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Arranging Piano (For Beginners)

Playing the piano is a fun and easy-to-do skill, especially since anywhere you go has a pretty high chance of having a piano. But there aren’t usually arrangements of contemporary songs on piano. A quick Google search can turn up mixed results depending how new or how popular the song was, and even that doesn’t guarantee the arrangement will be right for your skill level.

Well, worry not! In this article I’ll show you some of the ways I arrange pop songs for myself to play and guide you through trying it out yourself.

Photo credit: https://data.whicdn.com/images/219682468/original.jpg

The first thing to do is always to find a song that you like. Since we’re working on piano, it’s easiest to pick a song with a clear melody or lyrics. Dubstep or electronic songs that rely on a heavy beat or certain non-musical sections or rap songs that may just have a repeating melody that doesn’t follow the words are tougher to make translate.

Once you have your song, it helps to listen through it a lot… and I mean a LOT. When I’m arranging a piece, I’ll usually listen to it ten times straight through in a row then and there, just to get a feel for exactly how it sounds and flows. Getting to know your song will make it easier to get a more accurate arrangement that others will recognize.

To actually begin arranging, start figuring out the melody for the right hand. This will help you know the key of the piece and the general notes that you’ll be basing your harmonies off of. This is just following the melody of the lyrics or singer. At this point it helps to write down your melody. This can be on an online sheet music writer, like flat.io or noteflight.com, or in your notes app like I do.

If you transpose the music on your phone or in your notes section, it’s pretty simple. When I do this, I copy and paste the lyrics of the song into a new notes file and put the melody lyrics above them where it matches up. The next step is to listen to the song again and figure out what the underlying chords are. These are the bassline, usually played by the left hand on the piano. I note them in the lyrics in front of the word they correspond with. In the end, my notations on my phone look like this.

Of course, if you use an online arrangement website, it’s easier. You just put your melody in the right hand and your bass in the left on the staff with actual notes. It’s not only easier to do but can also save time learning the music if you know how to read what you’ve written. Otherwise, knowing the letters assigned to each key and working off of memory and sound works well, too!

With the melody and bass organized, it’s time to figure out the harmony chords for the right hand. This is mostly trial and error and figuring out what sounds best. Play one chord and note combination and figure out a second note you can add in to make the right hand into a two-note chord. This adds depth to the music and makes it sound less amateur and more like a real arrangement. This part takes the longest and can be the most frustrating, because it takes a lot longer to learn the chords, but it’s worth it!

And the last step is practice, practice, practice. It stinks, but even after you arrange the whole piece, you’ll still need to practice it to make it really shine and stand out. It can take weeks to make it sound perfect, or even months, but it’s satisfying to finally learn it entirely and be able to say you arranged it yourself.


Have you tried arranging a piano piece yourself? What song? How did it go? Let me know down in the comments!

Sarah is a freshman studying Theatrical Design and Production at Carnegie Mellon University. One day she hopes to design costumes for Star Wars and Marvel films or television programs, but for now you can find her in her free time hanging out in her dorm drawing or watching TV, trying out a new mug cake recipe, or reading her latest National Geographic issue. You can follow her on Instagram at @theocqueen to see all her latest doodles and sketches.
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