Ten Notable Piano Solos in Anime

There is no instrument that has dominated the soundtrack scene quite like the pianoforte. If you think about it, it’s not really that surprising. Practically thinking, using a piano cuts labor costs – whereas it would normally take around five violinists (or ten piccoloists, but no one wants to listen to that many piccolos anyway) to sound ten different notes at once, one pianist can handle that, no sweat. But that’s beside the point. With a clear and crisp tone that can duplicate the delicate shimmering of bells or summon an impassioned thundering of notes, the piano is truly beautiful in its own right.

Since anime is also awesome and this post is on an anime music blog, I have to connect my obsessing over the instrument to anime somehow. That’s where notable piano solos in anime come in. Below are ten tracks (in no particular order) that I believe represent the best of piano in anime BGM. Before someone asks me “where’s Hisaishi’s ‘One Summer’s Day’, ‘Ashitaka and San’, ‘Sixth Station’, etc. etc..?”, let me clarify. When I said solo, I meant it literally. I know that a solo can still have an accompaniment, but to prevent myself from being overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, tracks with anything other than piano weren’t considered. With that cleared up, let’s get started!

One crucial role the piano has come to serve in anime BGM (well, BGM in general, now that I think about it) is the performance of those melancholy pieces that usually accompany the emotional and/or gloomy parts of a show. It isn’t too much of a surprise that the pianoforte has risen to this task, since even in quiet solitude it never sounds “empty”. Such is the case in “Watashi no Theme”, a piano rendition of Tatami Galaxy’s protagonist’s theme. I love the wistful ache in this track because it speaks of so many things, be it loneliness, unreachable dreams, or nostalgic pasts. It conveys the kind of sadness that’s associated with wandering alone on a busy street pondering what went wrong in life (did I mention it’s raining? Well it is). All of these notions are packed in without the music ever rising above its restrained atmosphere. That’s pretty impressive, considering the standard emotional work establishes mood with dramatic displays of passionate zeal.

Watashi no Theme (Piano ver.) – Tatami Galaxy

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Of course that doesn’t mean a depressing piece has to hold itself back to be impacting.  Case in point: “The Will (Piano ver.)”, from the Rurouni Kenshin ~Tsuiokuhen~ OVA. In all aspects, the piece resembles a requiem, a composition for the dead, and it definitely isn’t taking the celebratory approach to the funeral. The deliberate funerary march chords tread on with heavy steps, until things finally escalate into powerful and impassioned hysterics as all the guests burst into tears. It’s an absolutely dismal piece that is depression incarnate, adept for darkening my spirits further when I’m in a foul mood.

The Will (Piano ver.) – Rurouni Kenshin ~Tsuiokuhen~

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But enough with these dreary tracks, let’s move onto something a little more lively! I’ve always enjoyed Mina Kubota’s melancholy piano compositions, but I like her upbeat tracks just as much. “Sora no Theme (piano ver.)” has a spring in its step that’s ridiculously infectious to the ear. After the bouncy beginning, the vivacity only slacks off in a middle portion that’s symbolic of obstacles and hardship with its downer atmosphere. Nevertheless, the contrast when things pick up again is wonderful, giving the end a soaring finish that’s confidently triumphant. After listening to “The Will” one too many times, this is the perfect, refreshing pick-me-up.

Sora no Theme (Piano ver.) – Kaleido Star

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The buoyantly jazzy “Livremente ~ Chiisana Itazura” will always be on hand, just in case I need backup, though. In this animated piano tune, the notes dance, quick on their feet. The resultant sprightly and frolicsome sound gives the piece a charming spontaneity that I’m terribly fond of. Coupled with the addictive rhythms, this is music that wants you to move right along with it. Indeed, practically all of Ken Muramatsu’s catchy piano jazz deserves some mention here, since I had such a difficult time choosing one out of the many options he’s composed.

Livremente ~ Chiisana Itazura – Kurenai

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The next piece doesn’t just want you to dance, it is a dance. A waltz to be more precise. “Introduction & Waltz”, once it begins with its showy chords and scales, quite obviously derives its inspiration from classical music. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is what I appreciate the most about it. Adorning a spirited, regal melody with a generous amount of florid flourishes, the solo sounds much too fancy and dramatic to be anything but in good fun. In the end, all I’m able to do is tap my feet and savor the melodramatic music.

Introduction & Waltz – Ouran High School Host Club

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The next selection is a relaxed piece fittingly titled “Bartender” (guess what anime it’s from. You get one try). This track is the kind of laid back composition that you’d expect to hear playing in perhaps, well, a bar. It doesn’t aim to have you experience an emotional catharsis, an ecstatic high, or anything extreme of the sort. It’s simply a pleasant piece that opts to create an easygoing atmosphere which conveys a contented and unhurried sensation that’s enjoyable, especially as a break. After all, listening to sentimentally weighted stuff all the time can become a little tiring.

Bartender – Bartender

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“BARTENDER” might have been nonchalant, but compared to the next solo it’s as turbulent as a stormy sea. From the anime franchise Aria, “Soshite Fune wa Iku” is sublimely bucolic in a way nothing else has quite been able to match. The aural experience is so enchanting; the music gains a picturesque beauty, turning silence into calm water and sound waves into shimmering ripples on a crystal surface. It’s so wonderfully soothing that listening to it is akin to an emotional cleansing. Take my word for it: it becomes very hard to entertain any heartfelt ugly thoughts when this is playing within hearing distance.

Soshite Fune wa Iku – Aria the Animation

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From Binchou-Tan, “Ameoto” is also notable in its serenity. However, it possesses a different kind of calm. This little composition has not the serenity of water but the dreaminess of air (it’s air-headed! Get it?). Instead of following a very distinct melody, the notes, like a breeze, seem to wander, meandering from one half-formed reality to the next, only lightly brushing existences and never closely interacting. I think of the music as Impressionist in nature – the concepts are formed, yet they do not have distinctive boundaries. It’s as if they’re not quite there. All of this makes for a very unique ethereal and otherworldly aura that’s incredibly well-crafted.

Ameoto – Binchou Tan

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Of course the top ten would have to include some selections that expound on love, the emotion humans have been obsessed with since forever. What better way to start than with a track from the anime adaptation of the classic love story Romeo and Juliet? “Deai”, or “Encounter”, chooses to depict the innocent side of the sentiment. While the music remains quietly affectionate for the entire duration, it also conveys a sensation of movement. How this quickening influences the flow of the music, thereby capturing the sensations of first love, is truly this piece’s strong point. It creates the perfect portrait of two enamored lovers, hearts stirring as they spend brief, stolen moments of time in each other’s company. Thinking of these images, I get mushy every time hearing the heartwarming sentiments this piece gushes.

Deai – Romeo x Juliet

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And finally, Tenmon. This guy knows how take a lovely tune and arrange it into an even lovelier sounding piano work. “One more time, One more chance (Piano ver.) is probably my favorite out of them all. The theme itself is quite beautiful already, but that isn’t what I consider the forte of this track, especially since it repeats so many times. Instead, what makes this work unique is the feeling with which it is performed. Every rendition of the theme is different – sometimes it’s played delicately and tenderly, other times it’s performed powerfully and passionately. Consequently, the melody is transformed every time it’s repeated, capturing a different aspect of love every time.

One More Time, One More Chance (Piano ver.) – Byousoku 5 Centimeter

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So there we are, ten notable piano solos from anime BGM. As I said before, there were many, many tracks that I wanted to include but couldn’t either because of lack of space or inclusions of other instruments (Albergo from Gunslinger Girl, anyone?). I may have also clear-out forgotten some well deserving compositions (which you can feel free to remind me of in the comments).

About the author

Yu A musician with a fondness for anime, I love listening and talking about the music accompanying the shows I watch. I'm fond of classical styled music, but any piece regardless of genre can tickle my fancy. On the other hand, I'm awful at discussing anime because I'm so terribly easy to please.

27 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Jen says:

    If only accompaniment of Bass and Drums are allowed. Then I may get to see Highball from Bartender here too. But yea, I really like your selection nonetheless, and its great to see that the soundtrack even ended up here with its obsolesce.

    Oh and Ouran is here as well. It’s definitely well deserved, and the challenge is probably selecting the best track right?

    Maybe I should do up a cello or violin version lol. With any luck, we can even have this kinda project: showcasing the different instruments in soundtracks. =D Though we’ll kill ourselves sourcing far and wide to pick the best. XD

  2. ojisan says:

    Nice, nice stuff. How did I overlook that great tune in Kurenai? And the Bartender tune makes me want to dig up that show & try it again ( I never made it past first episode, for no t better reason than suspicion that they couldnt pull it off – petty of me).

    Although it risks the ‘sentimentally weighted stuff’ category you mentioned, I have to put in a word for Shiro Sagisu’s work on Kare Kano (some of which is being recycled in the ongoing Evangelion rebuild). My personal favourite is “Treasure Each Meeting”.

  3. Gabest says:

    There was a good one in hunter x hunter at the beginnig of the 48th episode!

  4. omo says:

    i’m a big fan of this

  5. omo says:

    Just going to spam more things.

  6. maskerade says:

    Oooo… sounds like a good theme to do! Loved the work Yu!

    Agree totally with Tenmon’s piece and I absolutely loved Will from Kenshin, though I prefer the more bittersweet Quiet Life. A couple of pieces that come to mind as well: the piano version of the main theme for Juuni Kokki, and Yuki Kajiura’s sublime ‘Ensei no Shizukesa’ from Mai Hime with its beguiling opening chords before the familiar tragic theme follows.

  7. Don says:

    I’d like to mention “Aisles Grises” from Haibane Renmei, but it isn’t completely solo piano. However, “Ripples by the Drop” is.

    The silly anime Mao-Chan deserves mention. Its background music is entirely solo piano.

  8. Ayumikat says:

    Thank you for putting this together and for picking the piano version of ‘Watashi no Theme’. There is just something about it that resonates with me. It’s a beautiful delicate piece that manage to convey so much with so little. I also like ‘Deai’, another uncomplicated but tender piece.

    There’s this little piano piece I adore immensely and like to share here. This one though is the complete opposite of ‘Watashi no Theme’. Very sprightly piece and I just love the playful melody of the piano here.

  9. Yu says:

    @Jen
    It was a pity that I couldn’t allow tracks with other instruments lest I drown myself indefinitely in choices. Even with the pool dramatically cut by my literate interpretation of ‘solo’, it was definitely still a pain choosing pieces over others. Who knows? The list could be different if my mood weren’t the same at the time.

    The cello and violin don’t have many entirely solo pieces, so you’d be able to choose from options which have accompaniment! For the cello this is plausible, but the violin is absolutely everywhere. Hopefully the list doesn’t take too long to compile :P

    @ojisan
    Maybe they managed to pull it off in the end because of the great music. ;)

    Kare Kano’s soundtrack is great stuff, I do agree. I’m also fond of that track from it, but I found its composition to be a little too simple in comparison.

    Sentimentally weighted stuff is totally OK, as long as I don’t have to listen to it 24/7!

    @Gabest
    Ah, the Hunter x Hunter OST is written by the same guy who composed Gunslinger Girl’s ‘Albergo’. Funny I missed that piano piece the first time I went through the HxH soundtracks. Thanks for the tip-off!

    @omo
    Zzeroparticle brought that first track from the Asatte no Hokou video to my attention. Unfortunately, while I found the sound beautiful, I felt that ‘Ameoto’ nailed down the atmosphere I liked, especially with its smoother transitions.

    It’s too bad The Someday’s Dreamers track has other instruments in it (they do make the track what it is, though). I remember thinking that the triplet same note combo was kind of spastic the first time I listened to it, but I got used to it quickly since the piece has such a nice relaxing atmosphere.

    @Maskerade
    ‘Quiet Life’ is another of my favorites, but there were so many other bittersweet choices that I ended up going with ‘The Will’ because it was more unique (admittedly, I didn’t want to flood the list with Iwasaki, either).

    ‘Ensei no Shizuka’ was also a choice I looked at, but it didn’t come across as extremely memorable. Then again, I’m just a Kajiura-hater.

    Thanks for reading! I’ll have to check out Juuni Kokki.

    @Don
    Both very nice tracks, I remember hearing them when I last went through the Haibane Renmai OST. “Ripples by the Drop” also has that dreamy atmosphere that I like. Unfortunately, with a list you can only mention so many tracks when there are so many others that deserve at least some sort of mention.

    Thanks for the Mao-chan recommendations, I’m always grateful for new things to check out.

    @Ayumikat
    I’m glad we agree in our love for those two tracks! Both of them came to mind almost immediately when I began writing this.

    Ah, I like the conversationally lively atmosphere to that piece. It also sounds a tad confused, which would make sense, considering the context. :P

  10. Jen says:

    Yea, violin is everywhere… But that really means there are so many good violin pieces out there which absolutely deserve to be honored here. At the top of my head, I’m thinking Kyoudai, Never Meant to Belong, and maybe B.T. Though knowing the niche we cater to, chances are our readers probably heard these already. XD

  11. Nyitora says:

    Thanks for this post! I play the piano (although not very well) so I definitely enjoyed this!

    Although rather simple, I really liked Darker than Black 2’s Serenade of Nirvana. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=622dMv8Pbng

    It just has such a huanting, nostalgic quality to it.

    And even if it’s not an anime, I loved A Piano for the Night from the visual novel Crescendo. I don’t particularly like jazz, probably because I can’t play it, but I just love this piece. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqnNTJ8NpWQ

  12. Justin says:

    Ah, hearing Sora No Theme makes me think I should re-watch Kaleido Star sometime. This is good stuff!

  13. Imlazee247 says:

    Nice list, for the sake of contrast I would be interested in hearing what you might chose for a list of 10 Notably Epic Orchestral Pieces in Anime. As cost effective the piano maybe when making great music, being immersed in the various colors that an orchestra brings is still quite the thrill.

    You might have heard this piece of music, bu The Hellsing Ultimate series has had some Carmen-esque pieces like Matsuo Hayato’s Gradus Vita. Nothing has quite made feel like I reach out and overcome the impossible. =D

  14. signorRossi says:

    Hisaishi has done solo arrangements of quite a few of his songs too, his album ‘Encore’ is piano solo only. :) A wonderful album.
    http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/detailview.html?KEY=UPCH-1142
    If you don’t already know it I want you to point to TheOwne’s site with this track one of the reasons: ;)
    http://omohide.com/1178/natsume-yuujinchou-sheet-music-natsu-yuuzora/

  15. Shinster says:

    Great list! It really is amazing how powerful the piano can be even though it’s so common.

  16. Yu says:

    @Jen
    It’s a tradeoff. The more choices there are, the more wonderful pieces you have to choose from, but then again, there are also more wonderful pieces you have to choose from. Picking out favorites is painful! (Also, I totally agree that those three titles are great and deserve some accolades).

    @Nyitora
    Ah, I’ve never listened closely to the DtB soundtracks, I’ll have to do that sometime.

    There are actually quite a lot of great solos from visual novels. It ties back to how I mentioned costs for piano tracks are low. VN’s can afford to pay one guy to write and record a great piano piece.

    And just keep practicing! Being able to play something you love makes it all worth it. 

    @Justin
    Speaking of which, I need to watch Kaleido Star too.

    @Imlazee247
    You can’t compare individual instruments to an orchestra. It’s like comparing a single color to a painting. Even though I love the piano, an ensemble is certainly more “colorful”, as you put it. However, there are also piles upon piles of orchestral works that I like (and piles more that I haven’t listened to). Compiling a list of those would be an even more daunting task. If I were to do it, it would probably take me quite a while :P

    And wow, thanks for mentioning the Hellsing music. It’s turning out to be quite spectacular so far.

    @signorRossi
    I tried to only include tracks that were actually included as BGM though, so I didn’t consider arrangements released in a separate album. I do agree that the Hisaishi’s piano arrangements are great though!

    And thanks for pointing out that site!

    @Shinster
    I’m glad you enjoyed it! I consider it a success when someone else sees a little bit of how wonderful my favorite instrument is xD

  17. Nyitora says:

    @Yu, thanks!

    BTW, I really like the image at the top. I really like the contrast between the warm colors and the black of the piano, as well as the facial expression and the fingers. (Wish I had fingers like those – it would certainly make playing songs requiring octaves and more doable! (I’m looking at you Mozart’s Turkish March)). Did you draw it?

  18. Josh says:

    Only 7/10 available on my site… I get that “mission failed” feeling for some reason
    Good article, though ^^

  19. Imlazee247 says:

    I am glad you were able read that as I have the tendency to forget more words the later I type. I suppose that might be too daunting a task. It would be hard for me to come up with a fair way to objectively pick one piece of music over another. Perhaps a recommendation list along the lines of things that most people might to know or something a bit more obscure along those lines. I do not want to give the impression that I am being demanding, but this was a nice a read and I am sure if you gathered other lists they would be enjoyable as well.

    You might have found these looking up some more of the Hellsing Ultimate music, but Merche Funebre and Feuerkreuz were some other interesting pieces. Would you happen to have any suggestions for music arrangements, outside of the more popular Kanno and Hisaishi?

  20. Yu says:

    @Nyitora
    I wish I could draw like that! But no, the picture was taken from Danbooru. I’ve always been more of a musician than a visual artist. Maybe I’ll get there after I figure out how to get my clothes to match. (I’m only exaggerating my hopelessness a little..)

    @Josh
    I’m just glad your site exists! With such a large collection of sheet music, it definitely hasn’t failed.

    @Imlazee247
    A “Heavily Recommended Orchestral Works” list is certainly plausible, now that you mention it.

    By “music arrangements” are you referring to orchestral compositions? If so, I can give you plenty. Yuji Nomi’s The Cat Returns is an album full of sweet and beautiful music. Toshihiko Sahashi’s scores for Simoun and Gunslinger Girl contain some of my favorite themes to date. Yoshihisa Hirano has wonderful stuff all over the place… I could go on and on and on, but then there wouldn’t be much left to make a list out of, would there? :P

  21. Imlazee247 says:

    I am only familiar with GG score, thanks for the recommendations. =D

    I should have written instrumental compositions, arrangements or orchestrations. I know The Will has two great versions so I wouldn’t bother me if a piece was written or arranged for multiple instruments. I suppose vocals wouldn’t be bad either, music ranging from Gradus Vita or Minako Obata’s World of Midnight are all musical gravy to me. But I wouldn’t want to spoil a future list. I leave it up to you to offer anymore suggestions. Thanks again.

  22. Khu says:

    Surprised at the lack of Jun Maeda.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKRrpybKrfs

    All the others though, I agree with too. :D

  23. Yu says:

    @Imlazee247
    You could always poke around the website for more good stuff. The composer profiles and Decades post series showcase some musical highlights, and the music review list itself has plenty of ‘excellent’ scores listed!

    @Khu
    Ah, but that’s an arrangement album! Only tracks from OST’s were counted. :P

  24. plmko says:

    I used to try and learn piano pieces from anime, but these days I just go straight into stuff by Chopin as I find all anime piano themes pretty much take cues from Chopin’s work.

    In other words, learn the best, and you can do the rest haha.

  25. Tim says:

    The last one from 5 Centimeter is awesome I watch the movie years ago didn’t remember about the solo tho, now that I listen all of it and see how amazing it is I have it in repeat for 10 times straight :P

  26. Yu says:

    @plmko
    Even if anime music is all derivative Chopin as you say (I believe that generalization is a little unfair in its all-encompassing nature), I still enjoy listening to it. I’d say most of it is original enough that some passing similarities are not much use to point out.

    And yes, while learning Chopin is a nice challenge (Revolutionary Etude? Grand Polonaise?), I still find myself picking up anime sheet music for some relaxing sight reading.

    @Tim
    I’m glad you’ve rediscovered the piece! I love music tracks that force you to keep them on repeat. It proves that the more popular vocal genre isn’t the only thing that can be addictive.

  27. Valence says:

    Sounds like a challenge. *looks for piano scores*

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