from MLT, and am influenced by the philosophy, it was important to me that this resource be flexible enough that any teacher could use it.
Second, I wanted a tangible guide that served as a visual for teacher and student to walk through the process as well as a place for students to keep track of their creative variations on the tune.
Third, I wanted the visual layout to feel helpful and not overwhelming and for teachers to be able to customize the resource for the level of the student. So, if your student is only learning the melody, all they need is page one – not the whole document!
Fourth, while the desired approach is “by-ear”, I had some really good verbal memory tips that my students and myself found useful in remembering how to play the melody. Yes, I admit, these are a bit of a “cheat” on what’s said to be a “by-ear” approach, but they have proven to be so helpful, I wanted to include them as well.
What You Get
This 11-page download includes:
- 3 student pages: Melody (previewed above), Harmony, and Get Creative
- A create variations tracker: A check-list for students to keep track of different creative combinations they’ve used (such as waltz bass, what keys they’ve transposed to, creating an introduction/ending, etc.)
- 3 teacher pages: Suggested teaching tips for approaching each area including a “bonus” page with some extra MLT-inspired activities if you would like to take the audiation-based instruction a little further.
- 2 notated pages: One with the melody only and one that includes chord root harmony. These are included as a reference for your convenience, but I would strongly encourage teachers to consider not giving students the notation.
The pages of this resource are laid out so you can print as few or as many pages as you want to give to students. Are they just learning the melody? All they need is page one! Don’t overwhelm them with extra pages.
The beautiful thing about having a life-long piece like this is that students don’t have to learn it in the same order each year.
Perhaps in their first year, they learn to play the melody, the next year add single note bass harmony, the third year root positions chords, and the fourth year they get creative with variations on accompaniment patterns. Students at any skill level can learn to play this piece with confidence!
How to Purchase (and a Discount!)
In celebration of Piano Pantry’s 5-year birthday this month, you can get 15% off your entire order in the Piano Pantry shop including this new Happy Birthday-By Ear resource through March 31, 2021.
Use the code BIRTHDAY15
Did you enjoy this post?
Consider subscribing to the Piano Pantry email list. You’ll get my once-a-month “Secret Letter” which includes what’s been going on in my studio that month, new posts on the blog, books I’m reading, favorite Instagram posts, and other fun things like that.