Whether you’re just beginning piano lessons or you have been playing for a while now, it’s important to have a list of a few good songs to learn. That way, you can set goals for yourself and build up an impressive repertoire.
Here are seven good songs to learn on piano, from classical to jazz to ragtime. They are listed in order from least to most difficult.
“Für Elise” by Ludwig Van Beethoven
While this solo piano piece is actually titled “Bagatelle No. 25” in A minor, it’s more commonly known as “Für Elise”, meaning “For Elise” in German. It’s uncertain who “Elise” actually was; in fact, it’s thought that the song may have originally been called “Für Therese,” a reference to Beethoven’s friend and student. Beethoven was going deaf when he wrote this piece in 1810, however it was not published until 1867, more than 50 years after his death.
This is one of Beethoven’s most popular compositions. The popular Peanuts character Schroeder even plays a portion of it on his piano in the TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas, which originally aired in 1965. It’s also common to hear the first notes being plunked out by young musicians testing the sound of an unfamiliar piano. Because “Für Elise” is relatively easy to learn, it’s often one of the first classical pieces piano players learn.
“The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin
If you like lively piano music, add “The Entertainer” to your list of good songs to learn on piano. This classic ragtime piano piece was written in 1902 by the King of Ragtime himself, Scott Joplin. It’s considered Joplin’s best, most euphonious composition, with catchy phrases and an upbeat tune that sends your toe tapping uncontrollably.
You might know “The Entertainer” from its use in the 1973 film The Sting. The slightly-adapted and orchestrated version of the song reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 music charts in 1974. Today, it’s a popular tune for ice cream trucks to use. Set primarily in the key of C major, “The Entertainer” is a relatively easy ragtime piece to learn.
“Pachelbel’s Canon” by Johann Pachelbel
Also known simply as “Canon in D”, this song was originally written for three violins and basso continuo (any instrument that can play in the bass register, such as a cello, double bass, or bassoon). Like many other works of pre-1700 composers, the composition was largely forgotten until it was rediscovered and published in 1919. Today, it’s commonly played on the piano as a wedding processional or at Christmas time.
Many popular music artists have been inspired by the chord progressions in this piece and have written songs that sound quite similar when you break them down. Examples include “Graduation” by Vitamin C, “Basket Case” by Green Day, and “Welcome to the Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance.
“Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Johann Sebastian Bach
This beautiful Baroque piece is often played at Christmas or as a wedding processional. It’s actually the tenth movement of Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, German for “Heart and Mind and Deed and Life” (often simply referred to as Cantata No. 147). The music was composed by Bach between 1716 and 1723. The poet Robert Bridges wrote words to go with “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” that are most commonly used when the song is sung in English.
Numerous artists have covered “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”, both with and without words. Just a few examples include Jim Brickman, Sarah Brightman, Amy Grant, and Josh Groban. The difficulty level of this piece depends on the version you select. The original version is moderately difficult, but simplified versions allow less experienced piano players to play it as well. This flexibility is one reason it belongs on your list of good songs to learn on piano.
“Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi
This popular jazz piano tune by Guaraldi appears in several Peanuts animated TV specials. The name stems from two fictional Peanuts characters, siblings Linus and Lucy van Pelt. The song was originally released in 1964 and was introduced to television audiences in 1965 when A Charlie Brown Christmas aired for the first time. Because of that, it’s often considered a Christmas song, as well as the theme song of the Peanuts franchise.
The original key of A-flat major makes this piece a little tricky to play, especially at tempo, but simplified versions in other keys let you tackle Linus and Lucy sooner in your piano-playing career.
“Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy
Many people don’t realize that “Clair de Lune” is not a standalone piece, though it’s often played as though it were. Debussy actually wrote an entire piece called Suite bergamasque, and “Clair de Lune” is the third and most famous movement of that suite. The title means “light of the moon” (or simply “moonlight”) in French and was inspired by a poem of the same name by Paul Verlaine.
Debussy began composing the suite in 1890, but he revised it significantly before publishing it in 1905. Since then it has been used numerous times in popular movies such as Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Thirteen, and Twilight. It’s considered a difficult piece, though certainly doable for someone with a few years of piano playing under their belt.
“Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin
Gershwin outdid himself with this astonishingly complex piece written in 1924. You might know it from Disney’s animated film Fantasia 2000. The song in its entirety is over 16 minutes long, though abridged versions are available if you find the full-length piece intimidating.
The unique song is influenced by classical music as well as jazz and other contemporary styles, written for solo piano and jazz band, resulting in a symphonic jazz sound. Gershwin’s goal was to correct the misconception that jazz music had to be played strictly in time, made clear by the song’s wide range of tempos, including extreme uses of rubato in several places within the piece. Once you consider yourself an accomplished pianist, it’s time to try your hand at Rhapsody in Blue.
If you’re ready to impress friends and family with your ability to play these well-known songs, now is the time to start practicing. The more you dedicate yourself to practicing, the faster you can master these good songs to learn on piano. What are you waiting for? Get started today!
Photo by jikatu