How to Write a Timeless Piano Part • Music Theory from The Beatles "Now And Then"



How to Write Timeless Piano
like The Beatles


Download Tutorial as PDF
includes MIDI + WAV file examples



The last Beatles song. That’s what the official press release calls “Now And Then”. The Beatles made history this week (again!), but the internet is flooded with writing about this song, so we won’t repeat the story of how “Now And Then” came to be. Instead, we’ll focus exclusively on why this song sounds timeless.


Until recently, I used to think that J.S. Bach’s music was timeless. But now I’m not so sure. I’ve been to many Bach concerts, and while my head is bald by choice, almost all the other men in there didn’t have a choice with their bald heads, if you know what I mean?! So, who’s gonna be listening to Bach in 30 years from now? Don’t get me wrong, there will always be Bach superfans (like me!), but is his music timeless if it’s not popular with the general public now? Bach’s music is far too complex to appeal to most modern musical taste buds, so it’s not really timeless. It’s the same with art and poetry. Yes, there will always be William Blake superfans (like me!), but the general public nowadays is clearly not interested in this genius’ work. Great art will always be great art, but perhaps it’s not timeless.


So why is this PDF titled “Timeless Piano” then? Well, by definition timeless music has to appeal to generation after generation, and there’s been a clear trend for many decades in the music that the general public listens to. Yep, it’s been getting simpler and simpler. So, perhaps the way to write music that’s going to have the best chance of being timeless, is to make it extremely simple. But, the simpler the music, the more chance there is of it getting boring. And if it gets boring, it’s obviously not going to have a very long shelf life. That’s where the genius of The Beatles shines: they’re masters of making simple music that has just enough interest to prevent it from getting boring. The result? Timeless(ish) music.


You see, I still don’t believe that any music can be said to be truly timeless, as how can we possibly know if the general public will be listening to it in a thousand years from now!? Nevertheless, inspired by “Now And Then”, here’s our 4-step method for writing a piano part that’s as timeless as The Beatles. But first… Tea!



Step 1. A Couple Chords


The chord progression in “Now And Then” mainly consists of two chords. Before we get to those two chords, though, a brilliant and creative hack that The Beatles use is to make their progression ten bars long. We’re obviously used to hearing loops of two bars, four bars, or sometimes eight bars. But ten bars? Nope, we’re not used to that at all. So, despite their progression being super simple, those extra two bars at the end keep us interested and engaged, because they’re unexpected.


So, change your tempo to 87 BPM, then create a ten-bar loop on your piano track. We’re gonna start off with the grid on 1/4 notes. The Beatles begin their song (intro and verse, which is what we’re teaching here) in the key of A minor , so we’ll use it too.


A natural minor
















Now it’s time to choose your two chords. Your progression is going to change back and forth between these two chords for five bars, so make sure you really like them. You can use any chords from the key, other than the diminished (Bdim). Well, unless you want to make your listeners feel very very uncomfortable.


The Beatles begin on the root chord (Am), as it anchors their progression into the key. For this reason, we suggest you also start on Am. We did, too. Their second chord is Em. We chose Dm. Their choice of two minors (Am→Em) obviously makes “Now And Then” deeply solemn. If you want a more uplifting sounding progression, though, then definitely choose a major as your second chord.


Once you’re happy with your two chords, draw them in, with each chord lasting one bar. This is another great example of how The Beatles keep their progression simple. They could’ve changed chords on beat 3, or even an off-beat, which would sound more interesting, but maybe that’s too interesting for timeless(ish) music.


Beginning of our progression: Am to Dm



Next, invert your second chord to get the common note in the same place. If you don’t have a common note, you’ll need to make one. If you don’t know how to do that, we teach it in our Songwriting & Producing (Course)Otherwise just choose a different second chord that does contain a common note with the Am.


Dm inverted by moving A down an octave



Next, delete the ♭3 (C) in your Am chord. Why? Well, it’s yet another way that The Beatles create interest without making it too interesting. And by deleting the 3rd note of Am, it’s theoretically no longer Am, it’s now A5 (i.e. the root and 5th).


As you know, the 3rd note determines a chord’s quality (i.e. whether it’s major or minor), so by deleting the ♭3 in our Am chord, we’ve de-minored it. And no, that’s definitely not a musical term! Also, for the record, it’s no longer a “chord” either, because a chord requires at least three notes. It’s now an interval/harmony.


Am with ♭3 (C) deleted, moving to Dm/A* (root note of each chord highlighted)




For the rest of the tutorial, please buy the PDF. Supporting our work helps us to keep teaching. Thank you :)




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Lastly, are you new to music theory? Or are you experienced, but you want a refresher? Then download our FREE BOOK (link opens in new tab). It only takes 30 minutes to read, then you’ll have a solid theory foundation that you can instantly apply to your songwriting and producing. Enjoy!



Ray Harmony
Multi award-winning college lecturer