How to compose piano music? Heart and Soul can teach you! [Part IX]

This blog post takes the chords in Heart and Soul and shows how they can teach you how to compose on the piano!


This is part IX (nine) of the Heart and Soul series. Before you try this at home, make sure you’ve covered these steps:

How to play Heart and Soul’s bass and chords

How to Improvise at the piano? Heart and Soul can teach you! [Part VIII]

If you can check YES to the above, now it’s time to focus on how Heart and Soul can teach you how to compose!

Composing for the piano is hands-on. The best composers have worked out their music on the instrument. The human hand plus the physical characteristics of the keyboard itself are dynamic forces that help shape what the music becomes. Remember, any music you play on the piano was first played by the hands of the composer. Their hands helped shape the music — your hands will help shape yours. Play to compose!

Compose your own new piece!

Composing piano music is easier than you think!

Whether you’ve composed before or not, you can use Heart and Soul as a composition starter!

One of the best ways to learn how to compose is to imitate music you like, and use it as a blueprint for your own original piece. Essentially, the music you know teaches you how to compose!

In case you’re worried about plagiarism (copying), every major composer started out imitating other composers! Mozart copied Haydn. Then Beethoven copied Mozart! Even today’s famous movie composer John Williams has copied other composers, like Stravinsky and Holst! You will be joining a long and prestigious line of composers who started out by lifting their ideas from others! Phew! Now that that’s out of the way…let’s get started!

Get inspired by broken chords

First, play the chord progression of Heart and Soul’s lower duet part:

Notice:

  • Heart and Soul is in C Major
  • the left hand plays single notes
  • the right hand plays broken chords (with a swing)
  • one hand plays at a time, back and forth

You can use this texture or pattern to make up your own piece.

With the simple instructions, “Play around with Heart and Soul’s patterns on the piano and see if you can come up with your own music,” Bella, 11 (who had already tried improvising with Heart and Soul), came up with this:

A Spring Day by Bella, inspired by Heart and Soul.
Bella Selig, A Spring Day (a composition inspired by Heart and Soul).

Notice that A Spring Day is just like Heart and Soul because:

  • the left hand begins by playing single notes
  • the right hand plays broken chords

Notice how A Spring Day is different:

  • Bella’s piece is in F Major
  • Bella’s chord progression goes in the opposite direction (up first)
  • Bella’s hands play together and she’s created a new rhythm (with straight eighths)
  • Bella’s tune uses non-chord tones (in measure 1, RH G doesn’t belong to the F chord; this pattern continues with the remaining chords)

By knowing how Heart and Soul was put together, Bella was able to use it to help her play around on the piano until she came up with her own new ideas!

What’s the difference between improvising and composing? You seem to play around on the piano for both. This is true! But with improvising, you usually play it once without ever playing it the exact same way again. With composing, you try to settle on one way to play it and write it down, too!

Get inspired by solid/blocked chords

First, play the chord progression of Heart and Soul’s lower duet part:

Notice:

  • Heart and Soul is in C Major
  • the left hand plays single notes
  • the right hand plays solid chords in root position (the root note that names the chord is its lowest note: C chord with the lowest note C, for example)
  • one hand plays at a time, back and forth

You can use this texture or pattern to make up your own piece.

With the simple instructions, “Play around with Heart and Soul’s patterns on the piano and see if you can come up with your own music,” Bria, 12 (who had already tried improvising with Heart and Soul), came up with this:

Bria’s composition-in-progress (inspired by Heart and Soul).

Notice that Bria’s piece-in-progress is just like Heart and Soul because:

  • it’s in C Major
  • the left hand begins by playing single notes
  • the right hand plays solid chords
  • she uses the Heart and Soul chord progression

Notice how Bria’s piece is different:

  • Bria’s hands play together and the RH chords repeat
  • Bria’s chords are in 2nd inversion (the chord notes are reorganized in a different order)
  • Bria’s bass line steps instead of skipping

By knowing how Heart and Soul was put together, Bria was able to use it to help her play around on the piano until she came up with her own new ideas!

Get inspired by the left-right pattern

First play Heart and Soul’s alternative chord progression:

Notice:

  • Heart and Soul is in C Major
  • the left hand plays single notes
  • the right hand plays broken chords (I / vi / ii / V) with a swing
  • one hand plays at a time, back and forth

You can use this texture or pattern to make up your own piece.

With the simple idea that I wanted to imitate Heart and Soul’s texture, I came up with this:

The Sunny Side of Me by Rebekah Maxner inspired by Heart and Soul.

Notice that it’s just like Heart and Soul because:

  • it’s in C Major
  • the left hand plays single notes
  • the right hand plays chords in closed position
  • the hands play back and forth, left then right
  • it uses the Heart and Soul chord progression (I / vi / ii / V)

Notice how the piece is different:

  • The chords are solid and broken (with straight eighths)
  • Though I use I / vi / ii / V — it’s jazzed up with seven chords
  • I created an ABA form, with a different middle section

By knowing how Heart and Soul was put together, I was able to use it to help me play around on the piano until I came up with my own new ideas!


Welcome to the wonderful world of composition! This post focuses on the inspiration and creation of ideas. You have the power to take what you know about playing the piano and turn it into your own original music!

Do you like this post and want more? In the side menu click “follow” to get notification of my posts each week in your inbox.

I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤


Video of the week

Black Horse (Early Intermediate, Level 3), a beautiful, tragic, sweeping solo with hand-over-hand motion. Romantic piano meets Bach prelude. From the print and eBook The Color Collection Junior, Elementary to Late Elementary piano solos that express all of our feelings. From gorgeous character pieces to the blues, from black-key pentatonic to disco, this collection has it all! Or, check out the Black Horse eSheet!

Here’s a sound clip of the Early Intermediate (Level 3) piano solo, Black Horse!

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