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I'm looking at doing a piano version of very simple rock song and since there is really not much in the original song, this is not a problem I have approached before:

here is a cover of the song so you can see the music itself:

obviously, playing the same on the piano will sound extremely noisy and annoying; it's roughly 140bpm now, I'm thinking dropping to 115 or so, but even with that tempo, I can't do a 1:1 piano version.

since it is quite repetitive, arpeggios may not be the best either. as the singing is also very monotonic, there is not much to extract in term of melody.

are there common ways to approach this kind of situation?

  • One word: improvisation. If you have the notes/tabs for the song, you can determine the underlying structure and build/improvise chords on top of it. The easiest (and, probably, most suitable in this case) for piano would be playing chords with the left hand and melody with the right. But you could even develop it further and play melodies with both hands (counterpoint). Can't say it's a rock song, by the way. Sounds more like gothic/darkwave to me (or Rammstein disco if you like). – Pyromonk Jan 17 at 11:52
  • yes, I think the rock definition was a bit loose here :) the problem with playing the chords, as it is, on the left hand, is that it will just be hammering the same things over and over. It can work for some songs, but in this case, I think it'll be just heavy and noisy. What I'm looking for is if there are common ways, etc to build something for the left hand that is matching the chords and melody. Since this process is probably done quite often, I was hoping there's be some 'classic' go-to approaches – Thomas Jan 17 at 12:54
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This is a very broad question, the answer to which largely depends on the composer and the end result they are aiming for. Given your clarification, I can provide some directions that I would personally go for.

First of all, you should determine the key the piece is in. This particular one sounds like E minor to me (I don't have perfect pitch, so correct me if I'm wrong).

There are many extending techniques when it comes to making covers and composing your own tracks.

For "traditional" piano (left hand plays chords, right hand plays melody) I would follow this algorithm:

  1. Write down the chord progression for the track
  2. See if you can invert some chords or dilute the progressions to make it more "interesting"

I am assuming you are familiar with chord inversions, so I will not explain the concept here. I am going to give you a list of how chords can be substituted ("diluted") instead:

  • Go into a relative key (E minor → G major) and borrow chords therefrom
  • Go into a parallel key (E minor → E major here)
  • Play around with chords that have the same root (like Esus here instead of Em)
  • Play around with chords that have similar notes (similar to using chord inversions) and omit notes therefrom if they don't fit the key
  • Use (common) chord progressions instead of playing the same chord bar after bar (an example would be playing, say, Em-F#dim-Bsus-Em instead of Em-Em-Em-Em)

A more "complex" way to approach the problem would be to compose a counterpoint instead of playing chords. You could construct one by using "chord theory" or by simply developing a countermelody for the left hand. This is a more "destructive" approach if you are trying to make a cover, even more destructive than using "chord dilution". It might make the initial piece unrecognisable, but it all depends on what you're aiming for.

If you are familiar with blues progressions (and lazy like me), you can use blues chord substitutions for most "rock" compositions. Just run a search for blues chord matrices. I usually use 16-bar ones. The regular matrix for 16-bar blues is I-I-I-I | IV-IV-I-I | V-IV-V-IV | V-IV-I-I. There are plenty of options out there to create transitions and substitute chords within this matrix. Just compare the different ones and see which chords and progressions can be exchanged with other ones and apply them to your composition.

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    Huh. From the way the question was written, I would have expected more of an arranging/orchestration-based answer, but the substitution/"recomposition" angle (much more involved in the creation of new elements) is well expressed in this answer. +1 – user45266 Jan 17 at 17:41
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"Common arrangement techniques" are largely the same regardless of how much material the original piece contains -- you'll simply need to do more to a piece containing less material.

I don't think starting with songs like this is a good idea. I think it's better to start with pieces that already have a lot of interesting material, so that they require relatively little compositional effort to transform into something interesting on piano; and as you develop your vocabulary arranging those pieces, take up pieces containing less material as a challenge.

That said, the most useful starting point is probably to note where the changes that generate interest are -- where does the instrumentation change, where do the licks go, etc.. This isn't necessarily something for you to copy directly, but a rough guide for where you might want to do something to generate interest.

For what it's worth, I'd argue the song suffers from exactly the same problems you are worried about even in its original form. It's repetitive, lyrically uninteresting, amelodic, harmonically cliched, and texturally pretty limited. Maybe it's okay to replicate these flaws if that's what you or your audience wants.

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