Music Box Dancer Tutorial

Lisa Witt  /  Song Tutorials / Apr 2

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Music Box Dancer is one of those classic songs you know as soon as you hear it. It’s an instrumental earworm that you’ll be humming for days, and we’ve got a short and sweet arrangement to teach you, step-by-step.

This is a more intermediate song to learn, but if you take your time and practice with proper technique– you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

Download the full score here.

Your History Lesson 👩🏼‍🏫

Written and recorded by Canadian musician Frank Mills, Music Box Dancer was an international hit in the late Seventies featuring an arpeggiated piano melody made to sound like, well, a music box! 🩰

The song was originally recorded in 1974, but it wasn’t initially a hit. Years later in 1978, Frank’s label released a different song of his as a single, with “Music Box Dancer” on the B-side. The single was sent to easy-listening stations, but one copy was mistakenly sent to a pop station. The program director played the track and could not figure out why it had been sent to his station, so he played the B-side to see if the record label had been mistakenly marked. He liked “Music Box Dancer” and added it to his radio playlist.

In only a few weeks it was the #1 song on the station and its popularity spread rapidly from there, ultimately reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. It was Frank Mill’s only top 40 pop hit.
[read more at wikipedia]

🤔🤔 That’s Interesting: A few notes are missing in the repeated introduction of the main melody. This could not be corrected, as Mills did not have the money to record another take!

Getting Started

Today we’re playing in the key of C (All the white keys!), but don’t let that fool you- there is a lot going on here. It may seem intimidating, but don’t hesitate to give it a try if you are a beginner who understands the basics of reading music!

Let’s check it out.
music box dancer 44

Follow along on the video, and If it looks a little complicated to start– don’t worry. I’ll walk you through the melody, and how it’s essentially chords broken up into repeating patterns (arpeggios), so you might be able to wrap your head around it a little easier.
music box dancer 2

🎹📝 Take note: If you see a symbol like this, know that you are supposed to one octave higher than what is written on the page. This just keeps the two sides of the Grand Staff from getting tangled up in each other and makes things much easier to read on the page.

Extra tip! Your piano can’t adjust to your playing position, but your bench can! It may sound like simple advice, but sliding your bench to center yourself on what your playing will make performing a lot easier.

Watch for Patterns

Music is built on patterns! As you play through songs you’ll notice repeating melodies and chord progressions. Songs can be broken down into these repeating sections and will be more manageable to learn. Watch for these patterns in your sheet music to simplify your sight-reading:

music box dancer 4

🎹📝 Take note: Once you reach the end of the first 12 bars, loop back to the beginning and play through a second time, but be ready to skip to the second ending, making a jump from measure 11 to measure 13.

Tips and Tricks

Because of the higher-placed bass notes in the song, you will have to share the space between your left and right hands. I’ll show you where each finger fits along the way, but keep in mind the treble clef instructs your right hand and the bass clef handles your right.

Work through this song in small sections and you’ll find it eventually all comes together. Take time with each part. Go slowly. Go slower! If you start at a pace you can manage and work up your speed it is going to set up your muscle memory for success and you’ll be playing like a pro in no time!

One More Thing!

The rolling chords in Music Box Dancer are the signature hooks of the song and they are so fun to play. Feel free to skip this part of the song if you think it’s above your skill level, but don’t be afraid to give it a try, because it is very rewarding and easy enough to wrap your head around once you see it’s just playing through a chord quickly instead of playing it in a block.

For those signature rolls in Music Box Dancer, the first one is the F Major chord in its second inversion:




Set your hand up with the right shape and roll it over the keys quickly from left to right, finishing on the high ‘C’ note. The same goes for the G7 chord (or any chord you might want to apply this to). The G7 roll goes like this:




It’s simple in theory but it will take some practice to get right. Once you’ve got it mastered though, that’s one extra flourish you can add to your playing, and apply to whatever you see fit in your musical explorations. 🙌

Practice Makes Progress

Now that you’ve got all the skills you need to learn, play, and perform Music Box Dancer, it’s just a matter of taking the time to apply that knowledge with your best practicing technique. Be patient, practice with purpose, and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone!

Enjoy your time and the piano, and happy practicing

music box dancer 4445

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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