Put your song on piano

You can sing. When you hear a song on the radio or other media, you sing along. Can you put your song on piano? You know the lyrics and the tune but it is when you learn how to play a piano, you begin to understand that there are a number of other elements involved.

The melody

This is the tune that identifies the song. If someone started humming the melody, you could identify the song. Every other feature of the song relates to the melody.

The time signature

If you listen to yourself singing, you should be able to identify a regular group of usually two or three or four beats. Most songs are composed in four beats per bar. Listen to the theme from “The Pink Panther”. As you sing it, you will begin to hear a 1,2 3,4 count for the entire length of the piece. The waltzes are famous for three beats in a bar: 1, 2, 3…..1,2,3……1,2,3….. which provides a guide for the steps in the dance. In a band or orchestra, the time signature is what keeps all the instruments playing together accurately.

The tempo

This is speed of the song. How fast or slow and this is usually guided by personal preference or by Italian instructions suggested on the music sheet.

The key signature

All the notes on the piano fall into patterns. The high female voice, the soprano, will sing a song high up on the piano, the alto, lower down, the tenor would likely be a male voice and would sing in the region below middle C, and the lower male voices, baritone or bass, below the tenor. Your choice of key is a personal one. You choose a key that would make the delivery of your song most comfortable to you. Sometimes, though, the song doesn’t project as well in the key that you chose, and you might have to go a little outside your comfort zone. Choice of key is a balance between your comfort and the best sound coming from you. It is a good practice to try a song in different keys before making a final decision.

The harmony

The harmony is provided by notes played at the same instant as the melody which give a context to the melody. Harmony is a complex issue but we can see it simply as related to the key in which the song is being played, and the chord chosen to be played in that instant.

Sing and play

How do you put all this to work when playing for yourself on piano?

The best way to learn is to start with a song you already know and learn the chords, identify the tempo and try to sing as you play, first by playing at the start of each bar (regular division) and as you progress, add ‘fill-ins’ to make the song more interesting and later create new arrangements.

How do you what notes to play?

As indicated above, every song has its own melody. You can learn the melody playing by ear, or you can be guided by a published music sheet or a piano/keyboard tutor.

There is so much to learn about the piano and musicians will tell you that they never stop learning. The key is to stick to the discipline of regular practice and make it a way of life. You will be happy in the short and long term.

Remember, if you have a song in your head, you can learn to play it on the piano. Are you willing to learn how?

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  1. Kent

    Greetings! I really enjoyed reading your post. I reminded me of how much I miss playing piano. Growing up, I took formal lessons for 5 years and became pretty decent at playing classical music. However, despite the formal training, something that I could never do was “play by ear”. This skill is truly amazing and there were so many times where I would hear a movie soundtrack and wish I had the sheet music for it. Do you know if there are ways to learn the skill of “playing by ear”?

    1. Joy (Post author)

      Hi Kent. Your story is identical to mine. I started out playing classical and did it well. After a while I became dissatisfied because I couldn’t play the songs I loved. When you play from a music sheet, you are playing from information that you see out there, whereas, playing by ear you play from what you ‘hear’ inside. The best way to add ‘playing by ear’ to your skills is to learn the chords and their names, like C minor 9 etc. You can motivate yourself by purchasing sheet music of one of your favourites and get familiar with the chords. Also I found it useful to listen to recordings and try to play along with them. You will enjoy it and soon you will be able to come up with your own chords. This is the aim of mypianohobby.com, when complete. Thank you for your comments. Glad I have your contact information.

  2. TJSchlenker

    The piano is such an amazing instrument. I could play it for hours… and have!

    I wish I knew as a twenty-something all the music theory I now understand today. I think my writing would’ve been more adventurous! lol

    I usually teach my music students to start in one key, like C, since it’s easy, and write songs in that key to start until they really understand the diatonic scale and accompanying chords. Then add keys, one at a time, so it’s not so confusing.

    I think I’ll go play some Billy Joel now…. 😉

    1. Joy (Post author)

      I know exactly what you mean TJ. The good thing is you are never too old to learn. I started classical then did jazz 20 years after, and followed up with other genres. Theory really opens doors. Maybe you can do what I did. I went back into my compositions two years ago and did some new arrangements that took them to the next level. Go play and enjoy your Billy Joel, and then get busy with some new arrangements !!! 


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