10 Popular French Songs to Play on the Piano
Internationally, French music is often associated with classical composers such as Claude Debussy and Georges Bizet. Paris has a rich history of music, art and performance, so it’s no surprise that many French-speaking artists started their careers in this capital city.
In recent decades, there has been a development of a genre called Variété française, or French popular music. It involves modern styles, such as pop and rock, with the use of French lyrics. Some of the most well-known artists in this genre include Johnny Hallyday, Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. There are also some newer singers who have made their mark, including Angèle and Zaz.
We’d like to showcase this wonderful genre so we’ve put together a list of 10 popular French songs for you to discover and play on the piano.
1. Envole-moi by Jean-Jacques Goldman
Jean-Jacques Goldman is an iconic French singer and songwriter from the 1980s. He wrote and performed many unforgettable popular French songs and was an icon for several generations of fans. He is regularly voted as France's favourite celebrity thanks to his humbleness, his generosity, and of course, his music.
In 1984 he released his third solo album Positif, with Envole-moi as the first track. In an interview with Goldman in 2003, he explained the story behind this song - it’s about a young boy asking for help so that he can get out of his negative environment and into a better life through whatever means necessary.
Discover the French piano music Envole-moi with Tomplay. Our arrangements are available in several levels of difficulty for solo piano or with the high-quality backing track. The sheet music is also available for a synthesiser.
2. La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf
La Vie En Rose by Edith Piaf is one of the best and most popular French songs of all time. It was a friend of Piaf's, Marianne Michel, who asked her to write the song while they were sitting on a cafe terrace in 1945 - this inspired Piaf to write the first notes and words on a little piece of paper.
Piaf, who at that time was in a relationship with Yves Montand, offered him the first version of the song, a rough draft containing mistakes in French. Marianne Michel polished it up and then Henri Contet, Edith Piaf's favourite writer, worked on it and presented her the final version as a birthday present. She released it as a single in 1947.
Since then, it has been covered by a multitude of artists including Louis Armstrong, Grace Jones, Plácido Domingo, Cyndi Lauper, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga and even Madonna.
La Vie En Rose truly is the epitome of French popular music, so we encourage you all to give this piece a try. Our arrangements of the French piano song La Vie En Rose is available in several levels of difficulty with a high-quality backing track to accompany you. You can also try it out as a trio with two violins.
3. Avant toi by Slimane & Vitaa
Vitaa and Slimane are two artists who met when judging The Voice Belgique in 2018. Prior to this, they were solo artists. Vitaa first became famous when she collaborated on a 2006 song by French rapper Diam’s, while Slimane won The Voice France in 2016. Slimane loves the French language so he often sings French popular songs, rather than singing English songs as many modern French pop stars do.
In 2018, the pair decided to try out a joint venture and began releasing music as a duo. In 2019, they released their album VersuS. One of the tracks on this album is Avant toi, a beautiful piano love ballad. The music video was filmed in Paris, with the singers walking through the City of Light to find each other. Sadly, the duo was short-lived: in 2021 they announced they were separating to continue with solo careers.
Play the beautiful French piano song Avant-toi with Tomplay. There are a variety of levels to choose from and you can play it on solo piano or accompanied by the music. Plus, we have a piano accompaniment score for voice if you want to sing the hit and accompany yourself at the same time.
4. Mistral Gagnant by Renaud
Next on our list of some of the best French songs is a tune that was voted France’s favourite song in 2015, Mistral Gagnant by Renaud!
Renaud made his mark in France in the 1980s with many of his songs becoming French classics, however he is not well-known outside the country. Through his songs, he broaches a variety of themes, from light-hearted humorous topics to heavier, intense discussions such as social criticism.
Mistral Gagnant is part of his seventh album of the same name. It’s a nostalgic ballad written for his daughter Lolita. Renaud felt it was too personal a song to release, but he was eventually convinced by his wife who threatened to leave him if he didn’t release it! The beauty of this song is its simplicity - Renaud sings accompanied by a piano only, making it beautiful French piano music to play.
Tomplay offers arrangements of Mistral Gagnant in a variety of levels for solo piano. We have also created a piano accompaniment score for voice, so you can accompany yourself on the piano while you sing.
5. La grenade by Clara Luciani
Clara Luciani is a more recent star of popular French songs but despite only being 30 years old, she has released many incredible hits. She was born in the south of France near Aix-en-Provence and after attending university in the historic town, she began to sing with different bands.
Her big break came in 2017 when she released her first EP, Monstre d’amour. Boosted by positive reviews and feedback, she went on to record her first album Sainte-Victoire, inspired by the famous Sainte-Victoire mountain ridge near Aix-en-Provence.
The first track is La grenade and represents the singer’s response to the chauvinistic comments she received in the musical world, as her way of showing she is an independent and free woman. Although the song was released as a single in 2017, and on the album in 2018, it wasn’t until 2019 that it started to become popular, and is now considered her top hit.
The French piano music for La grenade is available in several levels of difficulty for solo piano or with the accompaniment.
6. Ne me quitte pas by Jacques Brel
Jacques Brel is one of the most celebrated Belgian singers of all time. He is considered an icon of the chanson (a lyric-based French song) and in Brussels, his hometown, there is a park and subway station named after him.
Many people interpreted his greatest hit Ne me quitte pas as a love song, but Brel himself confirmed in an interview that the song is in fact about the cowardice of men. Brel wrote this song in 1959 following a painful break-up: when he refused to leave his wife and three children, his mistress ended their relationship.
Brel took inspiration for part of the melody from Franz Liszt’s famous Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6. The song has been covered by many different artists, including French-speakers, like Johnny Hallyday, as well as in other languages, for example by Ray Charles and Barbara Streisand. The French piano music part of Ne me quitte pas is marked as rubato, allowing pianists to freely express themselves.
You can perform Ne me quitte pas on solo piano, with the backing track, or play and sing at the same time with our accompaniment score for voice. You’re spoiled for choice!
7. J’ai demandé à la lune by Indochine
The French group Indochine was formed in the 1980s and was part of the new wave category. This category was an all-encompassing term to classify pop songs (and some punk songs) that were more commercially viable and attractive than traditional punk rock hits.
Indochine’s first album L’Aventurier (1982) brought them fame and they released many hit French popular songs until the 1990s, when their success started to wane. In 2002, Nicolas Sirkis, lead singer of the group, convinced the band members to go in a different direction by recording a poetic ballad titled J’ai demandé à la lune as part of the album Paradize. The song was an immediate hit and won them back favour with fans, partly thanks to the music video in which you follow a child growing up. It’s a song which appeals to everyone and is now Indochine’s cult song.
Discover our arrangements of J’ai demandé à la lune for solo piano, or with the backing track. There are a variety of levels to choose from so everyone can play this beautiful French piano music.
8. Que je t’aime by Johnny Hallyday
When Johnny Hallyday died in 2017, there was an outpouring of grief in France because he was one of the most loved artists in the country. Over his almost 60-year career, he recorded over 1000 songs, including several French covers of English songs. His talent lay in his performance skills, often selling out massive concert venues including the Stade de France, which can hold 80,000 people. He was France’s biggest rock star and often nicknamed the ‘French Elvis’.
Que je t’aime is one of Hallyday’s biggest hits and one of the best French songs of all time. It was written in 1969 by Jean Renard with lyrics by Gilles Thibaut. Hallyday was looking for a new hit in preparation for his show at Le Palais des Sports and this song certainly fit the brief.
The song opens with a thrilling piano riff made up of semi-quavers which provide both the melody and the accompaniment, so it’s great for practising balance between the fingers.
Whatever your level, Tomplay’s got you covered. Our arrangements of Que je t’aime are available from very easy to advanced level, for both solo piano and with the backing track.
9. Comme d’habitude by Claude François
The song Comme d’habitude by Claude François may ring a bell…it’s actually the French version of My Way by Frank Sinatra! To be more precise, Claude François’ version is the original version of the song - it was written in 1967 by Jacques Revaux with lyrics provided by Claude François and Gilles Thibaut. Revaux had composed a first draft of the song, then François requested that he rework it, adding in the idea of a troubled relationship as he was going through a breakup at the time.
This song became one of the best French songs performed by Claude François. In 1968, Paul Anka rewrote the piece with English lyrics, creating My Way. When Frank Sinatra released this song, it smashed records and became the singer’s signature song, although according to his daughter he actually didn’t like the piece!
Fun fact: David Bowie was asked to write lyrics for the English version but they were rejected. This rejection spurred him on to write a song in retaliation and thus, his monster hit Life On Mars? was born! 1
Play the French piano song Comme d’habitude with Tomplay. You can opt to play it on solo piano or play along with a high-quality recording of the backing track. Either way, learning this popular French song means learning one of the most iconic and best French songs of all time!
10. Les Champs-Elysées by Joe Dassin
No popular French song list would be complete without French/American singer Joe Dassin’s hit Les Champs-Elysées! The song was originally written in English by British team Mike Wilsh and Mike Deighan in 1968, titled Waterloo Road, and recorded by the band Jason Crest. Unfortunately, it was a complete flop upon release.
Joe Dassin’s 1969 version of the song changed its path in history forever. The melody is the same but the French lyrics are about a carefree couple strolling down the iconic Champs-Elysées in Paris, providing a vision of what the street used to be like in the 1960s. Dassin’s light-hearted, charming version became a global success and a popular French song. Football fans during the 2018 World Cup sang it as an ode to France’s midfielder, N’Golo Kanté and it was also used during the “gilets jaunes” protests.
This hit is great French piano music because the syncopated octaves in the left hand gives it its light and charming feel. The pedal is used throughout the song, so it's a great opportunity to work on your pedalling skills.
Perform Les Champs-Elysées on solo piano or accompanied by the music. There are various levels available so everyone can try out this famous French piano song. The piano accompaniment score is also available so you can sing and play along at the same time.