O Christmas Tree Jazz Piano – Vince Guaraldi Style
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Are you a beginner or intermediate pianist who wants to play O Christmas Tree in a jazz piano style? Then you’ve come to the right place! In today’s Quick Tip you’ll learn how to play a Vince Guaraldi inspired arrangement of O Christmas Tree in 3 steps:
- Learn the left hand part
- Learn the right hand part and theory
- Put it all together
Feel free to follow along with our Smartsheet, where you can change the key, loop sections for practice, or change the tempo to suit you. Let’s get started!
Step 1: O Christmas Tree Jazz Piano Left Hand
Let’s start by taking a look at the full arrangement so we have an idea of what we’ll be learning:
And here’s the left hand part by itself:
The great thing about this left hand part is that you’ll never be playing more than two notes at a time! If you compare the notes in the left hand to the chord changes, you’ll see a very important concept in jazz piano: the left hand almost always plays the root and either the third of seventh of each chord. By only using two notes, we will free up the right hand to add the melody and the other chord tones as well as extensions and color tones. More on that in Step 2.
The first chord is F7, which means we’ll be playing Eb’s instead of E naturals. A dominant 7 chord is very similar to a Major chord, except the 7th is lowered by a half step. The next chord is Bb7, and we will be playing Bb and D for this chord. When harmony moves by 4th (for example, from F7 to Bb7), alternate playing the root and 7th with the root and 3rd. Since we played F and Eb (the root and 7th) for F7, we’ll alternate with root and third (Bb and D) for Bb7.
Moving on to the next measure, we are going to use the same concept as the first measure! Play A and G for A7, then alternate the root and 7th with root and 3rd for D7 (D and F#). At this point, I would recommend practicing the first two measures for a little bit. Focus on the rhythm especially! In order for jazz to really swing, mastering the rhythm of arrangements is key. Take it slow and resist the temptation to move on until you’re really feeling it swing!
We’re going to continue alternating between root-7th and root-3rd for Gm7 and C7. Just play F by itself in the first ending, then C and Bb for the super cool C13sus4 chord. We’ll cover the last measure in Step 3. Next, let’s learn the right hand.
Step 2: Right Hand Part and Theory
One of the coolest things about this arrangement is the motion of the inner voice in the right hand part! Each chord you play changes slightly, but creates a really interesting sound as you move through the arrangement. You’ve probably noticed that there is an extra note in each chord that adds a jazzy sound to the harmony; these notes are called extensions or color notes. These extensions (the 9, 11, and 13) are what gives jazz harmony its unique sound!
The first chord, when combined with the left hand, is actually F13 because of the added D in the right hand. D is the 13 of F7, and the 13 is a very common extension to add to dominant 7 chords. Notice on beat two that our D moves down to C#. This is changing the chord slightly from F13 to F7(#5), a very cool sound! When we get to Bb7, the inner note moves down again to C, the bottom note moves down to Ab, and the top note stays the same. C is another extension for Bb 7: it’s the 9.
The next measure is basically the exact same as the first measure except we’re starting on A7 instead of F7. The F# in the first chord (the 13 of A7) moves down to F natural (the #5 of A7), then the bottom two notes move down a half step to C and E, creating a D9 chord (E is the 9 of D7). Measures 3 and 4 are easy, just play the melody until you get to the beautiful C13sus4 chord. This one sounds so good because there are two extensions: the 9 (D) and the 13 (A).
Here’s how the whole thing looks with all the chord symbols written in:
Practice the right hand part until you’re comfortable with the motion of the inner notes and you’re feeling it really swing. Once you can do that, it’s time to put it all together!
Step 3: Putting It All Together
Now it’s time to play the arrangement together! This step is straightforward: start slow and make sure your rhythms are swinging, focus on the motion between the chords, and take it in small chunks.
There’s one last piece we haven’t covered yet, the last measure of the arrangement in the second ending. This one is easy! Play F and C with your left hand on beat one, while you play the end of the melody with your right hand. Then on the and of two, we’re going to use a quartal voicing to play the last chord (F6/9). Play A and D with your left hand, and G, C, and F with your right. This is called a quartal voicing because all the notes are a 4th apart.
If you want to go into more detail on O Christmas Tree, check out our O Christmas Tree 1 and O Christmas Tree 2 courses where you’ll learn Jonny’s arrangement of the full song. If you’re interested in the concepts we covered in today’s Quick Tip, check out our Piano Chord Extensions, Coloring Dominant Chords With Extensions, and Piano Chord Alterations 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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