Music Theory 101: Games & Piano

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I love video game music. It isn't the trailers that get me to play a game as much as it is the soundtrack behind it. In that sense, I think that the best date someone could have taken me on would have been two tickets to the London Philharmonic Orchestra when they were playing "The Greatest Video Game Music" session.

But rather than paying the cost to fly halfway across the world to attend the concert, there is a cheaper alternative to being able to listen to what I love -- by learning how to play it. As an added bonus, you'll have something to brag to your friends about.

It's also something that you can add to a resume, along with cooking, to attract potential dates. This might be a horrible reason to learn how to do anything, but it works.

So I put together a list of songs that you can learn how to play on the piano, ranged from easy to hard. I know a few of them, and I'm personally working on the rest. (Although, for the really hard ones I might bribe a friend to play for me.)

So lets start with something simple but gorgeous, "An End, once and for all" from Mass Effect 3.

#8 "An End, Once and For All" from Mass Effect 3

If you are considering an easy song to learn, this one has a simple repetition up to minute 1:09. From there, you will need to do a scale on the left hand, with the repetition continuing with the right hand. At 1:29 it goes back to the repetition with long notes, so it becomes easier to pick at the notes on the piano and remember their positions.

Bioshock Infinite's "Elizabeth's Theme" is next, which is another easy song to pick up.

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Composed by Sam Hulick, "An End, Once and For All" is a score made for Mass Effect 3. The piano version created by Sebastian Wolff. You can get the sheets here.

#7 "Elizabeth's Theme" from Bioshock Infinite

Another simple repetition song at the very beginning, "Elizabeth's Theme" starts with your left hand with your right hand entering at 15 seconds in. With strong deep keys, the right hand swings up an octave later on. Minute 1:06 may be a problem if you aren't used to positions on the keyboard, but thankfully it isn't both hands that have to sweep up and down the keyboard

The next song though is pretty easy to learn and comes from The Last of Us, so check that out!

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"Elizabeth's Theme" is composed by Garry Shyman for Bioshock Infinite. The piano version was arranged by Taioo. Sheets can be found here.

#6 "Main Theme" from The Last of Us

Repetition helps when learning pieces in piano. With this piece there is an emphasis on the right hand more than the left hand, which definitely makes things much easier than than what you will encounter with later songs on this list. The Last of Us was nominated for 14 awards in the music alone, so it helps to wow your friends to learn this piece at least.

The next piece isn't in a particular game, but rather is in a bunch of them. So check out Two Steps from Hell and "Heart of Courage".

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Music composed by Gustavo Santaolalla
Arranged for piano by Acuity1980
Transcribed by Jake Schadewe
The Last of Us © Copyright: 2013 Naughty Dog / SCE Inc.

Download the sheet music here.

#5 "Heart of Courage" by Two Steps from Hell

With a slow beginning, "Heart of Courage" picks up at around 32 seconds in with the right hand coming in at 45 seconds. There is a lot of the repetition that helps you learn how to play piano, but the intensity of the left hand is something else entirely.

Personally I'm still learning this piece, mostly because I picked up the bad habit of the left hand being stronger than the right hand. It kind of reinforces it, but I still want to learn this song and you should too. Anyways, if you remember Final Fantasy X, check out "To Zanarkand" next.

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Music composed by Nick Phoenix & Thomas J. Bergersen
Arranged for piano by Mark Fowler
Soundmix by sayasound.com
© Copyright: 2006 Two Steps from Hell Ltd

Download the sheets here

#4 "To Zanarkand" from the Final Fantasy X Piano Collections

This song is what got me interested in learning piano. I keep mentioning goals and stuff like that, so this is mine. At times it is a pianissimo, which means playing softly. It has a build up though, and for people that have played the game it does speak to the listener.

All together though, Final Fantasy tends to be on the higher difficulty side when it comes to learning how to play the piano, but that doesn't make it any less worth it to learn and play. There is another Final Fantasy piece next, with "Jenova" from Final Fantasy 7.

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Music composed by Nobuo Uematsu
Arranged for piano by Masashi Hamazu
Final Fantasy X © Copyright: 2001 Square Co., Ltd

Download sheets here.

#3 "JENOVA" from the Final Fantasy VII Piano Collections

Jenova was a major antagonist in Final Fantasy VII and it befits her to be presented with a gorgeous piano accompaniment. While the song itself may seem daunting, the difficulty is mostly in the rapid movement. There is a bit of a forte, or heavy key pressing in the beginning that moves towards a softer version later on. But thankfully there isn't a wide range of jumping up a few octaves (I tend to personally make mistakes on those). This piece is easier though than the "One Winged Angel", which is next on our list of songs to learn.

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Music composed by Nobuo Uematsu
Arranged for piano by Shiro Hamaguchi
Final Fantasy VII © Copyright: 1997 Square Co., Ltd

Download sheets here.

#2 "One Winged Angel" from the Final Fantasy VII Piano Collections

The piano version sounds eerily close to the Orchestral version, which makes it much more interesting to learn. The difficulty for the song is a step higher than the rest of the songs covered so far. But if you can do it, link a video in the comments so the rest of us can check it out!

I linked the orchestral version below for "One Winged Angel", if you want to compare the two pieces. And if you are interested in something that is even harder, check out "Cohen's Masterpiece" from the original Bioshock game next.

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Music composed by Nobuo Uematsu
Arranged for piano by Shiro Hamaguchi
Final Fantasy VII © Copyright: 1997 Square Co., Ltd

Download the sheets here.

#1 "Cohen's Masterpiece" from the Bioshock OST

During a Reddit AMA, composer Garry Schyman spoke about this piece, saying:

"Cohen's Masterpiece" was a blast to write. He was described to me as a crazy but brilliant artist but he was reactionary in his artistic tastes. I did NOT know that Cohen would blow up the pianist who was practicing the piece. It was a LOL moment when I discovered that!

If you are attempting to learn this piece, you will need to be prepared to go from a powerful stroke to a soft key press. It might take you a while to learn, but this piece would be a great goal to have.

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Music composed by Garry Schyman
Bioshock © Copyright: 2007 2k Games Inc.

Download the sheets here.

"Brothers" from Fullmetal Alchemist

A bonus track. All of the videos I covered over the past few slides were made by AtinPiano, and you can find his channel here.

If you are interested in learning how to play piano though, FlowKey can help on your mobile or tablet devices to rewind and show you what key to press. Otherwise, look for a professional to teach you. It is never too late to start!

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Music composed by Michiru Oshima
Arranged for piano by Sebastian Wolff, Michael Gluck and AtinPiano
Fullmetal Alchemist © Copyright: 2003 BONES, Sony/Aniplex, FUNimation Productions

Download the sheets here.

Published Apr. 17th 2016
  • Autumn Fish
    Featured Correspondent
    I used to know how to play To Zanarkand and Brothers. I haven't played piano in so many years, though, and I've been too discouraged to try and pick it up again. This article is tempting me to jump back on it. I'm hesitent, though. Building back up from rusty is so daunting it makes me want to give up on my dream of ever becoming a VGM composer.
  • Sagger Khraishi
    Featured Contributor
    For me I play by listening, I can't read notes as much as when I was younger. But I like following Atin's play style, because the way he makes the videos really helps with learning. And it's worth keeping that kind of skill anyways
  • Autumn Fish
    Featured Correspondent
    Yeah, when I'm not being totally down on myself for what I lost, I have been learning what I can by ear. I know that knowing how to play by ear really helps when composing. I've been learning from playpianotoday.com and they seem to have a really good program.

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