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✈️ How to Play “Great Balls of Fire” Like a Top Gunner

Kevin Castro, Lisa Witt  /  Song Tutorials / Jul 29

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Learn how to play “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis and rock out like Miles Teller in Top Gun: Maverick! This is a super fun song that brings together a plethora of useful rock’n’roll skills, so use it to impress your buddies!

Parts to the Song

There are three main parts to this song and they all have some exciting features:

  1. A section – octaves, slides, rock shuffle, glissandos
  2. B section – tremolos, syncopation, big chords
  3. Solo – walking bass and even more glissandos!

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“Great Balls of Fire”: A Section

Intro: Octaves

The song opens with a series of ascending and descending octaves. Octaves can be tough for beginners, especially those with small hands. An option around this is to split the octaves between two hands. The sound won’t be as “full,” but the effect is similar.

Main Riff: Slides

The main riff’s iconic sound comes to the subtle E-flat slide in your right hand. Simply slide into a C triad from a Cm one.

Glissando!

Glissandos look super cool. And they’re not super difficult either. But there’s a right and wrong way to gliss…

The right way: keep your thumb light and loose as you slide your thumbnail over the keys. Be careful not to hold your thumb too stiff—it’ll hurt!

To gliss back up, use the nail part of your middle finger and again, stay loose.

Left Hand: Rock Shuffle

The rock shuffle is an iconic part of rock’n’roll music. It’s essentially rocking between fifth chords (aka “power chord”) and sixth chords, like this example shuffling between C5 and C6:

“Great Balls of Fire”: B Section

Tremolos

Tremolos are when you alternate between notes really quickly, creating a trembling effect.

C and E♭ played together doesn’t sound very nice (it’s the notorious tritone). Yet with the tremolo effect, these notes help build excitement and tension.

Syncopated Off-Beats

We end the B section on some powerful G chords…and then play them syncopated. In other words, we play them on the off-beat.

You can think of this as playing on the “and” rather than the number if you’re counting.

Or, just get a very good feel for the downbeat and play in between those beats.

“Great Balls of Fire”: Solo

The piano solo section brings together the skills you’ve learned so far, such as big chords and glissandos. Have fun here!

Walking Bass

The walking bass in this section outlines 6 chords—C6, F6, G6 etc.

However, we’ll split them up into octaves like this. Try to avoid holding any tension in your hand.

Make the Fire Your Own 🔥

That’s it for our tutorial. But this is just a starting point—make “Balls of Fire” your own! Add (or omit) more glissandos, vary the rhythm, experiment with syncopation, or even improvise your own piano solo!

Most importantly, remember to have fun 🙂

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Charmaine Li is a Vancouver writer who has played piano for over 20 years. She holds an Associate diploma (ARCT) from the Royal Conservatory of Music and loves writing about the ways in which music—and music learning—affects the human experience. Charmaine manages The Note.

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