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How to play Elton John’s Tiny Dancer on the piano: chords, structure and lesson video

Released in 1971 on Madman Across The Water, Elton John’s fourth album, Tiny Dancer is now widely regarded as one of his greatest songs, and one that’s become a staple of his live sets. However, due to its six-minutes-plus length, it wasn’t even a single in the UK, and only hit number 41 in the US.

Success for a song this good was never going to be denied, though, and Tiny Dancer was finally thrust into the spotlight in 2000, when it soundtracked a pivotal scene in director Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical rock road movie Almost Famous (opens in new tab).

SInce then, it’s become inescapable. There was a notable (and excellent) live cover by Ben Folds (opens in new tab), and Tiny Dancer crossed the generational divide again when Ed Sheeran referenced it repeatedly in the chorus of his 2017 hit Castle On The Hill (opens in new tab).

All of which means that, if you’re a piano player, Tiny Dancer is a great song to have in your locker. Everyone knows it and can make a fist of singing along (sort of), so it’s a great one to be able to whip out at a social gathering. What’s more, it’s not particularly difficult to play.

Composition

Tiny Dancer is written in the key of C major, and the famous eight-bar intro is made up of an arpeggiated riff over the chords C major (first inversion) and F major, with a C in the bass. This pattern makes up a good deal of the verse, too, though there’s also a quasi-bridge section that gets a bit more complicated.

After a couple of verses, we get to the pre-chorus, which modulates to Ab major and has a more regimented, rhythmic feel.

This leads into the chorus, which steps down from an F major chord to C major with an E in the bass and then to D minor. There’s a nice G major over A chord at the end of the ‘you had a busy day today’ line, too.

Then we get another verse, pre-chorus and chorus, followed by the outro, which closely resembles the intro.

How to play Tiny Dancer on the piano

One of the best Tiny Dancer tutorials we’ve seen comes from Pianote (opens in new tab), the online piano lesson platform, as it features both top-down video and a sheet music display for those who can read. The production values are high and the teaching is clear, concise and accurate.

The lesson is freely available and suitable whether you want to play just the chords in Tiny Dancer so that you can sing along, or the melody as well.

Pianote (opens in new tab) also has a Tiny Dancer video that shows you how to play the song at different skill levels, ranging from ‘Casual Hobbyist’ to the way that Elton John does it. So, you can pick the one that’s right for you and your current ability.

I’m the Group Content Manager for MusicRadar, specialising in all things tech. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 20 of which I’ve also spent writing about music technology.