Piano Man Chords – An Essential Guide

Looking for the best way to learn to play Billy Joel’s Piano Man chords? You’re in the right place!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 10 super-useful chord shapes!
  • How to play Piano Man chords by Billy Joel
  • Slash Chords – What they are and how to play them!
  • 1 secret hack to spice up your beginner chords!

Piano Man Chords For Guitar!

Ah, Billy Joel. The piano man himself, writing a song about what it’s like to slog it out in bar gigs.

He has written a wonderful array of mighty and acrobatic songs on the piano, many of which seem downright impossible to transfer to the guitar.

If we were to try, say, “Vienna,” or “Angry Young Man,” or “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” we’d be sitting at the guitar tangling up our fingers for months before we were able to find a way to get them onto the instrument.

There’s also a good portion of his catalogue – “Only the Good Die Young,” “My Life,” and “For the Longest Time” leap to mind – that’s pretty easily to translate into guitar language.

Piano-Man-Chords

Luckily, “Piano Man” itself is not one of those impossible songs on guitar.

Billy Joel’s Piano Man chords are simple enough that if you’re a beginner, you can get through the whole song with easy chord forms.

If you’ve been at the guitar a little while, the full chords make a satisfying arrangement of this on the guitar.

If you’re an intermediate player, you can even get Joel’s interesting left hand part mixed into your chords.

The following lesson has something for everyone!

Piano-Man-Chords

Piano Man Chords For Beginners

C major is not the best key for absolute beginners at the guitar. If you’ve tried, you know what I’m talking about.

C major happens to be the easiest key for piano, because it doesn’t have any sharps or flats so it tends to be simpler to play.

  • The Piano Man chords take you on a trip through the chords in the key of C major.
  • If you’re new to the guitar, learning this sequence of chords will open up all sorts of otherwise difficult songs in the key of C.
  • Here are the short-form Piano Man chords for you!

C (xxx010)

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

G (xx0003)

F (xx3210)

D7 (xx0210)

Am (x02010)

The changes come pretty quickly, so practice the chords in this order to get the progression for the verse!

C G F C

F C D7 G

The verses and chorus end differently, depending on where you are in the song.

We’ll get to that after you’ve gotten used to these chord changes.

The other part of the song is the “La la la” part, and the sequence there goes like this:

Am Am D7 F

Am Am D7 D7

G G G G

Those are the two main parts of the song structure, so once you’ve gotten them into your fingers, you’re ready to put the song together!

Piano-Man-Chords

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Piano Man Chords For The Not-Quite-Beginner

The main thing that keeps these Piano Man chords from being totally beginner-friendly is that pesky F chord!

The F chord can be tricky to get around at first, but we’ve included a short-form version of it if you’re just getting your fingers dirty with it for the first time.

Pro Tip: The song will sound just fine no matter which version of the F chord you use. To get closest to the piano version of the song, you’ll want to use the barre chord F, but it sounds just lovely without it.

Here’s what you need to play a basic version of these Piano Man chords.

C (x32010)

G (320003)

F (xx3211)

D7 (xx0212)

Am (x02210)

Once you get used to playing either version of the Piano Man chords above, you can dive into the arrangement!

The structure of the song is not entirely straightforward, since the basic chord progression has different endings, depending on what happens next in the song.

Let’s give it a listen, paying close attention to what happens at the end of each segment.

Pro-Tip: Of course, there are chord charts with lyrics that are widely available for any song you want to learn.

If you want to really learn a song inside and out, paying attention to the structure of the song and the transitions between the pieces is a really important part of the process!

Piano Man Chords: The Rhythm

“Piano Man” is a song in 3/4 time. Let’s get into what that means!

All songs are divided into measures, which are repeating groups of beats.

  • The default is four beats to a measure; most blues, rock, jazz, folk, and even classical pieces work this way.
  • Many songs, like “Piano Man,” have three counts to a measure. It’s also known as waltz time.
  • 3/4 time is significantly less intuitive to play than the usual 4/4 time, because it’s harder to feel.

Piano-Man-Chords

The best way to get any rhythm under your fingers and into your ears is to always be counting.

  • Counting is one of those things that you just have to do consciously until (gradually) it starts to fade into the back of your head so you don’t have to think about it so much.
  • You can practice counting in 3/4 time and getting used to it by accentuating the first count in every measure: while you strum, count “ONE two three ONE two three ONE two three.”
  • Keep the counting and strumming constant, and you’ll start to get how it feels to play in 3/4 time!

Some strumming patterns you can use to learn the Piano Man chords are here:

DOWN, down, down

1                 2            3

DOWN, down, down-up

1                 2               3

DOWN, down-up, down-up

1                    2                3

That’s all you need for a basic (but complete and enjoyable) version of “Piano Man!”

Following this are some ideas for when you are ready to start embellishing your arrangement.

Piano-Man-Chords

Using A Chord Chart For Your Piano Man Chords

Because the Piano Man chords have a different sequence at different points in the song, it’s very helpful to have a chord chart to help you keep track of where you are in the song.

It also helps to have a chord chart with you to help you remember the lyrics and their order.

  • This song has a fair few verses to memorize!
  • There are quite a few versions of Piano Man chords available for free online.
  • You can find the chords in different keys and with different suggested chords.

It can be difficult to suss out which version you should be using. There are simple versions and incredibly complicated-looking versions available on one single website.

Piano-Man-Chords

You don’t have to tie yourself to one single chord chart and live with its interpretation forever, but here’s a solid chart for “Piano Man” to start off with.

You’ll notice that one of the prominent features of this chart of Piano Man chords is the addition of a lot of slash chords.

The slash chords, which we’ll get into in a minute, depict a solo guitar arrangement of two instruments, usually guitar and bass, but in this case, the piano right and left hands.

You can get through this chart of Piano Man chords just fine by ignoring everything that happens after the slash and playing only the recognizable part of the chord before the slash!

How-to-play-piano-man

Embellishing Your Arrangement with Slash Chords

The fact that pianists can use up to 10 fingers to place chords on the piano seems like a real advantage over the guitar in terms of how easy it is to modify and color the chords being used.

Pianists like Billy Joel, Elton John, Leon Russell, Tori Amos, Carly Simon, and Bruce Hornsby use their left hands melodically to lead your ear from chord to chord.

  • It is definitely easier to do on the piano than the guitar, but you don’t have to wait to learn the placement of all the notes on the guitar to be able to incorporate those colorations and voicings into your playing.
  • Slash chords are modifications to the chord shapes you know and love that accomplish the same objective, using the bottom note of a chord as a bass line.

For the Piano Man chords, you can use these modifications to simulate the piano arrangement.

G/B (x20003)

F/A (x03211)

C/G (332010)

F (133211)

C/E (032010)

F/C (x33211)

 

Am/G (3×2010)

D7/F# (200212)

 

Use your thumb on that D7/F# to grab the second fret of the low E string.

If you look at the Piano Man chords in the main part of the verse and chorus, you can see what’s happening with the series of slash chords:

C  G/B  F/A C/G  F C/E D7  G

The thing after the slash is a bass note other than the root of the chord.

It’s a modification to the chord indicated before the slash so that there is some other note at the bottom of the chord.

See how the notes after the slash travel backward through the musical alphabet? That’s so cool! That is what a descending bass line looks like, and it’s baked right into these slash chord shapes!

piano-man-guitar-lesson

Pro-Tip: There’s a good reason for the F barre chord thrown into this sequence of Piano Man chords. The low F on the sixth string E string keeps that bass line descending all the way down from C to E. It’s not mandatory, but it does sound really good!

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Accentuating Your Fancy Slash Chords

If you can incorporate slash chords into your “Piano Man” arrangement, you’re probably noticing that it sounds a lot more like what’s happening on the piano in the recording!

There are parts of the song where there is a lot of singing, and there are some parts of the song where you’re not singing at all.

The breaks between lyrics are good places to change up your strumming pattern, using more up-strums to make the rhythm a little busier and fill in between sections.

If you are ready for a little more, you can incorporate some bass strumming to emphasize that descending line of notes underneath the chord progression.

free-piano-man-lesson

In bass strumming, all you need to do is replace the strum on the first beat of every measure (the ONE) with a single plucked string.

  • The string you pick will be the string with the lowest note of the chord or slash chord.
  • For C, G/B, and F/A, as well as F/C, that string will be the A string.
  • For C/G, the F barre chord, C/E, Am/G, and D7/F#, that string will be the low E string.

Using the bass strum technique for your Piano Man chords really brings out the melodic bass line, getting your arrangement even closer to the piano sound you hear in the recording!

easy-piano-man-chords

Piano Man Chords: Adding The Intro

Every once in a while, beginning in the introduction to “Piano Man,” there’s this beautiful little hook.

The first time you hear it is immediately preceding the first verse. You can’t miss it. It’s gorgeous.

In the chord chart, it’s depicted this way:

C  F/C  G/C F C/E G/D

If you would like to include that hook, and who wouldn’t, here’s a way you can make those chords flow together.

C (x32010)

F/C (x33211)

G/C (x30003)

F (xx3211)

C/E (xx2010)

G/D (xx0001)

 

The first three chords go slowly, and the last three chords go quickly (one beat a piece) so it can be tricky to get them all happening.

You can replace the last three chords with another little melody line to bypass such fast and furious chord changes.

Try out this little one-measure replacement for the last three chords:

How-to-play-piano-man-on-guitar

That little hook really makes the song, and it’s a nice melody on top of the chords to contrast with the bass strumming in the rest of your arrangement.

piano-man-for-beginners-guitar

Enjoy Your Guitar Arrangement of “Piano Man!”

Now you’ve got all sorts of Piano Man chords, lyrics, and guitar magic to make your own arrangement of “Piano Man.”

The key of C is really the best way to bring out all of these pretty little pieces of the song, but if C is not a good key for you to sing in, don’t be shy about bringing out the capo!

These vocals go quite low for a female voice, so you can try your capo on the fifth or seventh fret, a more reasonable key for many women to sing this song.

Recommended Resources

Here’s some more National Guitar Academy lessons you may enjoy!

Guitar String Notes – The Ultimate Guide

How To Use A Capo In 3 Easy Steps

How To Play Bar Chords

Intermediate Guitar Lessons: An Essential Guide

Rhythm Guitar Lessons For All Guitarists

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