Play Heart and Soul on Piano—Beginner to Pro
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If there were a top ten list of piano songs that everyone seems to know how to play, the #1 song would almost certainly be Hoagy Carmichael’s “Heart and Soul.” For some, however, that might only involve plunking out the melody with a single finger. But what would it look like to play “Heart and Soul” for real? Well, in today’s Quick Tip, Play Heart and Soul on Piano—Beginner to Pro, Jonny May shows you how to play this beloved jazz standard for all playing levels. You’ll learn:
- Heart and Soul: Song Facts
- Heart and Soul on Piano in 5 Levels
Whether you’re interested in learning “Heart and Soul” for the first time or wanting to perform it professionally, you’ll find everything you need in this piano tutorial.
“Heart and Soul” is most widely known as a piano duet that many learned during childhood. Despite its popular and contagious melody, some folks don’t know “Heart and Soul” by its proper name. Moreover, they may know even less about its composer. In this section, we’ll cover interesting facts and historical background about this popular tune. [Skip to piano lesson]
“Heart and Soul” was written in 1938 by composer Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics by Frank Loesser. Other popular jazz standards by Carmichael include “Stardust,” “Georgia On My Mind,” “The Nearness of You” and “Skylark.” Loesser, also a composer, is best known for his musical Guys and Dolls and his Academy Award winning song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
“Heart and Soul” was written for Paramount Pictures and was first recorded by bandleader Larry Clinton with vocalist Bea Wain. The tune appeared in the short film A Song Is Born and became a #1 hit in 1939. “Heart and Soul” has remained a popular song in American music and culture, with over 100 subsequent recordings and multiple appearances in television and film.
Heart and Soul Chords
The chord progression for the first section of “Heart and Soul” features a I–vi–IV–V chord progression that is sometimes referred to as “Heart and Soul chords.” For example, in C major, this progression is played C→Am→F→G. Other names for this common progression include “ice cream changes,” “the 50s progression” and “the doo wop progression.” The progression appears in countless tunes from the 50s and 60s, including:
- “Earth Angel” – The Penguins (1954)
- “Unchained Melody” – The Righteous Brothers 1955
- “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” – Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers (1956)
- “The Magic Moment” – The Drifters (1960)
- “Stand By Me” – Ben E. King (1961)
- “Twistin’ the Night Away” – Sam Cooke (1962)
“Heart and Soul chords” have remained a popular songwriting device in subsequent decades too, forming the basis for hit songs from virtually every era, including:
- “Crocodile Rock” – Elton John (1972)
- “We Go Together” – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John (1972)
- “Every Breath You Take” – The Police (1983)
- “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” – Starship (1987)
- “I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston (1992)
- “I’ll Make Love to You” – Boyz II Men (1994)
- “Hero” – Enrique Iglesias (2001)
- “Baby” – Justin Bieber (2010)
- “Girl On Fire” – Alicia Keys (2011)
- “Me!” – Taylor Swift (2019)
In this section, we’ll check out popular recordings of “Heart and Soul,” including Bea Wain’s the 1938 original version with the Larry Clinton Orchestra. In 1952, a version of “Heart and Soul” by The Four Aces peaked at #11. The following decade, The Cleftones’ version of “Heart and Soul” became their biggest hit, peaking at #18 in 1961.
Bea Wain & Larry Clinton
“Heart and Soul” (1938)
The Four Aces
“Heart and Soul” (1952)
“Heart and Soul” (1961)
The popularity of “Heart and Soul” has almost certainly been fueled by its frequently appearances in television and film. The Cleftones hit version was featured in the 1973 classic film American Graffiti. A decade later, the Cleftones version appeared again in the 1985 comedy Mischief.
Beyond its appearance on movie soundtracks, “Heart and Soul” has also often been included in TV and film as part of the on-camera story performed by the actual characters. Most memorably, the 1998 film Big features Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia performing “Heart and Soul” with their feet on a giant floor piano in a toy store. More recently, the Netflix series Lucifer features episodes in the first season (2106) and final season (2021) in which Lauren German and Tom Ellis play “Heart and Soul” as a piano duet. In fact, similar scenes have appeared in The Competition (1980) and Midnight Madness (1980). Additionally, Frasier fans will recall when characters Niles and Daphne sang “Heart and Soul” while chopping vegetables in season 5 (1998).
Season 1, Episode 9 (2016)
Season 5, Episode 20 (1998)
As we have seen, “Heart and Soul” has many frequent associations with comedy and childhood. Therefore, you might be surprised to learn that legendary jazz pianists have also recorded the tune. Here are three versions we think you should check out. First, a solo recording by Hank Jones. Next, a duo recording by Cedar Walton and Ron Carter. Finally, a trio recording by Bud Powell. Other notable trio recordings are those by Dave Brubeck and Beegie Adair.
“Heart and Soul” (1956)
Ron Carter & Cedar Walton
“Heart and Soul” (1982)
“Heart and Soul” (1956)
Now that you have learned about the origins and pervasiveness of “Heart and Soul” in popular culture, it’s time to play it yourself! In this section, we’ll cover important piano arranging techniques for all playing levels so that you can play a version of “Heart and Soul” that’s perfect for you. Due to publishers’ restrictions, the examples in this blog contain an altered melody that differs from Hoagy Carmichael’s original melody. However, Jonny’s complete lesson sheet PDF as featured in today’s Quick Tip video is available from our partners at musicnotes.com.
The widespread appeal for “Heart and Soul” by piano enthusiasts everywhere is largely due to its simplicity. In fact, it can be played with just 4 chords. In addition, the melody draws on a single major scale. Furthermore, the melody makes almost exclusive use of stepwise motion, which is the simplest type of melodic movement for beginners to learn. That means that successive melody notes are almost always just one key to the left or right.
Keys to Playing At This Level
- Know the Major Scale
- Know Major and Minor Chords
- Know How to Play Swung 8th Notes
Since today’s lesson is in the key of C major, you can play the melody using all white keys. The notes for a C major scale are C–D–E–F–G–A–B–C. (Note: Jonny’s arrangement contains an F♯ in measure 8. This exception is an example of a chromatic passing tone.)
Next, let’s look at the four chords you’ll need to know to play “Heart and Soul” as a beginner. The most basic type of chords in music are 3-note chords called triads. Triads are formed by skipping one scale tone between each chord tone. For example: C…skip D…E…skip F…G. Therefore, the C chord that we play in C major contains the notes C–E–G. In this chord, the note C is considered the root of the chord. We’ll follow the same process build triads with roots on the notes A, F and G.
Using the process above, the four chords you’ll construct are C major (C–E–G), A minor (A–C–E), F major (F–A–C) and G major (G–B–D). The following diagram allows you to visualize these triads, which you’ll use in your left hand.
Beginner Accompaniment Pattern
If you are an absolute beginner, you can simply block these triads in half notes while playing the melody in your right hand. However, the most common accompaniment pattern is based on a swung 8th-note groove. To apply this accompaniment, play the root of each chord twice as 8th notes. Then, play the upper two notes of the chord twice also, on the subsequent beat. The entire accompaniment pattern fills two measures in 4/4 time. Once you’re comfortable with the left-hand groove, try adding the melody. It will sound something like this:
Beginner Piano Skills for Heart and Soul
If you’re a beginner and you want to be able to play triads in all 12 keys, check out our Quick Tip on Diatonic Chords—The Complete Guide.
Perhaps you want to play “Heart and Soul,” but differently than the way everybody else does. In this section, you’ll learn how to use play the tune with a modern, relaxing vibe using contemporary chords and a syncopated “straight 8th” groove.
Keys to Playing At This Level
- Know “Add 2” and “Add 4” Chords
- Play Straight 8th Notes
- Know Syncopation
One of the easiest ways to get a beautiful contemporary pop piano sound is to simply add one additional note to ordinary major and minor triads. In some cases, we’ll add the scale tone that occurs between the root and the 3rd of the chord—we call these add 2 chords. Otherwise, we can add the scale tone that occurs between the 3rd and the 5th of the chord—we call these add 4 chords. These 4-note sonorities, which are different from seventh chords, are sometimes described as “triad plus one” chords or shapes.
Let’s examine how we can use add 2 and add 4 chords on “Heart and Soul.” For the 1-chord and the 4-chord, we’ll use the add 2 shape. Then, on the 5-chord and the 6-chord, we’ll use the add 4 shape. The following diagram illustrates how to form each “triad plus one” shape in closed position.
Late Beginner Accompaniment Pattern
To get the contemporary pop feel, we’ll use straight 8th notes instead of swung 8th notes. In addition, we’ll add syncopated rhythms that are characteristic of pop music. This includes shifting some of the melody notes to “off beats.” To do this, we’ll frame the melody and accompaniment around the following standard pop rhythm:
You may notice that the example above is written in cut time. Cut times is actually equivalent to a time signature of 2/2. When notated in this manner, the half note gets the count. This means we feel the groove in two beats per measure, rather than in four. If you were to count it in four, then you’d have to double the tempo to 148 BPM. However, trying to play this rhythm with to a metronome at 148 will feel more frantic that relaxed.
If you are unfamiliar with cut time, you might be wondering, “What’s the point of cut time notation?” The main point of cut time is that it uses less subdivisions in the notation, which is supposed to make it easier to read and count. However, for some students, this is not necessarily true. If that includes you, then you may want to think of this rhythm in 2/4 time, expressed with 16th notes:
Both examples actually sound the same. It’s just a matter of how the rhythms appear on paper. Check out how it sounds when we apply this rhythm to a melody similar to “Heart and Soul” with the triad plus one chords.
Late Beginner Piano Skills for Heart and Soul
If you like the sound of the arrangement above, then you’ll love our course on Pop Piano Accompaniment: The One Chord Wonder.
If you are an intermediate piano student, then you may want to play a jazzier version of “Heart and Soul.” In this section, you’ll learn how to apply jazz harmony to this popular tune.
Keys to Playing At This Level
- Know 7th Chords
- Know Chord Extensions
- Know Chord Alterations
Jazz harmony is based on seventh chords rather than triads. Therefore, we’ll be using 4-note dominant 7th chords in this section. In addition, we’ll use a slightly different chord progression that the typical “ice cream changes” that are usually played on “Heart and Soul.” Instead, we’ll be using The Turnaround Progression. The only difference, however, is that turnaround progression uses a 2-chord where we were previously playing the 4-chord. This is an example of chord substitution.
Here’s an illustration of the turnaround progression with dominant 7th chords:
You can learn how to construct and apply the five most common seventh chords in the following courses:
- Major 7th Chord Theory and Application
- Minor 7th Chord Theory and Application
- Dominant 7th Chord Theory and Application
- Diminished & Half Dim 7th Chord Exercises
Early Intermediate Accompaniment Pattern
At the early intermediate level, we’ll play quarter notes and half notes in our left hand accompaniment using chord shells in the style of Bud Powell. These are 2-note voicings that are either Root+3rd or Root+7th. The following example demonstrates how a tune like “Heart and Soul” sounds in this style.
Early Intermediate Piano Skills for Heart and Soul
Did you notice that the chord symbols in the example above are not all dominant 7th chords? For example, you may be wondering about the C13 and A9. These chords are based on dominant 7th chords; however, they include additional notes that give them a bright, jazzy color. We called these additional notes chord extensions. There are three potential chord extensions that we can add to seventh chords—the 9th, 11th and 13th. These numbers represent compound intervals larger than one octave. However, you can also simply think of them as the 2nd, 4th and 6th above the root. For example, the chord symbol C13 represents a C7 chord (C–E–G–B♭) with the additional note A. Depending on how you think of it, the note A is either the 6th or the 13th above C. To learn more about jazz piano chords with extensions, visit our course on Piano Chord Extensions.
There is one other chord symbol in the example above that might have caught you by surprise. Did you notice the A7(♯9) in measure one? This is an example of a chord alteration. The easiest way to understand chord alterations is that they are essentially a chord extension with and accidental. For example, the 9th of A7 is the note B. However, the chord symbol calls for the ♯9, which is technically B♯. However, enharmonically speaking, B♯ is the same note as C♮, which happens to be the melody note in the A7 chord. In total, there are four possible chord extensions—♭9, ♯9, ♯11 and ♭13. To learn how to play rich, complex jazz chords with alterations, check out our course on Piano Chord Alterations.
If you are a more experienced intermediate player, then you’ll want to add some additional jazz piano techniques to the jazzy chords from the previous section. We’ve got you covered in this section.
Keys to Playing At This Level
- Know Passing Chords
- Know Walking Bass Lines
- Know Ornamentation
One of the most exciting topics in jazz harmony is that of reharmonization. Reharmonization includes both chord substitutions and passing chords. This means that we will either change some of the chords in a tune, or insert additional chords. Let’s check out how this applies to a tune like “Heart and Soul.”
Late Intermediate Piano Skills for Heart and Soul
Wow, that sounds pretty sweet! Let’s look closely at the first measure. Here, we see that two chords have been added—B♭9 and E♭7. These are actually both passing chords and chord substitutions. Passing chords create more frequent chord changes in a tune. Moreover, however, they add exciting momentum toward a target chord. For example, the tension created by B♭9 resolves to the A7(♯9).
But where does the B♭9 come from? This is actually a chord substitution for E7, the V7 chord in the key of A. In fact, we can target just about any chord by preceding it with its V7 chord. However, in this example, the E7 passing chord doesn’t appear because we have used a technique called tritone substitution to replace E7 with the dominant 7th chord that is a tritone away—B♭7. This works because dominant 7th chords that are a tritone apart contain the same guide tones (the 3rd and 7th). For example, the 3rd and 7th of E7 are the notes G♯ and D. Similarly, the 3rd and 7th of B♭7 are the notes D and A♭….the exact same pitches! This means that B♭7 can resolve to A major or A minor (or A7 in this case) with the exact same voice leading that E7 would use.
Late Intermediate Accompaniment Pattern
The jazz swing accompaniment pattern of choice for late intermediate players is the walking bass line. This technique outlines the harmony with continuous quarter-note movement and occasional 8th-notes to heighten the swing feel. We call these 8th notes ghost notes because they are played more softly.
There are multiple ways to construct a walking bass line, and approaches vary depending on how frequently the chords change. However, let’s briefly examine how the walking bass line is constructed in the example above. To begin with, you’ll need to disregard the passing chords for now. Remember, the essential chord movement is the turnaround progression: C7→A7→D7→G7. If we were to play a quarter note bass line with only the roots of the chords, we would have:
||: C C A A | D D G G :||
This isn’t quite a typical walking bass line just yet, but it is an important step because it serves as an outline for any number of possible bass line variations. Next, we’ll add movement by using alternative notes on beats two and four. The most common techniques are to use the 5th of the chord or to target the following root from a ½ step below or above. In our example, we are targeting the root of each chord from a ½ above:
||: C B♭ A E♭ | D A♭ G D♭ :||
The last step is to add the ghost notes to make the bass line swing. If you look closely at the notation for this playing level, you’ll see that each ghost note is simply a quick return to the root of the previous chord before landing on the next chord.
Late Intermediate Ornamentation
Another musical device that is included in our late intermediate example is ornamentation. Ornamentation includes a number of jazz piano techniques such the turns in measures two and four, and the slide in measure four. Check out our courses on Breaking Down a Jazz Solo (Int, Adv) for a deep dive on jazz piano embellishments including turns, rolls, slides, tremolos, anticipations, neighbor notes, passing tones, enclosures and more!
If you are an advanced pianist, then this section is for you. This section covers essential jazz piano techniques for performing “Heart and Soul” with a classic jazz stride feel.
Keys to Playing At This Level
- Know Chord Clusters
- Know Runs
- Know the Stride Left Hand
The stride piano style has an “old time” sound that draws on more frequent use of diatonic harmony. For example, instead of the turnaround progression with all dominant 7th chords like the previous two sections, we actually have less chords with accidentals in this style. For example, instead of C7, we’ll use C6/9. Similarly, instead of A7, we’ll use Am11. In addition, we’ll bring back the 4-chord and play it as F6. However, you’ll notice that each chord is played with chord clusters—chord tones that are a step apart. The following example demonstrates these advanced piano techniques performed slowly.
Advanced Piano Skills for Heart and Soul
Notice that the runs are inserted where there are gaps in the melody. This virtuosic sound was popularized by Art Tatum. Jonny covers several approaches to piano runs in our course on Summertime Slow Blues 2, Lesson 6.
Advanced Accompaniment Pattern
The stride piano technique used in the example above is often described as “root-to-chord” because it primarily uses roots on the strong beats (one and three) and then jumps to a chord voicing on the weak beats (two and four). A more advanced stride technique is to play “lazy 10ths” in which the root is paired with the 10th (the same note as the 3rd, but an octave higher). However, instead of playing the root and 10th together, “lazy 10ths” roll the interval by placing the root on the “and of 4” in the preceding measure. For example, the excerpt above opens with a lazy 10th (the notes C to E) in which the root is place before beat 1. This technique is also applied to the G7 in measure two, the C6 chord in measure three and the D7 chord in measure four.
Congratulations, you’ve completed today’s lesson on Play Heart and Soul on Piano—Beginner to Pro. As a result, you’ve likely got a few new tricks up your sleeve.
If you are looking to take your playing to the next level, check out our structured piano learning tracks. These carefully curated course sequences allow you to make steady piano progress at your own pace. We have tracks for every skill level as well as genre-specific learning tracks. Here are a few of the most popular learning tracks:
Beginner Piano Foundations
- Early Beginner Piano Foundations (Level 1)
- Mid Beginner Piano Foundations (Level 2)
- Late Beginner Piano Foundations (Level 3)
Intermediate Piano Foundations
- Early Intermediate Piano Foundations (Level 4)
- Mid Intermediate Piano Foundations (Level 5)
- Late Intermediate Piano Foundations (Level 6)
Advanced Piano Foundations
Jazz Swing Learning Tracks
Jazz Ballad Learning Tracks
Ragtime & Stride Learning Tracks
Blues Learning Tracks
Thanks for learning with us today! We’ll see you next time.
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Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...
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