Once you’ve learned the basics of piano, it’s time to move on to playing actual songs! But how do you find the sheet music or piano chords for songs you love? Here are some helpful ideas from Austin, TX teacher Tosin A…
Probably the most important thing I do as a professional piano player is learning new songs. This has me spending a lot of time searching for chords. Over the last few years I’ve perfected my chord-finding skills, so I’ll take you through my process of finding piano chords for songs of all genres and types.
Ultimate Guitar Tabs
Hands down, without a doubt, the Ultimate Guitar Tabs app is the most comprehensive chord library I’ve every used. I could write an entire post about how useful it is. The app is 5 bucks and worth every penny. Here’s why:
• Updated Constantly
• Reviewed by Actual Musicians
• Chords are Transposable
• Comprehensive Song lists
My usual process is to go to this site or the app on the phone and type in the song. I’ll usually get a few different versions. I always pick the one with the most stars reviewed by the most people. Then I listen to the songs while looking at the chords to make sure I have the timing down and then get to practicing.
This has honestly worked for me 80% of the time. I’ve actually been able to use this on the fly at a few gigs. If I find myself in a “Hey, can you play this song for me?” situation where I don’t exactly know how the bridge goes, with this site I can look it right up.
What if the song has a very recognizable piano line such as “If I Ain’t Got You” with Alicia Keys? or “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton? Well…
Yep. YouTube. If I come across a song that I need to get exactly right and the chords aren’t helping, and I don’t have time to learn it by ear, I just watch someone else play it.
If the song has a definitive piano line or a VERY complicated chord progression, you can be certain that someone has made a video tutorial on how to play it. This can take some digging. I’m usually very successful with “[Name of song] Piano Tutorial” search form.
I find this especially useful for learning contemporary gospel songs, since the progressions are usually very complicated and not found on ultimate guitar.
If you want to learn the entire soundtrack to “Frozen” it’s probably best to take a trip to a music store and buy the songbook. This may take some more advanced reading skills, since it is in piano score format, but they usually have the piano chords for song alongside the piano notation. I also really like songbooks because you don’t have to guess where the chord is supposed to be played.
So what if all of these options fail?
All Hail King Google, the Finder of Lost Chords! (Sorry I’ve been watching Game of Thrones.) If I’m looking for an obscure song or a very cultural song, I often can find it buried in some obscure music forum through the power of Google. Just type: “[Name of Song][Name of Artist] Chords”.
Skip E-chords, as there’s nothing there that Ultimate Guitar doesn’t already have. Then, skip all the ads to buy the sheet music. When you start seeing chord forums and piano forums, start opening up some tabs and reading threads. Use Control/Command F and search for some chords (Abmin, G7, Bbdim6/9, etc.). This should get you to the right point in the forum.
Remember that with all of these options, make sure you listen to the song while reading through the chords or you could waste your time learning the wrong song – and always be training your ear, because someday you’ll only have your ears to rely on.
I hope that you can use these steps to help you learn more songs and find chords easier!
Tosin A. teaches piano, music theory, music composition, public speaking, and various academic subjects in Austin, TX, as well as through online lessons. He has been playing piano for 14 years, and currently plays for his church and 3 bands (La Vida Buena, Savannah Red and The Blueberries, Jackie Venson), and for Improv Comedy Shows around town. Learn more about Tosin here!
Photo by dno1967b