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Easiest songs to learn to play on piano

By Scott Houston
Learning to play the piano with a chord-based method is great for adult beginners or people who are revisiting the hobby after a while because it allows new piano players to simply focus on playing from chord changes rather than reading notation verbatim. The way I teach, players use their left hand to first learn the chord progressions of a song, then once they are familiar with the tune, we start to add harmony by adding the notes of the melody line.

Most popular music uses astonishingly simple and similar chord progressions, so if you’re a person who wants to play modern songs for fun, this method is perfect because you can learn to play based on songs you actually like right from the beginning.  

Popular music with easy chord changes

Any song that repeats the same chord progression over and over again is a good candidate for practicing switching between those chords quickly. C Major is the most popular key of all—and some of the most popular and easy songs use the same chords of C, G, Am, and F in similar ways. Here are some of my favorite songs using those chord progressions below:

  • “Time After Time” – Cyndi Lauper (C, G, Am, F)
  • “Let It Go” – Idina Menzel (C, G, Am, F)
  • “Take Me Home Country Roads” – John Denver (C, G, Am, F)
  • “No One” – Alicia Keys (C, G, Am, F)
  • “Unchained Melody” – The Righteous Brothers (C, Am, F, G)
  • “Let It Be” – The Beatles (C, Am, F, G)
  • “Stand By Me” – Ben E. King (C, Am, F, G)
  • “Hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen (C, Am, F, G)

You can explore more popular chord progressions and the songs that use them in this free database:

Easy 3 chord songs

Even simpler, the chord-progression of C-F-G is an extremely popular rock structure that provides the foundation for these tunes and so much more:
  • “Folsom Prison Blues” – Johnny Cash
  • “Born In the USA” – Bruce Springsteen
  • “Hound Dog” – Elvis Presley
  • “Bad Moon Rising” – Credence Clearwater Revival
  • “Dead Flowers” – The Rolling Stones
  • “Red Red Wine” – UB40
Please note that some of these songs may contain additional chords in more complete or advanced versions, but can be transposed using the simplified progressions listed above. 

Getting the feel of the music: practicing chord progressions

 A lot of people learning to play piano may wonder how to decide which direction to go when jumping between different chords, and the answer depends on how comfortable you are on the keys. If you’re just getting started on easier songs like the ones listed above, or even easier ones that only use three chords like the ones below, start by doing whatever is easiest for you to play. Make your movements as smooth and easy for your own sake. 

As you make progress in your playing and start learning songs with more complicated chords, you can challenge yourself by deciding the direction of your chord changes based on what sounds better rather than what is the easier move. My advice is to stay near one another when jumping from chord to chord and that will probably be a good guide. Past that—use your ears. What you think sounds the best is probably correct. 

Avoiding thumb crash

Sometimes, the notes of the chords and melody of a song are so close on the keyboard that it might cause your thumbs to crash—that’s ok! When the melody note gets in the way of a chord being played, the trick is to play the entire melody line one octave higher than it is written. 

Simply start the melody line on the same note one octave higher than the note actually written and just keep playing the melody line in that higher octave—it might even make it sound better! For the same reason that sopranos usually get the melody in a choir, when you play a melody a little bit higher on a piano, it sounds a little clearer. Give it a try!

If you don’t want to worry about moving the melody line up one octave, you can always play the chord minus the melody note and then just play the melody note whenever it should happen in time.

 Another way to avoid the crash is to use inversions. Inversions allow you to re-stack the chords using the same notes to get your hands in a more comfortable position. More experienced musicians sometimes use them to soften the sound by playing the chord with something other than the root note at the bottom. As a beginner, you probably don’t need to worry too much about this, but stay tuned for my blog next week if you’re interested in learning more about the techniques.

What's next

Want to see for yourself how easy it is to start playing the piano with my chord-based method for adults? Take a free online piano intro course with me and learn to play the tune of “Joy to the World” in just 45 minutes!