From time to time I get questions from students asking more about the general knowledge side of music performance as opposed to the nuts and bolts music-learnin’ side. One such question that I’d like to focus on in this article is particularly near-and-dear to me:
“What tunes should I learn?”
Why is this question so special? Because when creating the Rock Piano Lessons site, we pored through countless rock tunes in a search for the select material that we wanted to bring to our students. In doing so, we established criteria that helped us select the best tunes for rock piano instruction.
- We wanted tunes that are classic and timeless. There have been thousands of great songs written over the years, but we were in search of the ones that have stood the test of time.
- We wanted tunes that are popular among all music fans, regardless of generational or age gaps (as much as possible anyway). Basically, we were looking for tunes in which a consensus of fans could agree, “yeah, that’s a great tune.”
- We want tunes that are regularly requested, covered, or re-imagined. Basically, we wanted to present tunes that are going to get played regularly on gigs and make listeners want to sing along.
- We wanted material that presented a challenge to the student. Yes, we want you to learn to play the tune, but we also want the lesson to be informative and instructive in a way that demonstrates individual musical concepts and helps you develop your musicianship.
So with all of that in mind, we selected the songs which make up some of the content on our Rock Piano Lessons site, and we think adding any, or all, of those tunes to your repertoire is absolutely going to help you grow as a rock keyboardist. But if we had to choose the 5 rock piano tunes to add to your repertoire, in a prioritized order, here are our picks!
#5. Your Smiling Face
James Taylor’s music has stood the test of time and this tune is more challenging than it sounds. The first part of the song is basically built on a descending major scale which outlines a series of diatonic triads, while the second part is much more chromatic and features some rich diminished 7th chords. And moves through three different keys! It’s a challenging rock tune that is a blast to play, whether in a band, accompanying a singer, or just playing along with the original track.
Every rock piano list needs a Beatles entry. Although this is technically a John Lennon solo work, Lennon’s identity as a Beatle is inescapable. It’s a beautiful rock piano ballad that is always well-received.
OK, so this tune by the Allman Brothers is more of a guitar-driven piece, but the piano solo by Chuck Leavell is one of the most-popular rock piano solos ever. So we transcribed the solo and created a lesson that teaches you how to play some of the must-have licks from that classic solo.
#2. New York State of Mind
Billy Joel. Piano Man. He’s an automatic on the list. But “New York State of Mind” struck us as a more challenging and rewarding piano experience for the deeper Billy Joel fan.
#1. Don’t Stop Believing
C’mon. Are you really surprised? Perhaps the greatest rock piano tune of all-time. Play the opening piano riff and people instantly know what’s in store. This hit by Journey was unavoidable at the #1 spot.