Songs with Good Piano Accompaniments

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I think it’s fair to say that piano is a versatile instrument and as such it’s possible to translate the accompaniment parts of lots of (the majority of?) songs into a recognisable arrangement for it. But, some types of songs work better than others. For example, piano is particularly good as the backing to ballads if performing as a soloist singer with self-accompaniment.

Often students are put off from trying to use the piano in this way because they have the concern that the parts are too complicated for them to learn and that they would need to be proficient if not fluent at reading traditional music notation to manage it. But, like guitar, piano parts can be extrapolated from little more than a written chord sequence or lead sheet (chord sequence with the vocal melody part written out on the treble clef stave). In other words, if a guitarist can pick up a song by looking at the chords and strumming through them, then a pianist can do much the same.

Here’s a list of songs that a particularly good for pianists who don’t have the time to become really quick and confident reading music that, with a little help from a teacher, can be learned with simpler forms of notation:

Block Chords Only

  • ‘Somewhere Only We Know’ – Keane
    • This high-octane version is big chords in the right hand and pulsating bass notes in the left hand. However, there’s also a version recorded by Lily Allen that is much gentler and accompanied by twinkling broken chords.
  • ‘Rainbow’ – Kacey Musgraves
    • Some chords have additional notes (not just major or minor).
  • ‘All of Me’ – John Legend
    • Starts with block chords providing rhythmic foundation to the vocal. You can perform the whole song in this vain, but the original recording goes into more complex broken chords and melodic elements in the chorus.
  • ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ – INXS
  • ‘Empire State of Mind (Part II)’ – Alicia Keys
    • Block chords provide the main accompaniment with a little descending riff at the end of each line. Warning, though: the rhythm is challenging, especially if you try to sing at the same time!
  • ‘A Thousand Years’ – Christina Perri
  • ‘Against All Odds’ – Phil Collins
    • There’s a melodic element in the intro, but otherwise this is block chord accompaniment.
  • ‘The Scientist’ – Coldplay
  • ‘Bad Day’ – Daniel Powter
    • Some rhythmic challenge here.
  • ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ – Percy Sledge
    • This can be played with a simple, repeating chord sequence (similar to the Pachelbel’s Canon one).
  • ‘Stay’ – Rhianna
    • Easy to play exactly what’s on the recording.
  • ‘Movin’ Out’ – Billy Joel
    • Quick block chords in the RH, while most of the action is in the bassline in the LH.
  • ‘I’m Not in Love’ – 10CC
    • You can hear the piano part in the original recording, although it’s well disguised by all the electronically processed voices.
  • ‘Lady in Red’ – Chris de Burgh
  • ‘Skinny Love’ – Birdy
  • ‘If I Thought You’d Ever Change Your Mind’ – Agnetha Faltskog
  • ‘Haven’t Met You Yet’ – Michael Buble
    • The bassline is syncopated.
  • ‘Love Song’ – Sara Bareilles
    • Really similar to the Buble song above.
  • ‘This Ain’t a Love Song’ – Scouting For Girls
  • ‘I Need a Dollar’ – Aloe Blacc
  • ‘New Years Day’ – Taylor Swift
  • ‘Shine’ – Take That
    • Pulsating bass and chords.
  • ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ – Simply Red
    • Hook line is derived from the top notes of the chords in the piano.

Broken / Rhythmic Split Chords Only

  • ‘Someone Like You’ – Adele
    • Main challenge here is the fluidity of the chords – they need to run smoothly with plenty of sustain pedal.
  • ‘Let It Be’ – The Beatles
    • The iconic bassline can be included at the end of each verse / chorus.
  • ‘Hey Jude’ – The Beatles
    • The main accompaniment part is really simple. There are a few hooks that can be added too.
  • ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ – Oasis
  • ‘When I Was Your Man’ – Bruno Mars
  • ‘I’ll Be There’ – Jackson 5
  • ‘Back for Good’ – Take That
    • The original recording is chords on guitar and other instruments, but translates well to piano.
  • ‘Patience’ – Take That
    • Can be broken or split chords (as in the guitar part on the record).
  • ‘Someone You Loved’ – Lewis Capaldi
    • A simple repeating pattern that can be taken straight from the original recording.
  • ‘The End of the World’ – Skeeter Davis / Brenda Lee
    • Right hand arpeggio pattern throughout.
  • ‘Hallelujah’ – Alexandra Burke version
    • Another RH arpeggio pattern, with little runs in the bass.
  • ‘What a Wonderful World’ – Louis Armstrong
    • Repeating broken chord pattern.
  • ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ – Elvis Presley
  • ‘Everybody Hurts’ – REM
    • Arpeggios in the right hand.
  • ‘Eternal Flame’ – The Bangles
  • ‘She’s Always a Woman’ – Billy Joel
    • Starts with block chords, then runs into fast broken chords. Can be arranged in a more or less complicated way, depending on the student’s strengths.
  • ‘Secrets’ – OneRepublic
    • Broken chords are on strings on the original recording.
  • ‘O’ – Coldplay
  • ‘The Last Waltz’ – Engelbert Humperdinck
    • Um-pa-pa split chords in 3/4 time.
  • ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ – Tom Jones
    • A really fast waltz!

Riffs / Repeating Patterns

  • ‘Clocks’ – Coldplay
  • ‘I’m Not the Only One’ – Sam Smith
    • This repeating piano riff includes grace notes / crush notes.
  • ‘Mad World’ – Gary Jules
    • This version of the song is mainly split chords with an iconic riff between the vocal sections (also made up of the chords beneath).
  • ‘Nightswimming’ – REM
  • ‘Right Here Waiting’ – Richard Marx
  • ‘7 Days’ – Lukas Graham
    • A series of riffs that can each be included or not, depending on how complex you would like the part to become.
  • ‘Chasing Cars’ – Snow Patrol
    • The repeating guitar riff and bass guitar foundation can be easily reproduced on piano.
  • ‘Drops of Jupiter’ – Train
    • Piano part repeats a lot, but would be tricky to play and sing at the same time.
  • ‘Boston’ – Augustana
    • A rare example of ‘dotted’ rhythm in the split chords through the intro and verse sections.
  • ‘She Will Be Loved’ – Maroon 5
    • Bass and electric guitar parts can be translated to piano.
  • ‘Walking in Memphis’ – Marc Cohen
    • The patterns are made up of broken chord / arpeggio figures.
  • ‘Memories’ – Maroon 5
    • This one translates more directly to piano because the repeating pattern on the original recording is on organ / keyboard.
  • ‘Moondance’ – Van Morrison
    • There are lots of complex layers that can be included, but at it’s core there’s a couple of repeating riffs on piano.
  • ‘When You Say Nothing At All’ – Ronan Keating
    • Main guitar riff can be reproduced on piano, followed by block chords for the chorus.
  • ‘Love Yourself’ – Justin Bieber
    • This is another one where the simple guitar patterns can be translated well to piano.
  • ‘Starry Eyed’ – Ellie Goulding
  • ‘Watching the Wheels’ – John Lennon
    • This song’s opening riff holds that whole piece together.
  • ‘My Girl’ – The Temptations
    • Two guitars make up the main riff hook, and these can be easily reproduced with the two hands on piano.

A Combination of the Above

  • ‘Imagine’ – John Lennon
    • Chords and bassline, with a piano riff in the chorus.
  • ‘Sea Fog’ – Keane
    • Mostly block / broken chords, with some melodic fragments.
  • ‘This Year’s Love’ – David Gray
    • Simple piano riff made up of block chords.
  • ‘Angel’ – Sarah McLachlan
  • ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ – Carole King
    • A few riff patterns made up of block chords, and melodic fragments. Mostly repetitive.
  • ‘Goodbye My Lover’ – James Blunt
    • Block chords with melodic fragments added above (not entirely necessary).
  • ‘Nothing Else Matters’ – Metallica
    • This iconic guitar part can be performed on piano.
  • ‘Like I’m Gonna Lose You’ – Meghan Trainor & John Legend
    • Gospel style piano, with important stepping notes in the bassline.
  • ‘Piano Man’ – Billy Joel
    • This is much easier to play than it might sound.
  • ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ – Neil Diamond & Barbra Streisand
  • ‘Two Birds’ – Regina Spektor
  • ‘These Days’ – Rudimental feat. Jess Glynne
    • The melody and chord combo in the introduction is immediately recognisable, and is repeated in some form throughout the song.
  • ‘Mamma Mia’ – ABBA
    • Each part of the song is manageable for intermediate players, but tricky to put it all together.

More Complex Piano Parts (for more advance players)

  • ‘Yellow Brick Road’ – Elton John
    • To be honest, most of Elton John’s output can be simplified for less proficient pianists, but they often include complex piano ‘fills’ etc that bring another level of challenge and interest to the songs. Another good example of this is ‘I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues’.
  • ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ – Simon & Garfunkel
  • ‘Another Love’ – Tom Odell
    • Rhythmically challenging and mix of broken and block chords, with some riff elements.
  • ‘A Thousand Miles’ – Vanessa Carleton
    • Each individual part is manageable, but there are a lot of different techniques running into one another.
  • ‘Glory of Love’ – Peter Cetera
  • ‘100 Years’ – Five for Fighting
  • ‘In the End’ – Linkin Park
    • A transcription of this song appears on the Rockschool RSL Grade 6 Piano syllabus.
  • ‘Greatest Love of All’ – Whitney Houston
  • ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’ – Paul Simon
  • ‘Easy’ – The Commodores
  • ‘Jealous Guy’ – John Lennon
  • ‘You Are Not Alone’ – Michael Jackson
    • The piano part mostly follows the vocal melody filled out with chords.
  • ‘I Would Do Anything For Love’ – Meatloaf
    • Many of the Meatloaf songs are piano-led, but they are quite varied in their textures, chords and melodic fragments.
  • ‘Desperado’ – The Eagles
    • The intro is a quite complicated blues-style melody / chords combo. But, thereafter it’s a series of block chords.
  • ‘Sunshine of my Life’ – Stevie Wonder
  • ‘Winner Takes It All’ – ABBA
    • A deceptively tricky piano part due to the timing and the awkward key.