When you’re learning how to play the piano, which songs are the go-to, must-learn pieces to add to your repertoire? Here, take a look at ten of the most popular piano pieces to play, as compiled by Brooklyn teacher Jennifer K…
Most people begin to play the piano because of a song they have heard, that they want to play. Piano is the most popular instrument to study because it has the largest range and is one of the most accessible instruments. Many simply love the sound and movement of this beautiful instrument. So many of these beloved piano pieces are in our consciousness because they are also included in our popular culture, such as in cartoons, commercials, and our favorite movies.
Here is a list I have compiled of the top ten piano pieces worth adding to your repertoire:
10 – Moonlight Sonata – The opening theme of this piano sonata is a lovely, sad melody that is dramatic and emotional. Moonlight Sonata was actually written without a title. Beethoven’s publisher attached this programmatic title for marketing purposes! Talk about great advertising!
9 – Old MacDonald – From American folk music, this is a great piece to learn when you are just starting out because it is instantly recognizable. It’s great for sing-alongs as well.
8 – Clair de Lune – Ah, the French. Romance, rich food, and beautiful music. They are so good at it! Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” is one of the most popular piano pieces to play, evoking themes of peaceful reflection and natural settings. It will take some focused practice to get these chords right, but pianists are rewarded for their labor when they perform this piece. It is a joy to play and a pleasure to listen to. Take this song anywhere and you will have a captive audience.
7 – Row, Row, Row Your Boat – This piece is awesome to play because most arrangements have the hands cross while playing, so the beginning pianist can look like a pro! Also, this can be played with a partner in a round or “canon.”
6 – Prelude 1 in C Major – J. S. Bach was the master. I like to think of Bach as the power breakfast of a training musician. He is chock-full of musical nutrients. The preludes and fugues are a must for any pianist wanting to learn proper technique and knowledge of all keys. This prelude introduces a repetitive figure with a beautiful resultant melody. I love the way the notes only change one or two at a time. Playing Bach in the morning is like going for a morning jog to get the metabolism going!
5 – Yankee Doodle – A great American folksong, “Yankee Doodle” is a fabulous beginner piece because it incorporates a more complex melody, but is still easy to learn because we already know the tune. This is one of the first pieces you can learn with two hands, and the folk rhythm also serves as a great timing exercise.
4 – Fur Elise – This is an instantly recognizable Beethoven composition that is beautiful and has your hands flowing all over the piano. This piece will take a little time for beginners to learn, but it is worth the practice! Little known fact: “Fur Elise” is the piece that inspired Alicia Keys’ piano intro to her first hit single, “Fallin’”.
3 – Minuet in G – Now we’re into some truly great classical music. This Bach minuet introduces an open hand position and opportunities to practice both legato (smoothly connected) and staccato (detached) notes. This piece is also a great way to experiment with a different dynamics on the piano.
2 – Ode to Joy – Beethoven’s third appearance on this list. Beethoven and Mozart are so popular here because they built upon simple melodies. They wrote the kind of music that gets stuck in our heads!
1 – Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star – Everyone knows and loves pieces like this, because they are part of our common culture, and will link a sense a familiarity to a new instrument. It is also great tool for teachers as it provides students an instant bond to their instrument.
Mozart wrote variations on this theme, which is from a French lullaby. Beginner students can play this song after just a few lessons at the piano.
Little known fact: Did you know that “Twinkle, Twinkle” is the same as the “ABC” song? Don’t believe me? Have a friend sing “Twinkle, Twinkle” while you sing the alphabet song. Yes, this is a tune from hundreds of years ago, embedded into our brains from infanthood. So every toddler who can sing his or her ABCs is sort of a Little Mozart!
Jennifer K. teaches piano, guitar, songwriting, and tutors in various subjects in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Masters in Music from Purchase College. Learn more about Jennifer here!
Photo by Mourner