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How to Play Piano Duets with Fun Chord Progressions

Updated on February 11, 2013

As explained in some of my other articles, the fun chord progression of the fifties offers some great opportunities for learning how to play piano, specifically the melody or the accompaniment of social piano duets. At the same time, the student is learning (practically by osmosis) some genuinely important principles of music theory.

Two of the most famous of these piano duets are Heart and Soul by Hoagy Carmichael and Blue Moon by Rodgers and Hart. Two more that are really valuable to learn are Earth Angel and Breaking Up Is Hard to Do. In these articles, I explain the notes with words, so that anyone who cannot read standard music notation should be able to learn the songs anyway.

Earth Angel, Sung by The Penguins in the 1950s

Earth Angel and More Doo Wop

Earth Angel

The tune of Earth Angel, another great song of the 50's, can also be played along with the "50s chord progression" – the same one that is used in Heart and Soul and Blue Moon, as well as numerous other popular songs. Earth Angel was recorded by several groups and artists, most notably by The Penguins and by Marvin Berry and the Starlighters.

Like Blue Moon, it begins on a pickup note, in this case the third of the tonic triad -- that is, on E in the key of C.

The student can keep the right hand in a C five-finger position for the verse, moving it if desired for a little decoration or ornamentation before the verse is repeated. That is, the thumb of the right hand is on C (the white key immediately to the left of the pair of two black keys), with the other fingers covering the four white keys immediately to the right: DEFG.

First phrase = "Earth angel, earth angel":

begin with finger 3 (middle finger), playing E on the upbeat, C, C (thumb), G (5), E E (3, 3)

Second phrase = "Will you be mine?":

F F E E D (4 4 3 3 2) - with relaxed triplet rhythm, described below

Third phrase = "My darling dear":

C D E E D C (1 2 3 3 2 1) ("dear" glides quickly - E D C)

Fourth phrase = "love you all the time":

F F F E E D (444332) [same notes as the second phrase, with one note repeated]

Fifth phrase = "I'm just a fool--": same as third phrase

Sixth phrase = "a fool in love with you.":

F F E D E C (443231)

(On this last word "you," you may add some notes for style: E D C, just like "dear" above)

Second verse: Earth Angel, Earth Angel, the one I adore, love you forever, and evermore. I'm just a fool, a fool in love with you.

(For variety/styling - "the one I adore" could be played as FFGEED; "and evermore" could be EFGEED.) Other variations can be added for styling.

Earth Angel Rhythm


The Penguins singing Earth Angel, all grown up, still sounding fabulous

Styling a Transition

During the pause between verses, the Primo could add GEGAA, AFAG or a similar pattern of the doo-wop style. This is not exactly the way it was sung, though; it is not part of the melody, but rather a transition between verses. You can imagine the lead singer vocalizing "ohhhh-oh-oh; whoa, ohhhhhh-oh" along with these pitches. A similar transition can be heard leading from the bridge back to the verse in the above video at about 3:07.

The best fingering for these transitional notes would be to move RH one key to the right to place the thumb on D and play 42455, 5354. (If this transition is used, keep finger 2 on the pickup to next verse (E), but extend 1 – the thumb – to the C for "angel.")

Can't Get Enough of Breaking Up?

Principles of Music Theory

As was explained with the other songs, Heart and Soul and Blue Moon, there are aspects of music theory that can be introduced while students play this song for fun.

The student can

  • notice which notes of the melody are the chord tones (in this case, CEG, ACE, FAC, and GBD);
  • notice where the melody moves between chord tones, that is, from one chord tone to another, such as the styling glide EDC at the end of some phrases;
  • notice where a chord tone at one point in the chord progression moves away from the chord and to a chord tone of the next chord in the progression;
  • notice repeating melodic patterns, both identical patterns and patterns with variations, due to changes in the words or simply for musical effect.

The Two Versions

In the Wikipedia article about Neil Sedaka, we can read "Sedaka's [slow] version hit No. 8 on the Hot 100 in early 1976, making him the only artist to ever record entirely reworked and rearranged versions of the same song to both reach the Billboard Top 10. The 1976 ballad version also hit No. 1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart."

There is some discrepancy about the inspiration for the slow version, though. This same article states that Neil Sedaka got the idea for it when he heard Lenny Welch's 1970 version. But a YouTube member (UserName 6891man) posted a 1968 demo of the slow version by Neil Sedaka, which he offered to Lenny Welch who then recorded it and "inspired" Neil to cover his own song in a slow, ballad style.

Check out these various versions of the same song (below), as well as the recent self-parody that Sedaka came up with: "Waking Up Is Hard to Do." And, read more below about Neil's answer to the question on the origin of the slow version.

And by all means, please sign the petition to have Neil Sedaka inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame!

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

Neil Sedaka sang this in both a fast version as a young artist (possibly the better known version) and in a slow, plaintive, ballad-style version released in 1975. The version a student learns really should be whichever one works best for the student involved. But this could be an excellent opportunity to explain what a cover is, to mention that music can be played in different styles, and to remind students that the way they like to play or sing the song may be vastly different from another student's or musician's style – and that both may be valid.

This song can also provide a good opportunity for the Primo part to add some harmony to the melody (described below). In that case, for a younger student, this can become a two-finger piece, similar to Chopsticks. The accompanying photos do not show the added harmony. Note also that the numbers in the photos refer to the count or the beat, rather than to finger numbers.

Beginning position - both thumbs on F (white key to the left of the three black key group);First notes will be repeated G's, played with finger 2 (pointing finger). LH will join in on the 3rd note, playing the F. Since two hands are involved, the notes are explained below in a sort of chart format.

Young Neil's 1966 version, sung on "Saturday Hop"

Lenny Welch's Slow Version

Fingers and Note Names for Verses


Neil's Recent Solo, Self-Accompanied, Upbeat Version

His Introduction of a Parody for Children, "Waking Up Is Hard to Do" - What a lovely man!

Mystery Solved?

In the course of continued investigation, I discovered a video interview of Neil Sedaka, in which he explained how he came up with the slow version of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." As he told it, his good friend and fellow musician Lenny Welch came to him and asked if he had any slower, ballad-like songs he could record, right on the heels of his highly successful "Since I Fell for You." After a few days or weeks, Neil discovered - while playing around on the piano - his slower version of BUIHTD. Lenny liked it, Neil recorded the demo, and Lenny recorded it first for distribution. Later, Neil recorded it also.

Verse Two

The second verse has the same notes and rhythm, adjusted for different words, if the student knows them. Younger and less experienced students should just keep the second verse same as the first. (Thanks Ennery the Aidth.)

Remember when you held me tight,

and hugged and kissed me all through the night,

now I'm alone and I'm so blue,

cause breaking up is hard to do.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

These slides show the melody only (no harmony, no left hand), and the numbers refer to the beat or count, not the finger numbers.
These slides show the melody only (no harmony, no left hand), and the numbers refer to the beat or count, not the finger numbers. | Source

Secondo Part

In Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, the Secondo part begins the same as the previously described songs (C, Am , F or Dm, G) - the 50s chord progression, played twice along with the verse. (It can also be played twice alone as an introduction, of course.)

Then the chord progression changes to C, Em/B, Am, Am, Dm or F, G, C. A walk-up from G to C can lead smoothly to the second verse.

This change in the chord progression can give an opportunity to expand away from the comfortable and easy four-chord pattern the Secondo part has used so far.


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    • Aficionada profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Indiana, USA

      Honestly, brittvan22, for most four-year-olds I would say No. There are some very notable exceptions of course (including several concert pianists), but in those cases the child was the one who seemed to lead the way, spending an unusual amount of time playing around with the piano.

      (My article includes some more information about this.)

      There are some group music programs (Kindermusik, for example) that are geared specifically towards younger children, and some church or community groups might offer an age-appropriate music experience. In addition, some private music teachers specialize in teaching younger children. You might check with a nearby university or music studio for some recommendations.

      But, apart from these possibilities, my own inclination is to allow the child to simply have fun with their time at the piano, until they have matured enough for individual lessons - frequently around grade two or three. A parent who knows something about music can offer occasional bits of knowledge, even including (portions of) some of the social duets that I have described in my articles, to lay the groundwork for later lessons. But my big concern as a teacher is that we don't want to burn out the child's interest and squelch their enthusiasm by moving them into formal lessons when they are not quite ready.

    • brittvan22 profile image


      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Do you think a four year old is disciplined enough to begin piano?


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