Christmas Piano Song – Silent Night

“Mind if I sat here?” It is not a common occurence for me to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. When I answered that question little did I know that I would spend the next two hours in the middle of the night, a day before New Years Eve bantering with a backpacking Australian.

He had just come ashore from the Philippines, after crossing the subcontinent of India and was very curious about my culture and religious beliefs. Our conversation ranged in topics about Madonna to world finance and how much he loved Indian capati and Christmas.

To my new friend Steven, you missed Christmas at home in Melbourne this year because you were avoiding tapwater in India, but you have inspired me to learn a Christmas piano song – Silent Night.

Almost everyone who celebrates Christmas should be familiar with this two hundred year old carol. It is a Christmas piano song of jubilation that starts off with a tender harmony of a three-note chord, ABD, repeated three times. Play them together using the index finger, middle finger and pinkie.

As you keep the rhythm unchanged, lift the index finger off from the A while dropping the thumb on G to play the next set of three-note chord of GBD. Another one will follow in the next bar so prepare your index finger to fall on A.

When playing varying chords in succession, the key is to change fingers smoothly. This is true of this Christmas piano song and any other piano piece. To do that, curve your fingers so that the hand resembles a dome.

Another important but unseen element in this manouver is the fourth finger. Noticed that the fourth finger is not playing any of the notes in the chords? But the pinkie is a major player; that means you shall have to isolate the motions of these two fingers to play the chords in perfect harmony.

To accomplish that, the fourth finger has to be lifted up high enough for it to not weaken the striking power of the pinkie or hit any key unintentionally. Having built the strength in the two fingers is crucial here.

Practising scales is helpful in acquiring the strength needed and for something more diverse, Hanon’s exercises are fun to fiddle with and does the job too.

Silent Night was composed amidst the panoramic alpine regions of Austria. The sequence of unbroken quavers coursing towards the highlight of the song reveals its origin. The sweeping melodic line marches steadily like a mountain in the Alps rising towards the sky.

Phrases such these, with the thin long lines penciled above the ledger lines have to be played in legato. Nimble fingers and loosened wrists draw out the desired effects.

By most standards this piece is relatively easy to play, there is not much acrobatic fingering involved, plus the tempo stays mostly even throughout the song. The ending comes with a pleasant surprise in the form of a reverse roll. While thus far I have usually encountered rolls that have to be played from a lower note going higher, this time it is the opposite.

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