Go Tell it On the Mountain Jazz & Blues Piano
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Are you looking for a fun, spirited way to play Go Tell It On the Mountain in a jazz piano style? In today’s Quick Tip, you’ll learn Jonny’s super fun boogie blues arrangement of this classic Christmas song in two or three steps:
1. Learn the left hand boogie bass pattern
2. Learn right hand part with blues/gospel theory
3. Advanced techniques
This arrangement is not only a lot of fun, it’s easy too! You can follow along with our Smartsheet as you work through the arrangement. You’ll have a blast performing this at home, Christmas parties, or church! Let’s dig in.
Step 1: Go Tell It On the Mountain Jazz Piano Bass Pattern
The most important part of this arrangement is creating the groove, and the foundation of the groove is in the left hand. For this jazz piano arrangement of Go Tell It On the Mountain, we’ll be using a blues bass line that comes from the Kansas City blues tradition. Here’s what it looks like on its own:
This bass line is constructed using the root of each chord and the 5th or 6th depending on the beat in the measure. Start with 1 and 5 (C and G) on beat one, then alternate with 1 and 6 (C and A) on beat two. Go back to 1 and 5 on beat three, then 5 and 6 on beat four. This is the basic pattern for the whole arrangement! Practice slowly and focus on alternating between the two chords in each measure. Only the top note changes as you alternate, so if you’re having trouble getting this down, focus on changing the top note and it should be easier!
Keep the same pattern in when the chords change in the song. When the chord changes to G, the notes should still alternate between 1 and 5 (G and D) and 1 and 6 (G and E). The last potential area that could give you trouble is switching from C to G, then back from G to C as the song progresses. As always, practice slowly until you get it down, then gradually increase your speed. Once you can play the left hand fluidly, it’s time to learn the right hand!
Step 2: Right Hand Part and Theory
Let’s start by looking at the first four measures of the right hand:
As you can see, we’ll be using triads almost exclusively to harmonize the melody of this song. There’s a little more to it than just using triads however; to achieve a gospel sound we will use second inversion triads. Second inversion chords (along with the blues groove) is what gives this arrangement a fun gospel sound. Gospel music utilizes second inversion chords because that specific harmonization is what makes gospel music different from other similar styles.
But we aren’t only using second inversion triads! It’s important to also follow the chord changes as we move through the melody. Generally, when the melody is also the root of the chord (i.e. measure 4) harmonize with a first inversion triad to solidify the sound of the harmony with the melody.
You’ve probably noticed by now that we are in the key of C, but there are Bb’s and Eb’s in some of these chords. We’ll be using lots of Bb’s when the chord is C because we want to create a bluesy sound. Blues uses dominant 7 chords rather than plain Major chords, so we are going to reflect that by adding Bb’s and using mixolydian mode, implying a harmony of C7 instead of C Major.
LEARNING THE PART
Start by following the melody and harmonizing with second inversion triads except when the melody is the root of the chord. As you play through, notice beat four of measure 2 has an Eb! This tritone is another component of blues, as that Eb comes from both the blues scale and the gospel scale. Once you can play the first four measures comfortably, let’s look at the next four:
Keep harmonizing the melody using second inversion chords except for the second measure here. The melody is C, so we’re going to use an F Major triad. On top of G, this creates a cool G7sus chord which resolves to G7 on beat three. Continue with second inversion chords in the third measure. Measure four has some interesting stuff! The melody is A, but we are going to harmonize this as a G+7 chord (the + indicates augmented, or #5). An augmented dominant chord at the end of a phrase is a common sound in gospel music, so we’re going to use it here.
Take the repeat and play it the same as before. When we get to the second ending, you’ll notice the Ab in the chord on beat three. Here we are using F minor to harmonize the melody, which is the minor iv chord. This is another common gospel sound often used toward the end of songs, and it sounds great! Keep going with second inversion triads until you get to the last two measures. Here, we’re going to use a common blues ending by utilizing a walk-up. If you can memorize this ending, it’s almost always a great way to end virtually any song! Let’s play the whole arrangement in full:
Next, let’s look at some more advanced techniques.
Step 3: Advanced Techniques
If you want to add some more excitement with the left hand, check out this more advanced bass line:
Instead of alternating between 1-5 and 1-6, we’re going to continue the upward motion of that top note and go to 1-7 on beat three, then down to 1-6 on beat four. We’re also going to add an off beat on the and of 2 to help it swing more. Keep this pattern going throughout the whole song!
With your right hand, there’s a few things we can do to spice it up. A really easy one is incorporating slides. Slides are most effective when it’s the middle note of these triads because it still injects a great bluesy sound without obfuscating the melody. You could also slide the top and bottom notes if you like!
Rhythmically, use anticipations to make it swing more. The and of 2 and the and of 4 are always great places to anticipate chords. Feel free to add some other rhythms in there as well!
If you want to dig into more detail with the topics covered in today’s Quick Tip, check out our Rockin Blues Bass Lines 1 and Rockin Blues Bass Lines 2, The Major Blues Scale (Gospel Scale) 1 and The Major Blues Scale (Gospel Scale) 2, and 10 Essential Jazz & Blues Piano Endings 1 and 10 Essential Jazz & Blues Piano Endings 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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