Well folks, we are fast approaching Christmas again. Are you ready? No, I’m not asking if you’ve finished your shopping. 😉 I’m just curious if you will be playing any Christmas carols this winter!
Don’t worry: adding a few of these seasonal tunes doesn’t have to take a huge effort on your part. (Especially if you’re already learning my chord-based piano techniques.) In fact, if you know just three chords, you can use them to play at least five Christmas carols!
Check out my video about this here, with a guest appearance from my Student Success Manager, Annie. (And for the record, 9 times out of 10 this is not my kind of hat… but I couldn’t resist the holiday cheer for this video!)
So, what five songs could you play with this Christmasy combo of three chords? They are:
- Silent Night
- Away in a Manger
- O Christmas Tree
- O Come All Ye Faithful
- Jingle Bells
Don’t believe me that all those songs can be played with just a few common chords? Don’t knock it ‘till you try it. But to try it you’ll need…
The three chords you need are nothing special. If you already know my major chord formula, these should be very easy for you:
- C major
- F major
- G major
First, a quick refresher (or introduction) if you need it. Major chords all use the formula 4-3. And with my approach, you should play chords in the right hand.
Playing Major Chords
For example, playing a C major chord means placing your right thumb on the root note C, counting four notes to the right and pressing that note with your second finger, and counting three more notes to the right for your third finger. Pressing those three notes together makes a C major chord.
If this is new to you, take a moment and practice our three chords C major, F major, and G major. Make sure you use the 4-3 formula and make sure you count those notes correctly. 😉 Easy peasy!
What should you play in the left hand? Play two root notes, whatever makes sense for the chords you play in the right side. That means two C notes on the left for a C chord on the right, two F notes on the left for every F chord on the right, and so on.
Playing with Basic Patterns
To turn these chords into an actual song, you have to play them in the right order, and with a pattern that makes sense for the song. So let’s talk about that.
For the first 3 songs we’re learning today (Silent Night, Away in a Manger, and O Christmas Tree) I recommend that you use a slightly different pattern than for the others (O Come All Ye Faithful, Jingle Bells). This is something easier shown than said, so make sure you watch the video above if you haven’t already.
Basically, you’ll need to toggle back and forth between which notes you play at which times, while following along with the basic chords+root notes progression.
Now, you can definitely just play these songs as instrumentals: that’s what I typically do and it’s a nice relaxing way to enjoy Christmas music by itself. But they’re not called “carols” for no reason. Sometimes it’s fun to sing along, or to enlist others to sing with you!
If you watched the video, you got to hear my very awesome team member Annie sing not one, not two, not three… but five Christmas carols as I played. Did you hear how seamlessly those songs led right into each other? That’s because they used the same chord progressions, and worked well with just two variations of the same pattern. So being able to play one means it’s pretty easy to play them all!
More Advanced Versions
If you feel confident with the techniques I’ve already explained here, how about spicing things up with some improvisation and embellishment?
Don’t get me wrong: the chords stay the same. But by using other patterns like the Annie Rollover, or different improv tools like the ones I teach in my course, you can make things sound much more customized and interesting.
The great thing about learning these techniques is that you can apply them as often or as sparsely as you want. There’s no rule that says only one kind of improv is allowed, or that you have to play the same carol the same way every time.
So have fun with it! Experiment with your options, see what you like and what works well when you sing along. Playing piano is pretty delightful, even if the weather outside is frightful. 😉
Will you give these five Christmas songs a try this holiday season? Are you ready to learn chord-based techniques that can make piano actually easy and fun? Go for it! And if you haven’t already, make sure you check out my free 5-day workbook link here.
Merry Christmas from me and my team!