How to Play "Piano Man" on the Harmonica

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Billy Joel, arguably one of the greatest and most prolific musicians in American music history, has had few hits more universally popular than his classic “Piano Man,” in which he not only sings the lyrics, but also plays the piano and harmonica simultaneously.


The main non-lyrical chorus melody of “Piano Man,” instantly recognizable by many thousands of even the most casual Joel fans, is played on a harmonica in the key of C, and can be easily learned with a little guidance.

  • Hold the harmonica at both ends with the pad of your thumbs and curl your fingers over the top to hold it steady, keeping them and the palms of your hands as much away from the front of the harmonica as possible. If your hands block the front of the instrument, your harmonica will be muted and possibly atonal.

    Alternatively, if you use the same harmonica-holding neck strap that Mr. Joel uses on stage, the harmonica is positioned for you without needing your hands at all.

  • Purse your lips together as if you were going to whistle, and place them on the center-most hole of the harmonica's keyholes, which should be the fifth from the left. By blowing through (exhaling) this hole only, you will create the note "E." By inhaling through this or any keyhole, you will create a sound one note higher than the blown note. The notes follow standard piano formation, meaning the blown notes to the right of the E are, in order; G, C, E, G, and C, while the inhaled notes are F,A,B,D,F, and A.

  • To play the melody of "Piano Man," play the following pattern:

    Blow E
    Inhale E
    Blow G
    Inhale G-Blow G (quickly)
    Inhale E
    Blow E
    Inhale E
    Blow E

    Pause

    Blow C (4 short blows in a row)
    Inhale C (2 short inhales in a row)

    Pause

    Blow E
    Inhale E
    Blow G
    Inhale G-Blow G (quickly)
    Inhale E
    Blow E
    Inhale E
    Blow E

    Pause

    Blow C (Three short blows in a row)
    Inhale E
    Blow E
    Inhale C
    Blow C

    Practice this pattern until you can mimic the rhythm of the melody, and you've got it.

Tips & Warnings

  • Listen to a recording of Piano Man while you're trying to learn the song, to get a feeling for how it goes.

References

  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images
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