Thursday, January 13, 2011

Put Your Keyboard In a Billy Joel State of Mind

He is known as the "Piano Man", and not only because that happens to be the name of one of his many legendary songs. When it comes to musicians and songwriters in the world of pop and rock, it's hard to find anyone who has done more with the piano than Billy Joel. One of the main traits of his playing and songwriting is its diversity, running from old fashioned rock and roll and pop, to ballads more influenced by traditional forms. With his songs covering all of the bases of pop piano, you can really get a crash course in a number of different styles and genres, just by exploring his work! As varied as his songs are, though, the more you play and listen to them the more clearly you'll be able to see a certain signature Billy Joel style that comes through in every song. Learn to play like Billy Joel, and you'll be well on your way to developing your own unique style.

One way to start learning to play like Billy Joel is with sheet music, or, even better, sheet music and CD packs. At Yamaha MusicSoft, we have five different Billy Joel book and CD packs available that will give you scores for Joel's classic songs along with audio tracks that you can follow along with as you play. Audio tracks both with and without Joel's piano parts will help you both learn the parts, then add your own performances when you're ready.

For an even more interactive experience, though, MIDI versions of Billy Joel's songs are a great place to start. Learning with MIDI files on your keyboard will give you the chance to customize each song to fit your learning and practicing needs. For example:
  • Hear what you're trying to learn. By isolating the piano and keyboard parts in the song, you can focus on training your hands to play just like a professional recording.
  • Play with a full band backing track. You can easily mute the piano part and play along with the song's full accompaniment, which helps you learn by adding context to your playing.
  • Learn at your own speed. Slow down the track to make it easier to play, or speed it up for a bigger challenge.
  • Let the song follow you. With the guide mode, you can tell the song to follow your playing - when you play the right notes, the song will continue. This is a great way to test yourself as you're learning to play.

For more detailed observations on some specific Billy Joel songs, we've made a few suggestions below, including designations for finding the piano channels in each song. You can also consult this guide for more tips on learning with MIDI files.

MIDI Songs

Uptown Girl
Piano on Track 1
C Major

As an homage to early 60s pop and bands like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, "Uptown Girl" has a relatively simple rhythm and chord structure. But, like many of Billy Joel's songs, it modulates between a number of keys, providing some challenge and making it even more fun to play once you've got it down.

My Life
Electric Piano on Track 4
D Major

The electric piano line in "My Life" is simple, but provides the backbone of the song with accented chords, and a left hand line that mimics the disco influenced bassline. A great song for beginners looking to expand their horizons with opop music, and a great way to practice right and left hand separation.

Just the Way You Are
Electric Piano on Track 7
D Major

Like many of Billy Joel's songs, "Just the Way You Are" sounds beautiful and effortless when he plays it, but features some tricky changes. Master this one and your well on your way to becoming a great pop pianist.

New York State of Mind
Piano on Track 6
C Major

The introduction to "New York State of Mind" shows off some of Joel's most dramatic playing, and will be a real treat for more advanced players to learn. After that, the songs settles into more familiar territory, but is still quite challenging, with Joel's unexpected chord changes and flourishes.

Billy Joel Song Pack
Get "New York State of Mind", "Uptown Girl" and "Just the Way You Are" together and save 20%!

Sheet Music and CD Packs

Billy Joel Classics: 1974-1980 (Keyboard Signature Licks)
The "Signature Licks Series" breaks down Billy Joel's songs into fundamental techniques and playing patterns, which you can study both in print and on the accompanying CD. Book one covers Joel's early years from "Piano Man" to "My Life".

Billy Joel Hits: 1981-1993 (Keyboard Signature Licks)
Book two continues where book one left off, providing valuable insight into Joel's piano playing style over a period covering everything from "She's Got a Way" to "River of Dreams".

Billy Joel - Classics (Keyboard Play Along)
Some of Joel's biggest hits with full scores and an audio CD. You can even load the CD on your computer and play back the audio in any tempo you want, without changing the pitch, so you can practice at your own pace. Songs include "Captain Jack" and "Piano Man".

Billy Joel Hits (Keyboard Play Along)
Another great pack from the "Keyboard Play Along" series. Songs include "Just the Way You Are" and "Allentown".

Billy Joel Hits (Piano Play Along)
Complete sheet music with a piano oriented arrangement, along with a fully interactive CD. Songs include "New York State of Mind" and "Honesty".

Billy Joel Favorites (Piano Play Along)
More from the "Piano Play Along series. Songs include "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" and "Uptown Girl".

- Doug