Play O Come All Ye Faithful – Jazz Piano Style
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The holidays are a wonderful time of year filled with beautiful sights, smells and sounds. Musically speaking, the vintage sound of delicate jazz piano chords seems to fit just perfectly with the timeless carols and choruses of the Christmas season. In today’s Quick Tip, Play O Come All Ye Faithful Jazz Piano Style, John Proulx shares how piano students can approach this beloved Christmas carol with a classy jazz flavor. You’ll learn:
- O Come All Ye Faithful Song Facts
- Adeste Fideles: The Hymn Book Meets The Real Book
- O Come All Ye Faithful Jazz Piano Techniques
If you enjoy the holidays and jazz piano, then you’ll love today’s lesson!
The Christmas carol popularly known today as “O Come All Ye Faithful” was originally written in Latin under the title “Adeste Fideles.” While both titles convey similar meanings, a very literal translation of the Latin title reads something more like “be present, faithful ones”—a helpful reminder for us all amidst of the hustle and bustle of the holidays.¹
The original authorship of “Adeste Fideles” is often disputed, with some speculations citing a date as early as the 13th century. Usually, the music and original Latin lyrics are attributed to John Francis Wade (1711–1786), an English Catholic hymnist. The earliest printed edition of “Adeste Fideles” dates to 1751. A century later, Frederick Oakeley (1802–1880), an English Catholic priest, translated “Adeste Fideles” in to English as “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which was published in 1852.²
“O Come All Ye Faithful” continues to have broad appeal in modern times. In fact, it has been recorded nearly 1500 times by both pop and Christian artists. However, it has only landed on the pop charts twice. First, a recording by the Associated Glee Clubs of America reached #5 in 1925. Secondly, a recording by Bing Crosby featuring both the Latin and English lyrics reached #45 in 1942.
In the next section, we’ll examine the melody and chords for “O Come All Ye Faithful” on piano in both its original form and as it is commonly interpreted by jazz pianists.
In this lesson, we’ll be exploring the melody and piano chords for “O Come All Ye Faithful” in the key of E♭ Major, which has 3 flats (B♭, E♭ and A♭). In fact, you can download the complete lesson sheet PDF and backing track from the bottom of this page after logging in with your PWJ membership. Moreover, PWJ members can easily change the key of this lesson sheet with our Smart Sheet Music.
E♭ Major Scale
E♭ Major Diatonic Triads
E♭ Major Diatonic 7th Chords
As you can see, there are seven naturally occurring triads and 7th chords in E♭ major. (Note, the demonstrations above perform these chords an octave higher than written).
If you’d like additional support for mastering the key of E♭ major, then be sure to check out the following PWJ resources:
In addition to these chords, you’ll also need to be familiar with handful of additional chords from outside the key of E♭ major. Therefore, our Quick Tip on 7th Chords for Piano—The Complete Guide is a helpful tool to have bookmarked for quick reference.
If you were to look up “O Come All Ye Faithful” in a hymnal, you would typically find a traditional harmonization that favors major and minor diatonic triads, a few dominant 7th chords and an occasional secondary dominant (such as the major Ⅱ chord behaving as the V of V, which is pronounced “five of five”). Hymnals generally feature 4-part choral style SATB arrangements with the soprano and alto voices notated in treble clef while the tenor and bass voices are notated in bass clef. However, for the sake of simplicity, the following example has been simplified and adapted for piano while retaining a traditional hymn-like character.
O Come All Ye Faithful – Traditional Piano Chords
Next, let’s examine how “O Come All Ye Faithful might sound when performed from a modern Christmas fake book.
When jazz music appears in print form, it is typically presented in lead sheet format—a type of shorthand notation that includes a tune’s melody, chord symbols and occasionally the lyrics. Collections of jazz lead sheets bound together in a single volume are called “fake books.” As the name implies, proficient jazz musicians can “fake” their way through a tune from a lead sheet without dependency on a complete score.
In the 1970s, students at the Berklee College of Music complied The Real Book, a fake book that contained unauthorized publications of popular jazz standards. Since that time, many publishers still make reference to The Real Book when creating titles for their fake books (such as The Real Christmas Book). The following excerpt includes John Proulx’s harmonization of “O Come All Ye Faithful” with jazz piano chords that you’d likely find in a fake book. Again, for the sake of simplicity, the notation has been modified from the typical lead sheet style. Specifically, this example includes grand staff notation to assist students who are still learning to interpret jazz chord symbols.
O Come All Ye Faithful – Jazz Piano Chords
What differences did you notice between these two arrangements of “O Come All Ye Faithful”? For starters, you probably noticed that the hymn-style arrangement predominantly used triads while The Real Book style arrangement uses 7th chords and additional chord extensions, such as the 9th, 11th and the 13th. In the next section, we’ll explore additional jazz arranging techniques that John Proulx has employed in today’s lesson sheet arrangement.
Incidentally, if you want to learn how transform lead sheets into jazz piano arrangements, then be sure to check out our course series on Play Piano Lead Sheets.
In this section, we’ll explore four jazz arranging techniques that you need to know if you want to play other traditional Christmas tunes with jazzy sound. While swapping out triads with 7th chords can get you started, there’s more to it than that. The four topics we’ll explore in this section include:
Let’s take a closer look at each of these jazz arranging techniques one by one.
The term passing chords describes chords that are nonessential or secondary in terms of the overall harmonic structure of a tune. In other words, if a passing chord were to be omitted, the overall harmonic syntax remains uninterrupted. In many cases, passing chords occur on weak beats and are frequently employed as a means of harmonizing passing tones in the melody, although this is not always the case.
Even though passing chords are nonessential in a structural sense, they play a pivotal role in establishing stylistic characteristics that convey a particular musical genre.
When transforming a traditional tune into a jazz arrangement, this generally requires adding some passing chords. For example, in a typical hymn style format, the opening two measures of “O Come All Ye Faithful” contain one-chord-per-bar. The harmonic movement is from Ⅰ to Ⅴ, or tonic to dominant. However, in jazz music, we typically find two-chords-per-bar, and we frequently include other chords besides just the tonic and dominant. A popular jazz chord progression that contains the same essential DNA as tonic to dominant is Ⅰ→Ⅵ→Ⅱ→Ⅴ, which is also known as the turnaround progression. Therefore we can describe the Ⅵm7 in measure 1 and the Ⅱm7 in measure 2 as passing chords. Other jazz educators might describe the Ⅵm7 as “expanding” the tonic chord, whereas the Ⅱm7 is “expanding” the dominant chord.
Fully diminished chords are also frequently used as passing chords. For example, in measure 4, John Proulx uses the ♯Ⅴº7 (Bº7) to approach the Ⅵm7 chord (Cm7). This type of passing chord is called a secondary diminished chord. Jonny also describes this usage as a “lift-in” diminished chord because the root of the diminished 7th chord “lifts” into the root of the resolution chord.
Notice in the example above that the Bº7 actually replaced the B♭ major triad. Therefore, some might argue that this is actually a chord substitution rather than a passing chord. Generally, the difference is that a passing chord is an additional chord whereas a chord substitution replaces one chord for another. However, the chromaticism that is created by secondary dominants and secondary diminished chords is so striking that it is heard as having a dependent, passing relationship with the resolution chord. Therefore, such occurrences are often categorized as passing chords, even if they are technically substituting for a diatonic chord.
As we have already mentioned, chord substitution is when we replace one harmonic sound with another. This often involves swapping out one diatonic chord for another when both chords share one or more common tones (i.e.: replacing major Ⅰ with minor Ⅵ). Another common example of chord substitution is changing the quality of a diatonic chord to introduce an unexpected sound color (i.e.: replacing major Ⅳ with minor Ⅳ). We call these occurrences modal interchange or borrowed chords. Another common example of chord substitution is changing the quality of a diatonic chord to create a secondary dominant.
To get an idea of what chord substitution sounds like, compare the following examples of measures 5–6 from “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
Pretty cool, huh? This example contains three chord substitutions. In the first measure, the F13 is used to replace both B♭ major and F major. Then, in the second measure, both the B♭ and E♭ triads on beats 1 and 2 have been replaced by a B♭maj7 chord that lasts for two counts. In this case, the E♭ melody note on beat 2 has been treated as a non-harmonic tone, following the convention of an unaccented passing tone. Finally, in measure 2 on beats 3 and 4, Gm7 has been used to replace the B♭ major and Cm triads.
Next, we’ll consider another exciting jazz arranging technique.
Whereas passing chords and chord substitution generally describe more localized harmonic adjustments, the term reharmonization is used to describe longer occurrences of harmonic reimagination. Therefore, reharmonization is an umbrella term that includes all of the specific arranging techniques we’ve already covered, including passing chords, secondary diminished chords, chord substitutions, secondary dominants, and borrowed chords.
Let’s listen to John Proulx’s reharmonization of measures 17-18 of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
As you can hear, reharmonization is an exciting topic in jazz theory. In fact, you can study reharmonization in detail in our full-length courses on this this topic:
Now, let’s consider one more arranging technique that John uses in today’s lesson sheet arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
When John Proulx gets to measures 9–10 of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” he combines several jazz arranging techniques together. You’ll notice by the chord symbols that there is some pretty extensive reharmonization happing here. In addition, John adds some beautiful countermelodies between the melody and the bass line. This is an example of an advanced arranging technique that we call inner voice movement. Let’s take a listen.
Wow, what a breathtaking musical phrase! So how do you create inner voice movement? Well, there are actually several different techniques. One common approach is to expand a dominant 7th chord into two chords by preceding it with its corresponding dominant “sus chord.” For example, if you have a B♭7 chord that lasts for two beats, you could use B♭7(sus4) →B♭7. In fact, this is exactly what John does in your lesson sheet in measure 26. This technique also explains the G7(sus4)→G7 in the example above. Sometimes, adding inner voice movement is as simple as connecting chord tones with scalar movement. For example, in the 2nd measure of the example above, the alto line that descends from G down to B♮ is simply a C harmonic minor scale fragment.
To learn more about inner voice movement, check out the following Quick Tip:
Congratulations, you’ve finished today’s lesson on Play O Come All Ye Faithful Jazz Piano Style. Besides learning how to play this holiday favorite, you’ve also discover how to think like a jazz arranger!
If you enjoyed today’s lesson, then be sure to check out the following PWJ resources:
Thanks for learning with us today! We’ll see you next time.
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¹ Julian, John. “Adeste, Fideles Translations.” HymnsAndCarolsOfChristmas.com.
² Lathan, Sharon. “Christmas Carols: Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.” SharonLathanAuthor.com, 27 Nov. 2022.
Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...
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