Just about everyone is familiar with Leonard Cohen’s legendary song “Hallelujah.” Countless artists have performed covers of it, and if you’re new to piano, you just might want to learn it, too. Let’s take a look at how to play this beautiful song on the piano.
A Little About the Song
Sometimes, understanding a song’s context can make playing it more meaningful. Leonard Cohen took years to write the song and released it in 1984. It appeared on his album Various Positions.
However, its popularity didn’t grow until other artists began recording covers of it. Jeff Buckley’s 1994 version is especially moving. Now, there are over 300 known renditions of the song!
While writing Hallelujah, Leonard Cohen went through at least 150 different verses before settling on a few. And if you listen to the lyrics, it’s easy to see why this song relates to so many people. As Cohen himself has said, “there is a religious hallelujah, but there are many other ones. When one looks at the world, there’s only one thing to say, and it’s hallelujah.”
Piano Chords for Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
In this section, we’ll be going through the basic piano chords you’ll need to play the rhythm of the song. But for a step-by-step tutorial on playing rhythm and melody, check out this helpful YouTube video!
Here’s the first verse:
As you can see, the last line functions as a brief but emotionally powerful chorus. We’ve included this chorus at the end of each verse.
The second verse comes next. As you can see, the chord progression is the same:
The progression also stays the same for the third verse:
The fourth verse is the last one before the outro:
And lastly, we come to the outro. It’s similar to the one-line chorus at the end of each verse:
How Do You Play the Chords?
If you’re relatively new to playing piano, you might not recognize all the chords you need for Hallelujah. But don’t worry; we’ll go over how to play them here!
As a side note, there are chord inversions and several different ways to play just about any chord. But here, we’ll focus on some of the basic ways to play each one.
C Major (C)
This is one of the first chords many pianists learn. It’s a major triad, so it’s made up of a root note (C), a major third (E), and a perfect fifth (G). Here’s how to play it from the root position:
- Play middle C with your thumb
- Play E (two white keys to the right of C) with your middle finger
- Play G (two white keys to the right of E) with your pinky
A Minor (Am)
Minor chords are made up of a root note, a minor third, and a perfect fifth. To play A minor, your root note is A, your minor third is C, and your perfect fifth is E.
Here’s how to play Am in root position:
- Play A (two white keys to the left of middle C) with your thumb
- Play C (middle C) with your middle finger
- Play E (two white keys to the right of middle C) with your pinky
F Major (F)
This chord is another major triad. It has a root note (F), a major third (A), and a perfect fifth (C). Here’s how to play it from the root position:
- Play F (four white keys to the left of middle C) with your thumb
- Play A (two white keys to the right of F) with your middle finger
- Play C (middle C) with your pinky
G Major (G)
This is another major triad that most new piano players learn. It’s made up of a root note (G), a major third (B), and a perfect fifth (D). Here’s how to play it in the root position:
- Play G (three white keys to the left of middle C) with your thumb
- Play B (two white keys to the right of G) with your middle finger
- Play D (two white keys to the right of B) with your pinky
E Dominant Seventh (E7)
This chord is a bit more complex. A dominant seventh chord is like a major chord, but you add a flattened seventh. This means you take the seventh degree of the appropriate scale and lower it half a step.
So to play E7, you need a root note (E), a major third (G#), a perfect fifth (B), and a flattened seventh (D). Here’s how to play it from the root position:
- Play E (five white keys to the left of middle C) with your thumb
- Play G# (two black keys to the right of E) with either your index or middle finger
- Play B (one white key to the left of middle C) with either your middle or ring finger
- Play D (one white key to the right of middle C) with your pinky
What if You Want to Play the Melody?
If you would rather play the rhythm and melody (rather than sing the melody), you can do that, too. Hallelujah is quite a famous song, and there are countless sheet music adaptations (like this one) that show you how to play both chords and melody. Sheet music also does a great job of breaking down the arpeggios of each chord!
Tips for Learning to Play Hallelujah
Learning to play a new song can really pose a challenge. Here are some tips to help you learn to play Hallelujah:
Separate your hands. If you’re wanting to learn to play the song with both hands, jumping in with both hands from the very start can be overwhelming. Try learning each hand’s part separately before putting them together.
Take it slow. Just about any experienced musician will tell you that when learning a new piece, one of the best ways to master it is to first play it at a very slow tempo. As you get comfortable playing it slowly, you can gradually work up to the song’s actual tempo.
Hum first. As you may have already discovered, playing and singing at the same time is a real challenge! If you’ve got the rhythm accompaniment down but are having trouble singing along, try humming the melody first. This can be a helpful way to slowly introduce the melody without having to worry about the words.
Making the Song Your Own
One of the best things about playing music is being able to be creative, even when playing a song someone else wrote. As you get familiar with the song, you can add embellishments. And if you sing, your vocal phrasing and delivery have a major impact on the song. Think of the chords as a starting point for creating something new!
Still have some questions on how to play Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen on piano? Here are some answers:
The piano chords for Hallelujah aren’t too difficult. To play it, you just need C, Am, F, G, and E7.
This song is in the key of C. However, you can transpose it to different keys if you wish.
If you want to play the song with one hand, you can play the chords as written, playing each one as an arpeggio. But it’s a great idea to learn it with both hands, as the song will sound richer and fuller!
To play this remarkable song, you’ll need a chord progression of C, Am, F, G, and E7. From there, you can sing the melody or play it along with the rhythm progression.