Everyone has a favorite holiday song and I think This Christmas by Donny Hathaway is mine. In my This Christmas Piano tutorial, I will teach you step-by-step how to sing and play this song. Super fun and a bit tricky!
This Christmas was released in 1970 and was written by Donny Hathaway and Nadine McKinnor. It is referred to as the "premier holiday songs written by an African American" and paved the way for other Black artists to write massive holiday hits. (I'm looking at you Mariah Carey!)
Remarkably, the song wasn't much of a hit for Hathaway and only really hit its stride recently, making it's first appearance in the Hot 100 in 2020.
Fun fact: Donny Hathaway plays piano and sings on this track. One more vote for Piano Skills for Singers!
3 Steps to Authentic Pop Piano Arrangements
I detail this entire process in this video. I have used this process to learn hundreds and hundreds of songs and my students absolutely love the simplicity of learning pop songs on piano this way.
I find a copy of the lyrics or I just type them up from the recording. I then figure out the chords on a chord website or I just learn them by ear. If you want to learn to play by ear click here for a video I made where I outline how to learn to play by ear
Step #1: Learn the Chords to This Christmas on Piano
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Step #1a: Learn the Jazz Piano voicings to This Christmas
As always, you are welcome to just play root position chords for the entire song, if that is comfortable for you. Remember that I want you to be able to play this song ASAP, rather than take weeks to learn it. Once you are able to play the root position chords, you are welcome to try out these snazzy jazz piano voicings.
I am combining two simple jazz piano voicing strategies: 3-5-7-9 and 3 note shell voicings. Want to dive deeper into jazz piano techniques? Check out Jazz Piano Accompaniment - my signature “Learn to play jazz from scratch course”. It’s only available in The Versatile Musician. Join now!
Step #2: Learn the Accompaniment Strategy to This Christmas
This is a simple groove that replicates what the band plays on the original recording. The good news is that it’s not too hard to sing and play at the same time.
Step #3: Learn the introduction to This Christmas
The introduction to This Christmas is tricky, but super fun to play once you get it under your fingers.
Make sure your posture is secure when you work on this, as it will help to ensure you can play it without strain. Check out this video for help with your piano posture.
Work it very slowly at first and learn it hands separately. Once you have gotten each hand sorted out, put them together and work the tempo up. Good luck!
Step #4: Put the whole thing together!
Remember that you can (and should!) customize this to fit your skill level. If the chord inversions are too challenging for you, then play them all root positiong. If you want to level it up, try altering the groove or adding some solo fills.
Try to avoid getting stuck in the little details! The goal is for you to learn to sing and play more songs - not drown in a pool of perfectionism. Have fun - it’s only music!
Want some more great holiday-influenced piano tutorials?
How to play A Long December by Counting Crows
How to play What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Want some more great pop song tutorials?
How to play Watermelon Sugar by Harry Styles
How to play Hold On by Justin Bieber on piano
Ready for the next step? Have I got something for you!
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