Learn how to play “Carol of the Bells” on piano
“Carol of the Bells” is a very popular Christmas song that has appeared in movies such as Home Alone and has been performed by musical groups such as Pentatonix, The Piano Guys, Lindsey Sterling, and Mannheim Steamroller. In the following article, you will discover background information and also learn how to play “Carol of the Bells” on the piano. Read on to learn more.
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Background information on “Carol of the Bells”
The “Carol of the Bells” originated as a Ukrainian New Year’s song named “Shchedryk,” which translates from the Ukrainian as “Beautiful Evening.” The original lyrics tell the story of a swallow that sings good news about the new year. In 1916, Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych composed this piece for choir based on a four-note ostinato that he discovered in a Ukrainian folk music anthology. In 1936, the American musician Peter J. Wilhousky rewrote the lyrics in English about bells at Christmastime. This is the version we know best today in the United States and other English-speaking countries.
What is an ostinato?
An ostinato is a musical phrase that continually repeats. The “Carol of the Bells” begins with a four-note ostinato that continues throughout most of the piece. The four notes in this ostinato are B flat, A, B flat, G. In the modern English version, we often think of this as the sound of the bells, but in the original, it was intended to sound like the sparrow’s birdcall.
Another example of an ostinato is in the famous “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel. The entire “Canon in D” is held together by a repeating ostinato bass line of eight notes: D, A, B, F#, G, D, G, A. You can hear this piece and that ostinato here. In this video, you can hear this ostinato really clearly when the cello begins, but the piano will continue to play it throughout the entire piece as the cello plays other melodic lines.
What level of piano is “Carol of the Bells”?
There are many different arrangements of this piece. Our tutorial version of “Carol of the Bells” is a Late Elementary/Early Intermediate arrangement, which you can find here. This version is appropriate for Units 9 and up.
We also offer an easier Elementary arrangement, which can be downloaded here. This version is appropriate for Units 6 and up.
What is the key of “Carol of the Bells”
Leontovych composed the original “Shchedyrk” in G minor for a capella choir. Today we will learn the “Carol of the Bells” on the piano in the same key!
How to play “Carol of the Bells” on piano
The Hoffman Academy Carol of the Bells Piano Tutorial shows you how to play this Christmas song in only 27 minutes. You can find the sheet music at our store for only $3.99. If you have Premium Membership, you can download it for free.
- The “Carol of the Bells” is in G minor, so to begin playing, you must first place your right hand in the G minor position. To do this, your RH thumb should be placed on the G above middle C.
- The order of the notes in the first measure is B flat, A, B flat, G. The third finger plays the very first note (B flat), then the 2nd finger plays (A), play 3 again (B flat), before ending with your thumb (G).
- Another way to think of these pitches is to use solfege: Me, Re, Me, Do.
- Pay attention to the rhythm here: TA, TI-TI, TA. Make sure that this rhythm remains steady and even.
- Notice that this pattern continues in the next measure and onward. This is the ostinato mentioned above and the first sixteen measures of this piece are the same in the right hand! That means that you must feel really confident with this pattern before adding the left hand part.
- Practice playing the first four measures back to back while keeping a steady rhythm.
- In measure 5, the left hand begins in the C minor position. We know this because the first note is G and below the G is the number 1. This means that your LH thumb will be on G.
- Throughout measures 5-8, the left hand part consists mostly of dotted-half notes. These notes just step downwards: G, F, E flat, D. These are going to feel really slow at first, especially when practicing hands separately.
- Now, practice playing measures 5-8 back to back, both hands together, while keeping a really steady rhythm.
- In measures 9-12, the left hand continues to play dotted-half notes, but this time the notes change. First, the third finger plays E flat. The next note is D, but your fourth finger does not play this note. Instead it is written with a 1, meaning that your thumb is going to cross under your third finger to play the D. This way, your pointer finger can then play C and then your pinky can play G.
- Now, try playing measures 9-12 back to back, both hands together, while keeping a steady rhythm.
You can now play the first twelve measures of “Carol of the Bells”! To review this section and learn more of this fun and popular song, watch the Hoffman video! Have fun, Merry Christmas, and have a Happy New Year!!