All I Want For Christmas Is You – Jazz Piano
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The hope of Christmas is that there is more coming. And even if it tarries, wait for it! Just ask Mariah Carey, the Queen of Christmas, whose modern-era classic, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” continues to break records with every passing year. For example, among the many records held by Mariah’s holiday hit single is the record for the longest trip to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. After years of steady climbing, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” finally hit the #1 spot in 2019, 25 years after its original release in 1994!¹ There is a lesson in that for all of us. In today’s Quick Tip, Jonny May teaches us how to play a jazz piano arrangement of “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” You’ll learn:
- All I Want for Christmas Is You: Song Facts
- All I Want for Christmas Is You: Basic Piano Chords
- Arranging “All I Want for Christmas Is You” for Jazz Piano
Mariah’s holiday hit is already a classic, but when played as jazz ballad in today’s lesson, it resonates as something truly timeless. Enjoy!
Mariah Carey released Merry Christmas, her fourth studio album and first holiday album, in 1994. The album features covers of 7 holiday favorites produced by Walter Afanasieff, who also produced of her 2nd and 3rd studio albums. In addition, Merry Christmas features 3 original tunes co-written by Carey and Afanasieff, including “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
Musically speaking, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is a modern masterpiece. Carey and Afanasieff accomplished exactly what they set out to do, which was to create a new holiday song that harkened back to classic songs of Christmas past. In particular, the Carey and Afanasieff were influence by the sound of Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector. This 1963 Christmas compilation album featured Darlene Love, The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Bobby B Soxx & The Blue Jeans.
The retro vibe of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” is also evident in the two original music videos. The primary video is shot in the manner of a grainy home movie. In addition, Mariah released an alternate back-and-white video inspired by The Ronettes, featuring 1960s set design, fashion and dance moves.
“All I Want for Christmas Is You”
Official Video (1994)
“All I Want for Christmas Is You”
Alternate Video (1994)
How Mariah Carey Became the Queen of Christmas
Initially, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 in 1994 because it wasn’t commercially released as a single. However, the song peaked at #12 on the Hot 100 Airplay chart and #6 on the Hot Adult Contemporary chart. In fact, holding back on releasing the single turned out quite well for Mariah. As a result, Merry Christmas debuted at #30 on the Billboard 200 and peaked at #3. The album also reached platinum certification less than two months after its release. In fact, the album became the second-best selling album of the year, second only to Kenny G’s Miracles: The Holiday Album.²
Modernizing Song Performance Measurements
In 1998, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” entered the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time after a rule lapsed that required songs to have been physically released as a single. Mariah’s holiday hit peaked at #83 that year. However, the tune was not eligible again for the Billboard Hot 100 between 1999–2011 due to Billboard’s recurrence rules. These rules were revised again in 2012 and “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was back on the Billboard Hot 100 at #29. In fact, the song continued to peak higher and higher with each subsequent year.
The Unstoppable Climb
In 2017, the Mariah’s holiday hit broke the Billboard Hot 100’s top ten, coming in at #9. The following year, it peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 110. In addition, on Christmas Eve of 2018, Mariah grabbed the record for most Spotify streams in a single-day, at 10.82 million plays.³ The 2019 Amazon Music mini-documentary Mariah Carey Is Christmas captures the palpable inevitability of Mariah’s rise to #1. In fact, the inevitable happened later that year. On December 21, 2019, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” hit #1, a destiny 25 years in the making!
Mariah Carey Is Christmas
Amazon Music Mini-Documentary (2019)
More Record Breaking and History Making
On Christmas Eve of 2020, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” set a new Spotify record for most streams in a single-day, coming in at 17.223 million plays.⁴ In addition, on December 3, 2021 the Mariah’s holiday hit became the first Christmas song ever to reach diamond certification, signifying over 10 million sales!⁵
The success of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” also propelled Mariah Carey to make history as the first artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 in four different decades—’90s, ’00s, ’10s and ’20s.⁶ In addition, Mariah holds the record for having the most #1 singles on the Hot 100 by a solo artist, at nineteen. In fact, only the Beatles can claim more #1 singles, with twenty.
Considering the massive reach and reception of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” it’s obvious that this is an important song for pianists to include in their holiday repertoire. In today’s lesson, our specific objective is to learn how to play “All I Want for Christmas Is You” in a jazz ballad style. In fact, this lesson includes a downloadable jazz ballad backing track that appears at the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. Due to publisher’s restrictions, the lesson sheet PDF is available here for purchase through our partner, MusicNotes.com. However, don’t forget to enter your PWJ discount code to receive 20% off.
Today’s lesson sheet is in G major, the original key of the 1994 recording. Before we consider Jonny’s jazz ballad arrangement, let’s first examine the basic piano chords for this familiar song in its popular context. In fact, beginner students can play a piano accompaniment for “All I Want for Christmas Is You” using the 8 chords shown below.
Now, let’s examine the chord progression for the verse section. The following video and chord chart demonstrate an entry-level approach to accompanying on this song. In the video, the left hand plays quarter notes on the root or specific inversion indicated in the chart while the right hand outlines the harmony with whole notes or longer. Notice that many of the right hand shapes are also inverted to maintain smooth voice leading. (Note, the following video proceeds directly to the 2nd ending.)
Piano Chord Progression–Verse Section
Great job. Next, we’ll look at the bridge section. This part uses 7 of the 8 chords we’ve already learned and does not introduce any new chords. However, chord progression for the bridge does arrange the chords in different order. The following video and chord chart illustrate how to play the bridge section for “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
Piano Chord Progression–Bridge Section
Great job! In the next section, we’ll explore jazz arranging techniques that Jonny uses to transform “All I Want for Christmas Is You” into a beautiful jazz ballad for piano.
Transforming a song like “All I Want for Christmas Is You” into a completely different genre is challenging work. It requires deep understanding and familiarity with structures and conventions of both the source genre and the target genre. It also requires a great deal of patience and commitment, knowing when to let go of an idea that isn’t working and when to press on to see an idea through to completion. Even though this is difficult work, it’s also fun work. You will likely enjoy exploring the creative process that Jonny used to transform “All I Want for Christmas Is You” into a jazz piano ballad. At the end of today’s lesson, we’ll link to additional PWJ resources where you can continue to explore the creative process of arranging.
In this section, we’ll explore Jonny’s arranging process from three different perspectives: (1) melodic techniques, (2) harmonic techniques, and (3) accompaniment techniques. Theses considerations are ordered in terms of priority. For example, melodic considerations must take precedence over considerations pertaining to harmony and accompaniment. However, even though there is hierarchical order in the arranging process, arrangers are often thinking of each of these considerations simultaneously.
We’ll begin by examining Jonny’s treatment of the melody.
One thing that you may notice immediately is that Jonny’s jazz piano arrangement of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” appears shorter than the original version. For example, the verse section of Jonny’s arrangement is only fourteen bars (measures 4–17 on the lesson sheet) whereas the same section is actually twenty-eight bars in the original (measures 1–28 in the previous section). What accounts for this difference? The answer is the melody!
Due to publisher’s restrictions, we cannot reproduce the melody here in written form, particularly the pitches and lyrics. However, the following examples illustrate the rhythmic transformation that Jonny applied to the melody. Satirical lyrics have been substituted. First, let’s look at the original text setting in 4/4 time at 150 BPM.
Original Text Setting in 4/4 Time
Mariah Carey’s original version is recorded at 150 BPM. The following excerpt shows that the predominant rhythmic unit for the lyrics is the quarter note—sometimes on the beat and sometimes placed off the beat. In other words, most syllables are held for the length of a quarter note. The 8th notes that appear serve mainly as a means of creating syncopation.
When transforming songs into a different styles, arrangers often have to change the predominant rhythmic unit of the melody. This is especially true in the case of today’s lesson in which the target style involves a drastically different tempo. Let’s look at how Jonny approaches this challenge.
Jazz Ballad Text Setting in 12/8 Time
Since a typical jazz ballad tempo is generally between 50–80 BPM, Jonny has set the backing track to 60 BPM. However, the predominant rhythmic unit for the melody cannot be the quarter note at this tempo. Instead, Jonny had to subdivide each pulse into smaller units so that he could cycle through several syllables per beat. Therefore, Jonny predominantly uses 8th notes in 12/8 time. As a result, the same excerpt is half as many measures in the ballad style. (Remember, we are essentially cycling through the lyrics twice as fast, albeit at a much slower tempo.)
As you can see from the examples above, melodic treatment is paramount when transforming a song’s style. Simply put, the melody must always receive the first consideration. Afterward, arrangers can creatively employ harmonic conventions that represent the target style. That brings us to our next topic.
Once you have worked out the text setting for your lyrics in the target style, the next step is to employ harmonic techniques and conventions that are representative of the target genre.
Diatonic 7th Chords
Seventh chords provide the basic foundation for jazz harmony. Therefore, in order to get a jazz piano sound, Jonny’s arrangement replaces any 3-note triads in the original version with 4-note seventh chords. If you want to create a jazz version of a popular song, a good first step is to begin by identifying the diatonic 7th chords in your primary key. Here are the diatonic 7th chords in G major.
Diatonic 7th Chords in G Major
Secondary Dominant Chords
In addition to diatonic 7th chords, jazz music frequently uses passing chords from outside of the primary key. The most common kind of passing chords are secondary dominants. In essence, a secondary dominant is a chord imported from outside of the primary key for the purpose of making a non-tonic chord sound like a temporary tonic. In fact, since Mariah’s oringal song blends elements of pop, soul, R&B and gospel, it already includes several secondary dominant chords. For example, B7 is the V7 of E minor and E7 is the V7 of A minor. Additionally, Jonny adds G7 as the V7 of C major. Each of these secondary dominant example are shown below.
Examples of Secondary Dominants
Genre-Specific Chord Progressions
Did you notice that Jonny’s arrangement also has more chord changes than the original version? This is because jazz ballads typically have 1–2 chords per measure. It would not sound much like jazz if Jonny were to sit on G major for the entire first line.
One of the best ways to develop arranging skills is to learn common chord progressions in different musical genres. The following links of curated PWJ resources contains genre-specific chord progressions that provide useful starting points for arranging in each style represented.
After you have worked out your text setting and your chord progression, most of the heavy lifting is done. However, you still need to apply a piano accompaniment patterns that sounds like the target genre.
After transforming the melody and chord progression for “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” Jonny next applies a stride piano ballad accompaniment pattern. This approach is often described as playing “root-to-chord.” In other words, the left hand plays roots on strong beats (beats 1 and 3) and some type of chord voicing on weak beats (beats 2 and 4).
Chord Voicing Option 1: Guide Tones
For beginner jazz piano students, guide tones are the most suitable chord voicing choice. Guide tones are simply the 3rd and 7th of the chord. However, sometimes the guide tones are inverted so that the 7th is on bottom and the 3rd is on top. The goal is to choose the arrangement of notes with the smallest movement as you change from one chord to the next. The following example illustrates this principle.
Beginner Jazz Ballad Accompaniment: Root + Guide Tones
Chord Voicing Option 2: Rootless Voicings
More experienced players will often opt to play rootless voicings on beats 2 and 4 instead of guide tones for a fuller sound. Rootless voicings typically contain 3 or 4 notes that draw on the beautiful color of chord extensions such as the 9th, 11th and/or 13th. If you’re ready to learn to play rootless voicings for all major, dominant and minor chords, then check out our Rootless Voicings–Chord Types & 2-5-1 Application (Adv) Smartsheet lesson.
Intermediate Jazz Ballad Accompaniment: Root + Rootless Voicings
Harmonizing the Root with Chord Shells
In addition, some players may even choose to play chord shells on strong beats instead the roots alone. A chord shell is a two-or-three-note voicing that contains any combination of the root, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th. For example, Root+3rd, Root+5th, Root+6th and Root+7th are all examples of 2-note chord shells. When playing “root-to-chord,” we sometimes call these shells harmonized roots.
Combined Left Hand Techniques
Now, let’s look at Jonny’s complete left hand jazz accompaniment of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” as a stride piano ballad. Jonny’s arrangement contains many examples of chord shells on beats 1 and 3 combined with guide tones on beats 2 and 4.
Entire Verse Accompaniment: Chord Shells + Guide Tones
Well done! Finally, try playing the complete left hand accompaniment along with the included backing track.
Congratulations, you have completed today’s lesson on how to play “All I Want for Christmas Is You” as a jazz piano ballad. Be sure to check out the following resources for even more arranging techniques, jazz piano skills and holiday favorites.
Additional Arranging Lessons
- Jazz Piano Chord Voicings–The Complete Guide (Int)
- Piano Chord Substitution–The Complete Guide (Int)
- Passing Chords & Reharmonization (Int, Adv)
- Reharmonization: Play Any Note with Any Chord (Int/Adv)
- Modulation Essentials–How to Modulate a Song (Int, Adv)
- The Sharp Four Walkdown Jazz Chord Progression (All Levels)
- Advanced Jazz Piano Arranging Tips on Misty (Adv)
- 3 Must-Know Jazz Piano Intros (Int)
- 7 Beautiful Endings for Jazz Tunes (Int)
Additional Christmas Piano Lessons
- Go Tell It On the Mountain—Gospel Funk (Inv, Adv)
- Greensleeves (What Child is This?) Jazz Piano Waltz (Int)
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing—Jazz Ballad (Int, Adv)
- Jingle Bells Challenge (All Levels)
- Hark the Herald Angels Sing—Jazz Ballad (Int, Adv)
- O Christmas Tree Challenge (All Levels)
- O Holy Night Contemporary Piano (Int, Adv)
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Int/Adv)
Thanks for learning with us today! We’ll see you next time.
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Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...
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