Auld Lang Syne Jazz Piano Arrangement
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Happy New Year! Do you want to play the classic New Year’s song Auld Lang Syne in a hip jazz piano way? In today’s Quick Tip, you will learn Jonny’s fantastic jazz piano arrangement in 3 easy steps:
- Learn the melody
- Learn the basic chord progression
- Add jazz piano concepts to create a hip arrangement
By the end of this Quick Tip, you’ll be able to blow away your friends and family every New Year’s Eve! Let’s start by learning the melody of this famous song.
Step 1: Learn the Melody
Before we get too deep into the full arrangement, it’s critical to learn the melody first. Everything that goes into a great arrangement of a song starts with the melody:
Make sure you can play the melody comfortably before moving on. The greatest arrangement in the world won’t be very effective if we can’t hear the melody! Once you have it down, move on to the basic chord progression next.
Step 2: Auld Lang Syne Basic Chord Progression
The next thing we need to learn before the full arrangement is the “vanilla” chord progression. The “vanilla” harmony is the simplest way to navigate the chord progression of a song. In addition to the melody, adding to the vanilla harmony is what all great arrangements do! Here’s the vanilla chord progression:
As you can see, Auld Lang Syne is a fairly simple song. This means there are a lot of really cool harmonic possibilities we can explore to create a great arrangement! Try playing the melody with the vanilla progression now:
Once you can play through the song with melody and vanilla chords, you’re ready to dig into the really cool stuff in the full arrangement next!
Step 3: Auld Lang Syne Jazz Piano Arrangement
Let’s take a look at Jonny’s fantastic jazz piano arrangement of Auld Lang Syne:
As you can see, there’s a lot going on here! The first chord is C6/9. A 6/9 chord is essentially a Major 9 chord except it utilizes the 6 instead of the 7. This is a great way to harmonize Major chords with the root on top. By using the 6 instead of the 7, we can avoid having an ugly half step on top of the voicing as well as an ugly minor 9th interval if we use the 7th. Since B and C are a half step apart, it’s very difficult to harmonize this chord using the 7th without creating “bad” dissonance. A 6/9 chord solves this by avoiding those ugly intervals but still adding color to the harmony.
If you can’t reach a 10th comfortably with your left hand, you can either just play a 5th (C-G) or roll the full 10th to get that sound. Use a rootless C6/9 voicing on beat 2 to fill out the sound before moving on to Am11. Jonny is doing something very cool in these first two measures: instead of just playing the I chord to the V chord, he’s adding chords to create a I-vi-II-V progression! This is a very common chord progression in jazz and is a great way to add harmonic interest to simple songs.
In measure 2, you’ve probably noticed that Ab13(#11) on beat 2. This is a tritone substitution that sounds great when moving from the II to the V chord. Without going into too much detail, a tritone substitution is where you play a dominant 7 chord a tritone away from the chord you’re on (D7 becomes Ab7). The 3rd and 7th of both chords are the same notes, so it still resolves correctly (in this case, to G).
Measure 3 begins the same way as measure 1, but instead of moving simply from C to F, Jonny anticipates this modulation with a 2-5-1 chord progression. Whenever harmony in a song moves in a V-I motion (in this case C to F), we can use a 2-5-1 to smooth out the temporary change of key. By adding Gm7-C7 before F, we’ve added a classic jazz chord progression that sounds great!
Moving on from FMaj9, there is a passing chord between FMaj9 and CMaj7/G (F#dim7). Passing chords can be either chromatic or diatonic; in this case F#dim7 is a chromatic passing chord because the bass is moving from F to G. CMaj7/G is in second inversion here because it allows for smooth voice leading in the bass when we use F#dim7. Look for opportunities to take advantage of voice leading in the bass whenever you can because it creates some really cool sounding harmonic motion!
The next two measures are the same as the first two, except for the E7/G# (another passing chord). There are a few options for passing chords on beat 4 here, but E7/G# is the best one. The next chord is Am11, and E7 is the 5 chord of A minor. By using E7/G#, Jonny sets up another modulation beautifully with the 5 chord as well as voice leading in the bass!
The penultimate measure features another passing chord, CMaj7/G (this time, diatonic) before wrapping up with FMaj9, G9sus4, and C6/9.
If you want to go into more detail on the topics covered in today’s Quick Tip, check out the Piano Chord Extensions, Passing Chords & Reharmonization 1 and Passing Chords & Reharmonization 2, 6 Jazz Ballad Harmonic Approaches 1, and 6 Jazz Ballad Harmonic Approaches 2 courses.
Thanks for learning, and see you in the next Quick Tip!
Blog written by Austin Byrd // Quick Tip by Jonny May
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