Today’s 6/8 piece is an old folk tune you might be familiar with called “House of the Rising Sun”. It’s beautiful, uses the damper pedal, and a variety of broken chord and arpeggio patterns in the left hand.
This piece is best suited to an adult beginner who’s been playing piano for around 3 – 6 months.
House of the Rising Sun sheet music
House of the Rising Sun – a History
So in the 60s, a band called The Animals recorded “House of the Rising Sun” and turned it into a modern, if 50 years ago can be considered modern, hit. But the original tune is actually quite a bit older than that. It was probably written in the 18th or 19th century in England, and then when English folk moved on over to New Orleans, it was adapted to reflect that.
There’s also some speculation as to what the song is about. Some think “House of the Rising Sun” was a brothel – real or fictitious – while others think it was actually a prison. I’ll let you read the lyrics and come to your own conclusion. Either way, this is a sad, sad song.
Lyrics for House of the Rising Sun
Just in case you’re curious, here’s a link to the lyrics. There’s also more details on the backstory of this song if you’re into history (which I am!).
- Key signature: One sharp, which is either the key of G major or E minor, but the first chord it E minor so there’s our giveaway.
- Italian: ‘Moderato’ means to play at a moderate speed, and ‘con pedale’ means ‘with pedal’ – you’ll be pedaling syncopated style here. If you’re not quite sure how to do that, refer to the video on syncopated pedaling and you’ll be good to go.
- Time signature: 6/8 time signature. The LH is an almost constant string of 8th notes – each 8th note is worth a beat (6/8 means to count in 8th notes).
Playing the left hand chords
If you want to simplify this arrangement, and make it more complicated with the broken chord pattern later, that’s totally acceptable and it still sounds good. Just follow the chord symbols up top. Remember that the first letter is the chord, and the slash is telling you the bottom note of that chord. If you’re confused, you can read the notes in the bass clef and just play them blocked, instead of broken.
I think sometimes it’s best to learn pieces like this in stages. Maybe take a crack at the RH first to get a feel for it, then try out the chords, then just do simple held solid chords while playing the RH. Make sure you are lining up the chords in the right spot. Once that becomes easy, start trying the broken chord pattern, taking care to line everything up properly like I mentioned earlier.
In the second page, the LH pattern changes – it ups the ante a little. But luckily, the RH is the same. Instead of being just a broken chord, it’s called an arpeggio – it outlines the notes of the chord and then puts that first note back on top. So in an E minor arpeggio, we have an E, G and B, and it’s finished off with another E on top. this is a really common accompaniment pattern, but requires a change of fingering. (LH: 5 – 3 – 2 – 1 instead of 5 – 3 – 1)
Practice this LH pattern alone until you can do it without struggle. Can you do it without looking at your hands? That’s a good sign you’ve got it figured out.
Hopefully you enjoy this excursion into more involved and complex chord patterns (especially the arpeggiated pattern on page 2). This is a beautiful piece, and I’m hopeful you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!