Learn to Play Jingle Bells in a Jazz Piano Style

Instructor
Jonny May
Quick Tip
Level 2
Level 3
10:34

Learning Focus
  • Improvisation
  • Lead Sheets
  • Reharmonization
  • Songs
Music Style
  • Jazz Swing

Do you play Jingle Bells with simple left hand chords and a single-note melody, like this?

Jingle Bells piano with basic chords
Jingle Bells piano with basic chords

Well, there is a much cooler way to play this melody with more colorful notes and a swing feel… I’m talking about jazz! In today’s lesson, I’m going to teach you how to play Jingle Bells in a jazz piano style, and it’s not very hard!

Step 1: Swing Your 8th Notes

One of the first things that you can do if you want to make a song sound jazzy is to swing the melody.  The basic idea is to take all of your 8th notes and instead of playing them evenly, you play them unevenly.  Here are straight 8th notes:

Straight 8th notes on piano
Straight 8th notes on piano

And here are swung 8th notes:

Swung 8th notes on piano
Swung 8th notes on piano

As you can see, by swinging it, we are making the first 8th note on each beat a little longer, and the second 8th note on every beat shorter.  What you end up getting is triplets, where the first 8th note note of the triplet is held to the second note (equivalent to a quarter note), and the third note is played by itself.  Therefore, to “swing” 8th notes is simply to transform ordinary 8th notes into triplets.

Step 2: Add an Open-Swing Bass Line

If you want to play jazz swing on piano, it is essential to have a bass line that swings.  There are many ways of doing this, such as walking bass lines and an open-swing bass line.  In this arrangement, we will use an open-swing bass line (if you want to learn walking bass lines, checkout the course Jazz Walking Bass Lines).

What is an Open Swing bass line?

It is a bass line that follows this formula:

Open swing jazz piano rhythm
Open swing jazz piano rhythm

As you can see, we play the root for a beat and a half, then the 5 of the chord on the “and of beat 2”.  With this technique, we can apply a bass line to all of the chords of Jingle Bells.

Step 3: Syncopate Your Melody

Now you’ve got swinging 8th notes and a sweet bass line, but the melody sounds so plain… it’s just quarter notes the whole time.  How do you fix this? You syncopate the melody!

Here is how you would syncopate the first phrase:

Jingle Bells syncopated melody on piano
Jingle Bells syncopated melody on piano

See how we change the rhythm on measure 2? We move the second and third note of that measure early, striking them on the “and” of the beat.  Playing notes on off-beats, or “ands” is called syncopation, and it’s very important if you want to play jazz piano.

Step 4: Add Chord Extensions and Alterations

Now that you have a grooving melody and bass, what do you do next?  At this point, the melody and bass notes are there, it’s got a nice “swing” feel, but it’s missing something… harmony!  We need to fill in area between the melody and bass notes with harmony notes.

The way to do this is with chord extensions and alterations.

How to Color Major Chords, Minor Chords, and Dominant 7 Chords with Extensions & Alterations

Major chords, minor chords, and dominant 7 chords are the 3 most common chords you’ll find in popular songs like this. So, how do you add colors to make them sound more jazzy?  Here are the notes I would add:

  • Major Chords: add the 6
  • Minor Chords: add the 7 and 2 (also called the 9)
  • Dominant 7 Chords: add the 2

Using the above formula you can take your first phrase and transform it into these chords:

Jingle Bells jazz piano arrangement, 1st 4 bars
Jingle Bells jazz piano arrangement, 1st 4 bars

Notice that the C chord is now a C6 (C E G and A on the first chord). The D minor chord on beat 3 has a 7 and 9 (the C and E), and the G Dominant 7 chord has a 9 in it (the A).  By adding these chord colors, we get rich, beautiful chords.

Now if you want to learn more about coloring chords, checkout these courses:

Coloring Dominant Chords With Extensions
Coloring Dominant Chords With Upper Structures

Step 5: Add Slides, Chord Pops, and Roll Ups

Now that you have the primary elements, it’s time to put the icing on the cake.  On almost any chord, you can slide the 3rd or the 5th of the chord to give it a bluesy sound. Notice that we do this on measure 3 by sliding from the A# to B

You can add Chord Pops underneath the melody to create a nice punchy sound.  Notice we do this on measure 4:

Jingle Bells jazz piano chord pops
Jingle Bells jazz piano chord pops

You can also add roll ups to chords, like this on measure 8, beat 1, left hand of the lesson sheet:

Piano rollups
Piano rollups

Putting it All Together

Once you’ve added all these elements, put them all together and work on a dynamic performance.  Don’t be afraid to accent certain melody notes and really dig into the performance.

For more on how to improvise jazz with lead sheets, checkout our swing learning tracks here:

Jazz Swing Learning Track – Beginner/Intermediate
Jazz Swing Learning Track – Intermediate/Advanced

Also, you can create an intro run for this tune by using either of these 2 beautiful jazz runs.

Thanks for watching, and see you in the next lesson!

Jonny May

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