Have you ever noticed how our senses signal the arrival of the holiday season? As the days grow shorter, festive lights illuminate our communities. The scent of pine and peppermint fills the air in bustling markets. And, of course, the soothing sounds of gentle cocktail jazz music transport us into the holiday spirit, including the beloved classic – “The Christmas Song.” Fortunately, at PianoWithJonny, we’ve got you covered. In today’s Quick Tip, you’ll learn how to play this timeless holiday tune in a jazz ballad piano style. Join Jonny as he guides you through each phrase, revealing the essence of the jazz ballad style with its beautiful chords, ornaments, and more.
Beginner Jazz Ballad Techniques
Diatonic 7th Chords
Sometimes, you might come across a lead sheet or piano arrangement of “The Christmas Song” that lacks a jazzy flair. To transform the tune into a captivating jazz ballad, replace the regular 3-note chords with diatonic 7th chords. Let’s compare the standard pop harmonization of the first two measures with the enhanced jazz ballad harmonization:
Harmonization with Triads
Harmonization with Diatonic 7th Chords
Notice how adding just one additional note can make a significant difference. For instance, substituting the diatonic 7th chord of C Major 7 with C Major 6 creates a richer sound. If you need a crash course or a refresher on diatonic 7th chords in all 12 keys, check out our full-length course on Diatonic 7th Chords Exercises.
Intermediate Jazz Ballad Techniques
Root-to-Chord Left Hand
If you’re an intermediate player, it’s time to apply the diatonic 7th chords from the previous section and incorporate them into an accompaniment pattern. One classic cocktail jazz feel is the left hand stride-ballad pattern, where you play the roots on beats 1 and 3, and a chord voicing on beats 2 and 4. This pattern, known as “root-to-chord,” utilizes guide tones (the 3rd and 7th of the chord) or inverted guide tones. Here’s an example of a stride-ballad pattern using guide tones and inverted guide tones:
Root-to-Chord Stride-Ballad Accompaniment
To master a great jazz ballad, focus on playing this pattern with a consistent tempo. To help you develop this skill, we’ve included a backing track at the bottom of this page (accessible after logging in with your membership). For more examples on how to use guide tones, check out our Chord Shell & Guide Tones Exercises course, part of our Intermediate Piano Foundations Learning Track.
Next, let’s add some simple harmony in the right hand to support the melody. You can use a technique called “3/7 Harmony,” where you harmonize the melody using either the 3rd or 7th of the chord. Here are examples of melodic harmonization using 3/7 Harmony and 6ths intervals:
Melodic Harmonization with 3/7 Harmony
Melodic Harmonization using 6ths Intervals
To create richer colors, experiment with harmonizing the melody using chord extensions (9th, 11th, and 13th). Start by thinking of chord extensions as the 2nd, 4th, and 6th of the chord. This approach allows for easier integration of extensions, such as adding the 9th to major chords and dominant chords, or using the 11th for minor chords. For a more complex jazz sound, explore chord alterations on your dominant chords. There are four chord alterations to experiment with – ♭9, ♯9, ♯11, and ♭13. Here’s an example of melodic harmonization with chord extensions and alterations:
Melodic Harmonization with Chord Extensions
Melodic Harmonization with Chord Alterations
Advanced Jazz Ballad Techniques
If you’re an advanced player, it’s time to elevate your jazz piano skills and apply advanced techniques to your favorite holiday tunes. This section is divided into three parts: advanced voicings, passing chords, and ornamentation.
Advanced Jazz Piano Voicings
Advanced jazz pianists employ upper structure triads to combine chord extensions and alterations in breathtaking ways. These triads combine the 13th and ♭9 tones with the 3rd of the chord, resulting in an upper structure triad. For example, here’s a harmonization using upper structure triads:
Harmonization with Upper Structures
To further expand your voicing repertoire, explore quartal voicings, where the chord tones are spaced a perfect 4th apart. Here’s an example of melodic harmonization using quartal voicings:
Melodic Harmonization with Quartal Voicings
For a comprehensive understanding of upper structures and quartal voicings, dive into our Coloring Dominant Chords with Upper Structures course.
To add an extra layer of surprise, excitement, or tension to your arrangement, incorporate passing chords. These chords expand the basic harmonic structure of a tune. By preceding a dominant chord with a minor 7th chord a perfect 5th above, you create a 2-5-1 progression. Let’s look at an example of harmonization with passing chords applied to “The Christmas Song”:
Harmonization With Passing Chords
To explore more passing chords and reharmonization techniques, check out our Passing Chords & Reharmonization (Level 2, Level 3) course.
Finally, ornamentation adds a professional touch to your jazz holiday arrangement. Slip notes, approached from a whole step below the melody note, add a sparkling quality to the melody. Slides, on the other hand, approach the target note chromatically, creating a bluesy sound. Here are examples of ornamentation using slip notes and slides:
Ornamentation with Slip Note
Ornamentation with Slides
For more professional ballad tips and techniques, check out our course on the popular tune “Danny Boy.”
If you enjoyed this piano lesson on “The Christmas Song,” you’ll love our full holiday collection of courses, quick tips, and arrangements. Explore our offerings, including O Holy Night Contemporary Piano, O Christmas Tree Challenge, Greensleeves (What Child Is This), Jingle Bells Rag, Silent Night Rhumba, and more.
Thanks for joining us today! We can’t wait to see you again soon!
- Blog written by Michael LaDisa
- Quick Tip by Jonny May
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