Jonny May
Quick Tip

Learning Focus
  • Reading
  • Songs
Music Style
  • Holiday
  • Pop
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Do you want to entertain your family and friends during the holidays with some songs on piano? In this lesson, you’ll learn an easy, beautiful arrangement of Away In A Manger in a contemporary piano style in 3 steps:

  1. Left hand arpeggios
  2. Right hand melody
  3. Melody harmonization techniques

Feel free to follow along with our Smartsheet. Let’s get in the holiday spirit and dig in!

Step 1: Left Hand Arpeggios

You may be wondering why we’re starting with the left hand when all the exciting stuff is in the right hand. The reason for this is simply that the left hand part is more difficult! When learning an arrangement or original piano piece, I’ve found it’s always best to start with the more difficult part, then learn the easier part after. Let’s take a look at Jonny’s arrangement.

Away In A Manger Piano Arrangement
Away In A Manger Piano Arrangement

You can see right away that the left hand is responsible for more notes than the right hand, plus it has to cover a wider range on the keyboard. Upon closer examination, you’ll notice that the left hand is simply outlining the chords of each measure in a broken style. The first chord (C Major) is played C, G, E, covering the span of a 10th. 10ths are wonderful intervals that add fullness to simple chords because the root of the chord (C) and the third (E) are separated by an octave. This broken style is one of the things that makes this arrangement so beautiful!

The next measure is played E, C, G. The chord is the same as the last measure (C Major), but now we are using first inversion. The bottom and top notes of this arpeggio are still a 10th apart. The next chord is F Major, and this is played the same way as the first chord: F, C, A. Use the fingering 5, 2, 1 for the three notes of each chord. If you can’t stretch far enough to reach the 10th, use your index finger as a pivot between the lowest and highest note. The next chord two chords are G7sus4 and G7. We are leaving the third of the chord (B) out of the left hand part, which means you can play the same thing for both chords (G, D, F)!

Once you have the left hand part down, let’s move on to learning the melody.

Step 2: Right Hand Melody

One of the things I’m sure you’ve noticed right away is that each chord your right hand plays is rolled! Rolling chords serves two purposes: it gives your playing more of a contemporary sound, and it makes large chords easier to play!

The first measure is fairly easy: just roll G-C-G using fingers 1-2-5 and walk down the next two notes using 4-3. Measure two gets a little tricky because of the beautiful Cadd2/E chord. If you have smaller hands, you’ll definitely need to roll this one to play all the notes! Use fingers 1-2-4-5 to play D-G-C-E. By adding D to this chord (which is normally C Major) we are including a wonderful color that creates this contemporary sound. You’ll notice as we go along that a lot of these chords are add2 chords.

Next is Fadd2. Use 1-2-5 to play the chord C-G-C and walk down the melody with 4-3. Here, we are adding the 2 (G) in the middle of the right hand voicing while the left hand plays the chord tones F-C-A. Next is another Cadd2/E, but with an easier right hand chord!


Now we’ve arrived to G7sus4. Most pianists will play G7 here, but part of the contemporary sound is creating a little tension to be resolved later. In this case, the resolution does come in the next measure with a regular G7 chord. There are two ways to finger G7sus4: 1-2-5 or 1-2-4. I prefer 1-2-4 because it will allow you to play the melody legato by using 5 on A, then back to 4 on G. But if it’s more comfortable to play G7sus4 1-2-5, then use that fingering! For G7, I recommend fingering 1-2-4 so you can stretch up to D with 5 and keep a legato melody. Again, if it’s soo much of a stretch, use 1-2-5 and jump up to D with 5.

Next we have another Cadd2 chord, fingered 1-2-5. Then step down to G with 4 and jump up to C with 5. Next is another G7sus4 chord that’s a big stretch! I would finger this chord 1-2-5, but if your hands are too small you can use your thumb to play both F and G.


As I’m sure you’ve noticed, this arrangement involves a lot of stretching with your right hand. If you’re having trouble stretching and reaching these big chords, try doing the following exercise to loosen up your fingers.:

Away In A Manger Piano Stretching Exercise
Away In A Manger Piano Stretching Exercise

You should feel a good stretch with your fingers, and after doing this a few times it will be easier to play these large chords.

A quick note on fingering: there are no strict rules when it comes to fingering. Everyone’s hands are different, and what is comfortable for Jonny or I may not be comfortable for you. Think of fingerings as recommendations or suggestions rather than rules. If something doesn’t feel good, experiment with other fingerings until you find something comfortable!


Take the repeat, and play the first four measures the same as before. The first measure of the second ending probably has the most difficult chord to play of the whole arrangement! The chord is F-G-C-F and most pianists will need to use 1 to play F-G, 2 on C, and 5 on F. If you have flexible fingers you can get a better roll on this chord by using 1-2-4-5 but that’s a big stretch. Next is the same Cadd2 chord from the beginning, then another stretch with the next G7sus4. The best way to finger C-F-D is to use 1-2-5.

The next two measures should be fairly easy compared to all the stretching we’ve been doing! Use 5-1-2-3-5 for both measures and you should get this ending down in no time. Next, let’s look at some different ways you can harmonize this melody.

Step 3: Melody Harmonization Techniques

If you’re at a more advanced level, you can harmonize almost every note in this melody if you want to! There are two techniques we’ll look at: keeping the same chord underneath the melody, or harmonizing each note differently using 6ths.

You can use either technique interchangeably throughout the arrangement; they both sound good! Here’s an example of each:

Away In A Manger Piano Harmony - Same Chord
Away In A Manger Piano Harmony – Same Chord

Away In A Manger Piano Harmonized - 6ths
Away In A Manger Piano Harmonized – 6ths

If you’ve enjoyed this lesson, check out our Pop & Contemporary Piano Accompaniment: The One Chord Wonder, The Love Progression, Pop & Contemporary Piano Accompaniment Patterns 1, Pop & Contemporary Piano Accompaniment Patterns 2, Contemporary Progressions and Improv 1, and Contemporary Progressions and Improv 2 courses. There’s so much to learn!

Thanks for learning, and see you in the next Quick Tip.

Blog by Austin Byrd // Quick Tip by Jonny May

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