Reimagining Jingle Bells

Every year around this time, I ask ask students to come up with personalized arrangements of Christmas tunes. I might throw out a few suggestions to get them started but I’m careful not to guide them very much. The idea is to get them to apply previously-learned creative concepts.

Here are three different takes on Jingle Bells created (mostly) by the pianists who played them.

1. (0:07) Michael Wade creates new music easily. At some point in almost every lesson, (usually while my back is turned) he’ll launch into his latest composition. Here, he twists normally cheerful Jingle Bells into a minor key with a jump bass aka basic strid pattern in his left hand. The takeaway? Changing tonality is a great arranging trick that can yield surprising results. Try warping a happy major tune into a minor key for a quirky, macabre effect.

2. (0:50) Noah Gosnell prepared this version for a creative music competition. This is an early draft. Notice how he mixes accompaniment styles to create variations, a good strategy to emulate in your own explorations.

3. (2:22) Mark King is a former professional musician turned radiologist. Despite a very demanding job as a practicing physician and medical school faculty member, he keeps his passion for music very much alive. Here is an excerpt pulled from an annual Christmas concert he organized to raise money for a worthy cause. (I’m playing bass in this one.) Notice how he transitions from a jazz ballad style to a swing feel and back again. Changing tempo and style give the arrangement a sense of direction.

Hearing students rethink a tune according to their own tastes and preferences is one of the best things about teaching off-page musical creativity.
— Bradley Sowash

Just Do It
It doesn’t have to be the holiday season to try your hand at arranging well-known tunes. Grab a public domain folk song, nursery rhyme, or hymn tune and bend into something new. My best tip? Trust yourself. Everyone is creative. Start with a borrowed concept and watch how your own ideas start to blend and flow. The only thing that’s hard about creativity is getting started. Just sit down and see what happens. Do it right now before you’re distracted!

Until next time, enjoy your creative music making journey.