In this blog post I’m going to teach you to play “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran: but not the traditional way with sheet music or just memorizing notes on your keyboard. Instead, I’ll use my 5-step song-learning process to go through this song exactly the way I would learn it if I’d never played it before. That means no fluff, no wasting time, and just you, me, and Ed Sheeran. 😉
Important Note: I will assume that you’re here because you’re already somewhat familiar with my chord-based approach to piano. You should already know a bit about chord formulas and my 5-step process for song-learning. If that’s you, “Perfect!” (Pun definitely intended. 😉 ) If not, first you need to get started with my 5-day workbook. You can also check out some of the videos I have for people who are just starting out, such as this one here.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way, let’s take a look at this modern classic. And we start with step number 1:
#1) Finding the Chords
To play the song, we need to look at chord notation. This can be found for free on the internet by doing a quick search for the name of the song + “chords.” So in this case I’m searching for “perfect chords,” which turns up chord notation right away. The top search result is almost always for a site called Ultimate Guitar, but don’t let that fool you: ultimate-guitar.com is one of the best sites for chord notation even if you’re playing a keyboard or piano.*
*I’ve been using the free version of this site for years, so feel free to ignore the ads and promotions for the paid version of Ultimate Guitar. It’s simply not necessary for most people.
Got your chords ready? Great. Take a look at what chords are listed, and pay attention to whether the song is capoed, a.k.a. transposed.
What’s a Capo? How Do I Transpose?
A capo is a little device that manually raises the pitch of guitar strings, but we don’t need one for the keyboard or piano. Most keyboards or digital pianos have a built-in feature or button that allows you to transpose easily.
Things get a little more complicated for acoustic piano players, but if that’s you, you still have options! You can choose to play the song:
- Without transposing, resulting in a lower sound
- By transposing manually, which requires you to consciously shift your fingers up by a certain number of semi-tones as you play
- With transposed chords instead of a transposed instrument, meaning you will alter the chord notation itself to show the newly transposed chords
Transposing “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran
Assuming you are on a keyboard or digital piano, take a moment to locate your transpose button. (If you don’t see it, you may need to check your user manual or do a quick internet search!) Transpose by 1. You can test whether this worked by playing the same note before and after. That same note should sound slightly higher after you turn on the transpose feature.
Okay, are you still with me? Let’s take a look at the chord notation again.
This song is written in the key of G and the chord notation says “capo 1.” That means we need to transpose by one semitone (one key on the keyboard). Once I transpose by 1, every note I play will sound one semitone higher than usual. When I play a G, it will sound like a G#. When I play an Em, it will sound like an Fm. And so it goes for every note, and every chord.
The chords for this song are G, Em, C, D, D/F#, G/B, and Dsus4. Note that you can play those slash chords as the root chord plus the variant notes in your left hand. That means when you play D/F#, all you really have to do is play a D chord in your right hand and two F notes in your left hand. Simple!
Take a moment to go through that chord progression slowly. You don’t need to play on tempo at this point, you just need to make sure that you are familiar with how to play each of these chords. Once you’re satisfied that you’re not going to freeze up when you come to each of these chords, you’re ready to move along to step 2.
#2) Listen and Observe the Original Song
In YouTube, Spotify, or wherever you prefer to stream music, find the original “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran. Play the song and as you listen, read along in the chord notation. Do you see and hear where each new chord change happens?
If you’re not sure, pay extra attention to the lyrics where each chord change is listed. In general, the place the chord is over the lyrics, is the place the chord transition occurs.
Listen through the song at least once in full (or as many times as you need to). Get a feel for the tempo and the chord changes. Now it’s time for step 3!
#3) Play Chords With the Song
Keep playing the original song in the background, but make sure you have your chord notation pulled up and ready to play! This is where the rubber starts to meet the road, because it’s time to play along with what you’re hearing.
But don’t worry: at this point I don’t expect you to play the full song with a full and unique-to-you sound. I just want you to follow along with the basic chord changes as you see them.
When you see G, play a G chord. Then when you reach the part of the lyrics where the next chord is listed, play that one. Keep going through the entire song this way, not worrying about improvising or making it sound good. Just practice those consistent chord changes to get a feel for where they are, real-time.
If you’re feeling confident, you can move forward! But if you’re still fumbling a bit, go through the song a few more times this way.
#4) Spice it Up
Since you’re already somewhat familiar with my chord-based approach to piano, you should not be scared to learn that this step is about adding in improvisation. (You are familiar with my approach already, right? If not, what are you doing here? C’mon, don’t get too far ahead of yourself: go sign up for my 5-day workbook so you can learn these skills the right way and avoid overwhelm. 😉 )
It’s time to open up your improvisational toolbag and try out some of your favorite improv tools to fullness and nuance to your playing. Just like in step 3, go back through the song, but this time don’t just stick to simple chord changes. Keep the original on in the background for now.
Throw in a few variations like the ones I talk about in my full 21-day piano course. You can do as much or as little improvising as you want: whatever sounds good to you and complements the song is an awesome way to make it your own.
Repeat this process several times to help you get a feel for which improv tools are your favorite for this song. Then practice as many times as you need to build your confidence so you’re ready for the final step of this process.
#5) Break Free
It’s time to break free from the song in the background, and play the song without the constraints that you’ve been using until now.
If you want to sing along or have someone else sing with you, this is the time to bring those vocals in. But even if no one sings, playing without the background song or track is not going to leave your sound unidentifiable or boring. At least, not if you are making sure you keep things spicy with the improvisational patterns you’ve been practicing!
Granted, at this level we aren’t playing melody notes, at least not strictly the way that Ed Sheeran’s singing would sound. It takes a lot longer to add in melody notes or play a strict interpretation of any song, and often requires sheet music so that you can parrot the exact notes needed. That said, there are ways to play melody without sheet music, if you advance through my chord-based lessons first.
In the video at the top of the post, I give examples of how this example song, “Perfect,” can sound with just improv and no melody, versus how it can sound with more of a melody focus. Neither version that I play in the video requires me to use sheet music, but I’ll be darned if they both don’t still sound like “Perfect!” 😉
My point is, you often don’t need melody, but it can be a great addition later on in your piano journey.
What Comes Next?
Well, that wraps it up for now! You’ve seen me walk you through “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran using my 5-step process for learning to play new songs on your piano or keyboard. Now the ball is in your court. What song will you play next using the 5-step song-learning process?
P.S. If you’ve somehow made it all the way through this post and only just realized you’ve never signed up for my 5-day workbook, you have no excuse. Get it here now!