Dueling pianos involves two pianists performing head-to-head on stage, often taking turns playing songs while trying to outdo each other musically and comedically. It originated from informal piano “battles” during the 1890s ragtime era and later became a competitive entertainment act during the 1970s. Today, dueling pianos are a popular singalong entertainment option, with pianists performing at bars, corporate events, weddings, and parties. Audience members shout out song requests as the pianists try to keep the music and laughs flowing. This creates an energetic and inclusive atmosphere.
The best dueling piano songs have catchy melodies, fun rhythms, and lyrics the audience recognizes and can easily sing along to. Songs span classic rock, pop, country, recent hits, 80s nostalgia, and more. The most popular picks get people singing together from the first notes. With familiar choruses and piano lines, the audience feels part of the show.
In this article, we’ll explore the top genres for dueling pianos, the qualities that make a great dueling song, and provide examples of go-to hits you can expect to hear at any dueling piano show.
Popular Music Genres For Dueling Pianos
Certain genres tend to produce songs that work exceptionally well in the dueling pianos format. The most popular include:
Classic rock dominates the dueling piano repertoire. These nostalgic tunes have remained in pop culture for decades due to their catchy melodies, anthemic choruses, and lyrics everyone recognizes. Songs like “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, and “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd get audiences pumped up and singing along. Other classic rock staples like Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” and The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” are crowd-pleasing singalongs.
Popular piano-driven pop songs are dueling piano favorites, especially tunes with big hooks and lyrics tailored for group singing. Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” have natural piano lines perfect for dueling. Other pop hits like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” keep audiences engaged with their familiar melodies and catchy choruses.
The storytelling aspect of country songs translates well to the dueling piano environment. John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is a classic example, getting patrons swaying and singing together. Newer country hits like “Cruise” by Florida Georgia Line also work well, riding the line between country and pop.
Songs from the 80s have become dueling piano favorites, as patrons who grew up with that era’s hits are now prime audiences. Journey’s power ballads, Bon Jovi’s hair metal classics, and tunes like A-ha’s “Take On Me” bring on waves of nostalgia. Pop and rock hits from the 80s have the brand of catchiness and consumerism that makes them ideal singalongs.
90s and 2000s
Recent decades have produced dueling piano staples like the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way,” NSYNC’s “Bye Bye Bye,” and Lady Gaga’s synth-pop hits. Show tunes from Broadway musicals like Rent and Wicked also grew in popularity during this period and get audiences belting out dramatic choruses.
Characteristics of Great Dueling Piano Songs
While dueling pianists pull from many genres, the best songs have common traits making them ideal for live singalongs. Great dueling piano picks typically have:
High Energy: Upbeat tempos and rhythmic piano lines that engage the crowd. Songs like “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles and “Up Around the Bend” by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
Anthemic Choruses: Simple, repeatable choruses that are easy to memorize and sing together. For example, the “Na na na na na” chorus of “Hey Jude” or “I guess that’s why they call it the blues” from Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets.”
Nostalgic Favorites: Songs that provide throwback fun, like 1980s hits “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi or “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses.
Cross-Generational Appeal: Songs loved by both young and old, like Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” or Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
Singable Melodies: Melodies you can sing even if you don’t know the words. For instance, the melody of The Eagles’ “Hotel California” chorus.
Call and Response: Songs with alternating solo and group vocals, like “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen (“Scaramouch, Scaramouch…”)
Simple Lyrics: Words that are easy to learn and sing along to after just a few listens. Like the #1 lyrics of “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver.
By featuring songs with high crowd participation factors, dueling piano shows create fun, engaging experiences for all.
Top 100 Dueling Piano Songs
Below is a comprehensive list of 100 beloved songs that consistently get crowds singing along at dueling piano shows. Each includes a brief description of why it works well:
- Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey – 80s anthem with a memorable piano riff
- Piano Man – Billy Joel – Joel’s signature song and dueling piano staple
- Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond – Crowd-pleaser with “Ba Ba Ba” audience chorus
- Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi – 80s hair metal classic
- Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen – Theatrical rock opera with varied vocals
- Hey Jude – The Beatles – Epic ballad with “Na Na Na Na” singalong chorus
- Billie Jean – Michael Jackson – King of Pop with iconic bassline
- You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC – High energy rocker
- Tiny Dancer – Elton John – Melodic pop ballad featured in movies like Almost Famous
- Billy Jean – Michael Jackson – See #7
- Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd – Southern rock anthem
- Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver – Folksy country/pop crossover
- Come Together – The Beatles – Funky rock with call and response vocals
- American Pie – Don McLean – Lengthy folk ballad recounting music history
- Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison – Upbeat acoustic pop hit
- Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bluesy rock song with rollicking piano
- Bad Romance – Lady Gaga – Gaga’s hit dance/pop track
- Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey – See #1
- Livin’ On A Prayer – Bon Jovi – See #4
- Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond – See #3
- Bennie And The Jets – Elton John – Funky pop with “Bennie! Bennie!” chorus
- Crocodile Rock – Elton John – Another Elton classic and crowd-pleaser
- Take On Me – A-ha – 80s synth-pop with very high vocals
- Uptown Funk – Bruno Mars – Modern funk/pop smash
- Shake It Off – Taylor Swift – T. Swift’s catchy pop breakup song
- Moves Like Jagger – Maroon 5 – Rock/pop song with whistling hook
- Party In The USA – Miley Cyrus – Miley’s upbeat pop track
- Walk This Way – Aerosmith – One of the first rock/rap collabs
- I Want It That Way – Backstreet Boys – Boy band ballad
- Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It) – Beyonce – Beyonce’s hit dance-pop song
- Beat It – Michael Jackson – MJ’s rock anthem with guitar solos
- Hey Ya! – Outkast – Funk/hip-hop crossover with driving beat
- Old Time Rock And Roll – Bob Seger – Classic rock singalong
- Play That Funky Music – Wild Cherry – Funk rock jam
- Mustang Sally – Wilson Pickett – Blues standard covered by many rock bands
- Every Rose Has Its Thorn – Poison – Power ballad by the glam metal group
- Hotel California – Eagles – The Eagles’ landmark classic rock hit
- Pour Some Sugar On Me – Def Leppard – High-energy glam metal crush
- Black Velvet – Alannah Myles – Dramatic 90s rock ballad
- Bohemian Like You – The Dandy Warhols – Indie rock song with bouncy piano riff
- Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd – See #11
- I Love Rock N Roll – Joan Jett – Joan Jett’s signature pop punk anthem
- Jessie’s Girl – Rick Springfield – Power pop hit from the 80s
- Paradise By The Dashboard Light – Meat Loaf – Storytelling rock/opera ballad
- You Give Love A Bad Name – Bon Jovi – Hard-rocking number by the 80s icons
- 24K Magic – Bruno Mars – Bruno’s funky 2016 pop hit
- Shut Up And Dance – Walk The Moon – Feel-good indie pop song
- Like A Prayer – Madonna – Classic Madonna pop with gospel influences
- Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – See #24
- Royals – Lorde – Lorde’s minimalist pop breakthrough song
- Shake It Off – Taylor Swift – See #25
- Locked Out of Heaven – Bruno Mars – Bruno’s reggae-tinged pop track
- Hey Ya! – OutKast – See #32
- Crazy In Love – Beyoncé ft. Jay Z – Horn-driven pop smash by music power couple
- Hello – Adele – Adele’s comeback piano ballad
- Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen – Catchy, upbeat pop by Carly Rae Jepsen
- Rolling In The Deep – Adele – Adele’s breakthrough drama-filled pop song
- Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke ft. T.I. and Pharrell – Controversial R&B jam with Marvin Gaye vibe
- Happy – Pharrell Williams – Feel-good neo-soul track with simple lyrics
- Get Lucky – Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams – Disco throwback jam by the duo
- All About That Bass – Meghan Trainor – Body-positive pop anthem
- Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO ft. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock – EDM/hip-hop party song
- Moves Like Jagger – Maroon 5 ft. Christina Aguilera – See #26
- Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye ft. Kimbra – Moody indie pop duet
- Thrift Shop – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Wanz – Goofy hip-hop song about second-hand clothes
- Can’t Hold Us – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Ray Dalton – Feel-good indie hip-hop track
- Closer – The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – EDM-pop song about a new romance
- Despacito – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee ft. Justin Bieber – Latin pop crossver with Bieber
- Counting Stars – OneRepublic – Soaring pop/rock hit
- Shape of You – Ed Sheeran – Ed Sheeran’s tropical house pop song
- Cheap Thrills – Sia ft. Sean Paul – Reggae-tinged pop collaboration
- Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – See #24
- 24K Magic – Bruno Mars – See #46
- Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran – Sheeran’s swooning pop ballad
- See You Again – Wiz Khalifa ft. Charlie Puth – Hip-hop ballad that dominated the charts
- 7 Years – Lukas Graham – Danish pop/soul hit with nostalgic lyrics
- Shut Up and Dance – Walk the Moon – See #47
- Let It Go – Idina Menzel – Dramatic ballad from Disney’s Frozen
- Shake It Off – Taylor Swift – See #25
- Roar – Katy Perry – Empowering pop anthem by Katy Perry
- Happy – Pharrell Williams – See #59
- All of Me – John Legend – Sentimental Pop/R&B love song
- Chandelier – Sia – Dramatic electropop song about partying to forget
- Radioactive – Imagine Dragons – Rock song with pounding rhythm and drums
- Royals – Lorde – See #50
- Cruise – Florida Georgia Line – Country/pop crossover by the duo
- Fancy – Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX – Iggy’s hip-hop hit featuring a hook by Charli
- Blank Space – Taylor Swift – Tongue-in-cheek pop song poking fun at Swift’s dating life
- Dark Horse – Katy Perry ft. Juicy J – Katy Perry’s moody pop-hip-hop mix
- Uptown Funk – Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars – See #24
- Thrift Shop – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Wanz – See #65
- Rolling in the Deep – Adele – See #57
- Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen – See #56
- Dynamite – Taio Cruz – High energy dance-pop song
- Just Give Me A Reason – P!nk ft. Nate Ruess – Emotive pop/rock duet by P!nk and Ruess
- Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO ft. Lauren Bennett & GoonRock – See #62
- Somebody That I Used to Know – Gotye ft. Kimbra – See #64
- Timber – Pitbull ft. Ke$ha – Pop-rap dance song featuring Ke$ha
- We Are Young – Fun. ft. Janelle Monáe – Anthemic indie pop song that broke through the charts
- Payphone – Maroon 5 ft. Wiz Khalifa – Maroon 5’s pop/rock and hip-hop mashup with Wiz
This massive list has something for all audiences, ensuring a lively singalong environment.
Performing Dueling Piano Songs
More than just song selection, dueling pianists must master certain skills to deliver interactive, high-energy shows. Key elements include:
- Audience Interaction – Dueling pianists connect with crowds by taking requests, initiating singalongs, and getting people to clap or dance. Reading the room and playing off reactions is key.
- Request Medleys – Weaving together snippets of multiple shouted-out songs in creative medleys keeps the music fresh and responsive.
- Piano Arrangements – Adapting guitar or vocal-based hits to piano requires arranging skills. Duelling pianists must rearrange while still making songs recognizable.
- Call and Response – Engaging the audience in “repeat after me” call and response singing on choruses like in “Sweet Caroline” and “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
- Spontaneous Jams – Pianists duel by improvising solos or cutting in on each other’s playing. These “battles” add excitement.
- Playing Off Each Other – Playing off the other pianist’s cues, whether setting up dramatic buildups or passing melodies back and forth.
- Comedy and Stage Banter – Entertaining audiences with jokes, stories, and general wittiness between songs is part of the act.
- Taking Turns – Both pianists taking turns leading songs and reacting to each other’s playing keeps the show fast-paced.
- Song Parodies – Putting funny new lyrics to existing melodies gets laughs while engaging the audience.
- Showmanship – Dueling pianists are performers, so must develop on-stage charisma. Costumes and props add extra flair.
By mastering these key skills, dueling pianists create unique interactive experiences that make every show one-of-a-kind. The repertoire may be familiar, but the spontaneity and chemistry between pianists makes each performance fresh. That’s the recurring thrill that draws crowds to this enduring art form.
Also Read: Top 50 Modern Dueling Piano Songs in 2023
From its early days in ragtime piano bars to today’s rocking singalong shows, dueling pianos has only grown in popularity as interactive entertainment. While the format has evolved, certain qualities make a song work for dueling pianos regardless of era or genre. Catchy choruses, high energy, familiarity and nostalgia ensure audiences stay engaged and singing along.
Master pianists further liven up performances with musical improvisation and witty stage banter. Showmanship and responding to patrons in the moment takes dueling pianos from a song list to an experience. Audiences always leave entertained, whether they were serenaded with Billy Joel or Bruno Mars.
Dueling pianos continue filling bars, corporate parties, weddings and events with joyful noise. The combination of beloved songs and pianists feeding off each other’s musical energy creates a reliably good time. Music fans agree there’s nothing like being part of the action belting out favorites alongside other enthusiastic fans. So next time you see a dueling piano show, don’t be afraid to join the singalong. The familiar melodies you know and love were written just for that purpose.