Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen Sheet Music

Is Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen fun to play on the piano? What is the meaning behind this song? Find out all the answers in this article.

Hallelujah touches the hearts of millions of people worldwide. The song takes listeners on a turbulent, emotional journey of the pain of loss and brings us to a divine epiphany in minutes. The lyrics describe some of the most profound human feelings.

And we can recreate that journey on the piano. 

While listening to a song is exceptionally enjoyable, playing a piece brings us much closer to it. Part of the experience is learning about the song’s author and the meaning behind the lyrics. The more intimate you are with a piece, the greater you can evoke its message. 

So come, acquaint yourself with one of the most famous, emotionally invigorating songs that continues to move people to this day.

A brief history of Hallelujah.

Hallelujah is an iconic song that was originally written and sung by Canadian poet, singer-songwriter, and novelist, Leonard Norman Cohen. 

However, the masterpiece was underappreciated for the first decade of its existence. The original version lacked the appeal to capture the attention of the American markets. However, over the years, it would be re-written and played by various other authors – elevating its popularity to unforeseen heights.

Brilliant adaptations of Hallelujah.

While many famous artists like Bob Dylan covered the song, Hallelujah gained popularity with Jeff Buckley’s version. 

Jeff Buckley

Jeff demonstrated a natural talent for music from a young age. His musical interests were broad. He played classic rock, folk, jazz, hardcore punk, and even Pakistani folk music, making his genre challenging to categorize. The young musician took a similar approach to artists like Bob Dylan and Nina Simmone and played in small intimate settings. 

Jeff Buckley played an electric guitar in a similar fashion and sensitivity to an acoustic folk balladist, making him the perfect musician to play a piece like Hallelujah. 

Buckley took the beautiful poetry and imbued it with passion and emotion, accentuating the highs and lows of the lyrics. Ultimately, he turned it into the masterpiece we know and love today.

Here’s a video of his famous 1993-94 recording of Hallelujah – it’s worth listening to.

After its release, the song received attention from a much larger audience, initiating a host of other covers.

Rufus Wainwright

Among the different recordings, one of the most popular is by Rufus Wainwright. Wainwright’s version appeared in the famous movie Shrek. In his version, the song’s instrumentals were played entirely on the piano. 

Other adaptations include:

  • U2
  • Brandi Carlisle
  • Imogen Heap
  • Dresden Dolls
  • Susan Boyle
  • k.d. Lang
  • John Cale

While the song’s popularity gradually increased thanks to various artists’ renditions and appearing in many TV shows and movies, it didn’t become a hit of its current scale until the late 2000s. Likely due to the song’s exposure through a broader range of media outlets, Buckley’s version of the song went platinum in 2008. 

Today, the song is widely known. You can hear it in various settings like funerals, weddings, worship, and on the radio.


Hallelujah’s sound, energy, and lyrics pull on our heartstrings like a few other pieces. The song depicts dramatic, intimate scenes of love, loss, and faith. By taking a closer look at the lyrics, we can begin to appreciate the genius of Leonard Cohen and glimpse his heart and mind. 


Cohen’s poetry sometimes drags our emotions through the mud. Through this lyrical suffering, we experience an epiphany—Hallelujah. 

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew her

She tied you to a kitchen chair

She broke your throne, and she cut your hair

And from your lips, she drew the Hallelujah

The transition from one mental state to another can be unpleasant. The shattering of the ego can leave someone broken. Yet, a new perspective can yield new possibilities and be a profound experience. 


Leonard was an Orthodox Jew and said to have had a messianic childhood. Much of his work contains religious imagery. For instance, the word “hallelujah” means to rejoice in praising God in Hebrew. 

Another interpretation of the song is around Cohen and his faith or struggle with it.

Well I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David played and it pleased the Lord

Your faith was strong but you needed proof

Well, maybe there’s a God above

The song beautifully depicts the nature of faith. We hear of divinity as a sort of mythical whisper. Yet, the only evidence for believers is their personal experiences and trust in their existence. 

Love, intimacy, loss

The concepts of love, intimacy, and loss weave elegantly into the song. The lyrics tell us of a relationship that was once full of intimacy. These same passages also describe the pain of the loss.

Well there was a time when you let me know

what’s really going on below

but now you never show that to me do you

But remember when I moved in you

and the holy dove was moving too

and every breath we drew was hallelujah

Interestingly, even these most intimate experiences and the pain of losing them can bring us back to Hallelujah. 

These are just a few elucidations of the lyrics. The nature of poetry leaves room for numerous interpretations.

Hallelujah’s sheet music for piano.

When playing this song on the piano, a quick search for sheet music online reveals many ways to play it. Some versions predominantly use chords in the bass clef while playing the melody in the treble clef. 

The rendition below the tempo is 6/8. As you can see, the melody is predominantly in the bass clef. The most common notes are half notes, triplets and eighth notes, and a few chords.

If you’re unfamiliar with the various notes in sheet music, read our blog Piano Music Notes for Beginners.

Is Hallelujah an easy song to learn on the piano?

The original song wasn’t written for the piano. That’s no problem. It just means tons of different versions are available for you to learn. 

The song’s difficulty can range significantly. Some beginner-friendly versions are simple to play but sound less like the song. In other arrangements, the sheet music is far more elaborate, accounting for both the vocal and instrumental aspects of the song. 

We recommend that you find a version slightly above your comfort level. That way, you can improve your skills while learning a new song!

5 tips to learn this Hallelujah.

You may be tempted to play a new song at once. However, learning a new piece is much smoother if you take a systematic approach. 

Try out these tips when learning a new song:

  1. Identify what key you’re playing in. Hallelujah is in the key of C major.
  1. Play the C major scale – habituating your hand and finger movements is vital for your piano skills.
  1. If you’re unfamiliar with a particular piece, jumping into it is complicated. Keeping track of two staffs while playing note sequences can be challenging. Work on the parts individually on your right hand and left hand before playing them simultaneously. 
  1. There’s a misconception that playing quickly equates to good piano skills. Speed comes with familiarity with a given piece. Understanding the articulations of the song is essential.
  1. Listen to the piece before trying to play it. Another pivotal aspect of playing the piano is hearing what a song sounds like. It helps to know whether or not you’re playing the music properly (it sharpens your hearing too!)

It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth; the minor falls, the major lifts.

Hallelujah is a great song that touches the hearts of people around the world years after its conception. There are playable versions of it for a variety of instruments. Learning and playing Hallelujah on the piano is a fantastic means of recreating the song’s emotional faculties and can be very rewarding. 

Playing songs is one of the main reasons most people pick up the instrument. Simply piano is the app for you if you want to learn your favorite music like Hallelujah and many other hits. Give it a try today!