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Want to play a song on the piano? I’ve got good news! You only need to know three key things to play any song on the piano.

Master these three things, and you can pick up virtually any song in no time.

#1. Use the Internet

The first thing I do when I want to learn a new song is Google the chords!

Usually, the first website that comes up when you do this is Ultimate Guitar. And no, you do not need to know the guitar to use this handy website!

Ultimate Guitar is handy because it shows you all the lyrics with the chords above them. This chord chart format is SO useful to musicians, including us pianists. Seriously, it’ll change your life!

It’s also pretty easy to find chord charts online, whether that’s on a website like Ultimate Guitar, in our members’ area song library, or even in the song tutorials section of this blog.

Ultimate Guitar also has a neat feature where you can transpose a song to any key (more on this later).

All you need to make use of Ultimate Guitar’s lyrics and chords is how to read and play chords. Let’s quickly go over this next. We’ll use Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved” in this lesson.

#2. Know how to play chords

Alright, let’s take a look at the chords for the first line of the song “Someone You Loved”:

Play any song - Somoene You Loved

Let’s find the C major chord first. Put your first finger on C, then press your third and fifth fingers down on the notes they are naturally resting on, and there you have it: a C major chord!

C major chord

(Not all chords work perfectly like this, but we’ll teach you a quick little formula in a bit.)

Now, if you’re new to the piano, pressing down all three notes (C-E-G) can be tricky at first, so just play the C and G if that’s more comfortable.

C shell chord

To add some depth and bass, play C at a lower octave with your left hand.

Transposing and building chords

As you’ll see in the video, the original key of “Someone You Loved” was a little too low for me, so I decided to transpose it up a few keys. You can easily do this with the built-in tool on Ultimate Guitar.

I transposed the song to F major:

Someone You Loved in F

Now, the first chord we have to build is an F major chord. (You’ll know it’s a major chord when it’s just the letter F.)

And here’s the exciting part, where you’ll learn the formula to build a major and minor chord on ANY key on the piano.

To build an F major chord, first place your thumb on F. Then, count up four half-steps from F to find your middle note (A).

count up 4 half-steps

Next, count up three half-steps to find your top note and play it with your pinky finger. Your F major chord is F-A-C.

F major chord

Now, you’ll see that we have a minor chord: Dm! Anytime you see a lowercase “m” after a letter chord name, that’s a minor chord.

The formula for minor chords is the same but flipped. So, count three half-steps up from D to reach your middle note (F). Then, count four half-steps from F to reach A. Your D minor chord is D-F-A.

D minor chord

Now that you have all your chords figured out, it’s time to put them together! To keep things simple, start by pairing your chords with the lyrics.

#3. Be a good listener

Finally, becoming a good listener will help you play almost any song.

Knowing a song well is key to learning it. Here’s how you can practice: imagine the song in your head without it playing, and tap along to the beat. Imagine the chord changes too as you play the song in your head.

As you become more aware while listening to music, you’ll develop an instinct for picking up the unique feel of individual songs.

But what if you don’t want to sing, and you just want to play a song on the piano?

Here’s a trick: the melody notes of a song can often be found within the chord you’re playing. For example, my transposed version of “Someone You Loved” starts on the F chord (F-A-C) and the first melody note is C.

Figuring out melodies is a lot of trial and error. If you make mistakes, don’t worry. You’ll get better at it over time.

At the end of the day, have fun! Approach learning by ear like it’s a game or puzzle.

To get a head start, check out some of our Pianote resources for learning songs:

We have a lesson on how to play “Someone You Loved” too.

Otherwise, Google some chord charts, and start playing!


Lisa Witt

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 18 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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