5 Iconic (And Easy) Rock Classics for Piano

Feb 5, 2020

Over the last few weeks we’ve been exploring some of the most iconic guitar riffs of all time, and for some of our readers, it may seem like the guitar is the quintessential rock instrument. And while the guitar is certainly an important and integral part of what makes rock music, well, rock, it’s far from the only important instrument in the band.

They say all rock and pop songs are built on four chords (check out The Axis of Awesome if you don’t believe it!) And luckily for the young pianist (or older beginner pianist!) the simplicity of the rock genre makes learning piano rock songs remarkably easy. With a little bit of active listening, a little practice, and a little trial and error, anyone can learn their favourite rock tunes!

So, let’s dive into 5 of the most iconic (and simplest) rock classic for piano!

Come Sail Away – Styx

A true prog-rock classic that also happens to provide some great piano training exercises! Dennis DeYoung added some interesting chord ideas as well, with the major 7th, sustained 4th and sustained 2nd chords really coming across strongly in the recordings. This is a great bonus for pianists trying to imitate the sound by ear.

The song really hits its “prog-rock” roots with the piano is abandoned about halfway through (hello heavy drums and electric guitars!). Since this post is about the great piano parts, we have to say that the first half is the best part of the song – but what an ending!

One of the most interesting things about “Come Sail Away” is the way Styx juxtaposes two main concepts: the ballad-like opening, complete with piano and keyboard interjections, followed by the thick guitar texture and heavy drumming. The album version even features a full minute-long synthesizer tangent in the latter half of the song.

Let it Be – The Beatles

Originally released in March of 1970, first as a single, then as the title track to what would be The Beatles’ final album, “Let it Be” rose to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Many people think the “Mother Mary” referred to in the lyrics is the Biblical Virgin Mary, by Paul McCartney, who wrote the song, has clarified that “Mary” is his own mother, who passed away from cancer when Paul was still young. The title and refrain “let it be” are inspired by the actual advice his mother used to give him, rather than from the Biblical figure.

Great songs don’t have to be complicated, and “Let it Be” proves that flawlessly. The left hand has minimal work to do, but it won’t leave you will a hollow-sounding performance. Better yet, the chord structure sticks to the typical I, V, IV, vi pattern for most of the song, so your right hand won’t have to do much either.

Werewolves of London – Warren Zevon

Even if you’ve never heard “Werewolves of London,” it may sound remarkably familiar to you – the introduction is eerily similar to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” There are, however, some differences in harmony and instrumentation, but the overall feeling is still very similar. When you consider that “Sweet Home Alabama” came out only 4 years before this tune was released, it’s hard to imagine that Warren Zevon didn’t have it mind when writing this – they both make great, easy piano rock songs!

Despite the criticisms of unoriginality, the lyrics of “Werewolves of London” are funny enough to make anyone a fan! In fact, the song is so catchy, it reached number 21 on the American Top 40 charts, where it stayed for 6 weeks. Retaining all the catchiness of “Sweet Home Alabama,” with a slightly easier left hand, we think you’ll enjoy adding this to your repertoire!

Desperado – The Eagles

Often considered to be the first major collaboration between Glenn Frey and Don Henley, “Desperado” made it onto Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. Though it was the title track for The Eagles’ 1973 album, Henley says the raw material for the song had been written as far back as 1968. But it was the partnership between him and Frey that brought the iconic song and famous lyrics into the form it is today. As a matter of fact, the form is so well-written that some AP theory courses use “Desperado” in their teaching material – despite the unfortunate fact that it never charted on Billboard until after Glenn Frey’s death.

This song tends to live and die by the vocal lines. That means if you sort of “clunk” out the melody in a mechanical way, your audience will notice. Listen to Don Henley’s vocals and try to get a feel for his inflections and emphasis. Try to take that emotion to the keyboard. Imagine you’re a singer (if you’re not already singing along) and write in breath marks where you would need to breathe. This song is particularly great for learning how to shape phrases and avoid cold, mechanical playing.

Hey Jude – The Beatles

Sometimes the most iconic music comes from the greatest sorrow, and our last song for piano is a prime example of this. Although Paul McCartney wasn’t going through any relationship turmoil at the time, it was difficult for him to watch his friends John and Cynthia Lennon go through a divorce. But even more difficult than that was the fact that the Lennons had a son, Julian, whom Paul was close to.

While on his way to visit the family, McCarthey started writing a song he called “Hey Jules” to help console and comfort Julian Lennon. And “Hey Jude” was born. Clocking in at 7 minutes, it went on to become the longest song at that point to reach the top of the British Charts, and it stayed at #1 in the US for an impressive 9 weeks. It went on to sell over 8 million copies, won a ton of awards, and is still hugely popular today!

It has a somewhat unusual form – essentially a binary song with an added four minute long coda – but it still makes for a great addition to your personal library. McCartney left the chord structure simple for both artistic purposes and so he could be free to improvise parts of the vocal line over the bass harmonies. For most arrangements of “Hey Jude,” the left-hand part simply plays triads in a repeated quarter note rhythm, so technique and speed shouldn’t be an issue.

Did we miss your favourite piano part for a rock song? Let us know in the comments!