Piano Player World

How to Play Happy Birthday on Piano

happy birthdayYour birthday, the day the world was blessed with your life, is the day celebrated by the singing of the traditional “Happy Birthday” song. But do you know how to pick out the melody and chords for this important song on the piano?

Like learning any song, the trick is to start on the right note, find the correct melody, and lay down the appropriate matching chords.

Figuring out how to play “Happy Birthday” and other common songs can be more of a discovery than an invention.

Learning how to play “Happy Birthday” on the piano is one of those skills the conscientious piano player wants to keep in his back pocket, just in case the situation arises when it is necessary to accompany a crowd of enthusiastic birthday well-wishers. Like learning to play any piano songs, it is best to keep it simple at first and only add more complicated nuances later.

Normally when trying to pick out a familiar melody on the keys, pianists like to find the melody in a simple key so that they don’t have to worry about black keys. Try starting the melody of “Happy Birthday” on G and picking out the tune from there. The tune is very simple, but can also be elaborated on once you’re comfortable with the basics.

Try playing the following notes on the white keys.

G G A G C B / G G A G D C / G G G* E C B A / F F E C D C

(the * means play an octave higher) 

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The notes you should play are listed above. The rhythm is hopefully familiar to you, but if not, ask your family member, friend, or even a random stranger to sing it for you until you can successfully pick out the melody on the keys. Now that you have the right notes, the next step is to add chords. Normally, when keeping a song in its simplest form, the root, IV, and V chords are the most common chords you’ll need, and this is the case in “Happy Birthday” as well.

Each measure listed above will feature two chords. In the first measure on “birthday” you will play a C chord, then on “you” you will play a G chord. The combination of the C chord with the A note will sound like a slight twang since it is technically a C6 chord, but this is acceptable. In the second measure you will play a G chord on “birthday” and a C chord on “you” – this measure’s chords are reversed from the first measure.

The third measure will have you play another C chord on “birthday” on the high G, and then giving a different feeling with an F chord on the first syllable of the person’s name you put into the song, which corresponds to the B note.

This, like the song’s first chord, will produce a unique sound in that you’re slipping an F chord around a B, in essence producing an Fsus4 chord. But this tension resolves when you finish the song with a G chord “birthday” and return to the root C chord on the final “you.”

Practice through this simple progression of melody and chords several times. Once you feel comfortable having learned to play “Happy Birthday” on the piano, add your own flair to the song. Hopefully you’ll continue to hear this song sung to you every year for a long, long time.

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