“Joy to the World” was written over 300 years ago, but it still remains a holiday classic today. This famous carol was never intended to be a Christmas song. However, over time, as more churches began to incorporate the tune into their holiday service, the song became widely recognized and appreciated. Read more to find out how “Joy to the World” became the song we know today and how to play “Joy to the World” on piano!
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How do you play “Joy to the World” on piano?
Although “Joy to the World” was written in D major, we’re going to learn this tune in C major, simply because C major uses all white keys! Here are the “Joy to the World” notes for piano. Start by placing finger 2 of the right hand on treble G. Place finger 2 of your left hand a step below on treble F. Your thumbs, also known as your first fingers, will not be used at all.
“Joy to the World” begins with 8 descending steps in an octave. Start by playing finger 5 of the right hand on treble C. Next play, B, A, G, F, E, D, C. Next play G, then A twice, B twice, then C. Here we’ll be descending by steps once again. Play C twice, then B, A, G twice, F, E. Repeat this section one more time. Next, play E five more times, then play F, G. Step down to F, E, and then play D four times and step up to E and F. For the last part, play E, D, C, and jump all the way to treble C. Finish off by stepping down A, G, F, E, stepping up to F and then stepping down E, D, C.
For a more advanced version of this tune, take a look at our “Joy to the World” elementary tutorial. You can also find the “Joy to the World” piano sheet music for the video tutorial here.
What’s the story behind “Joy to the World”?
The lyrics of “Joy to the World” are from a poem by Isaac Watts. Watts was an English Christian minister who was inspired to write an adaptation of Psalm 98 in the Bible. This poem became the lyrics of “Joy to the World:”
Joy to the world, the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room And heaven and nature sing!
And heaven and nature sing!
And heaven . . . and heaven . . . and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy! Repeat the sounding joy!
Repeat . . . repeat . . . the sounding joy!
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found!
Far as the curse is found!
Far as . . . far as . . . the curse is found!
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love!
And wonders of his love!
And wonders . . . wonders . . . of his love!
Watts was a brilliant poet and wrote some of Christianity’s best-loved hymns. He was one of the first to take the psalms and create rhyming poetry in English to be sung to music during worship services. In Watt’s day, hymns were not sung to a single tune, but could be sung to any tune with the correct meter, meaning the right number of syllables per line of poetry. Hymn books were like poetry books, with no music written in. A contrarian of his time, Watts felt many of the texts traditionally sung in church were monotonous and lacked emotion. His father challenged him to write the lyrics that Watts wanted to hear in church, and he did just that. Watts redefined what people believed lyrics for church music should be and forever changed how Christian church music is sung.
Who wrote the music for “Joy to the World”?
Although Watt’s poem became the lyrics of “Joy to the World,” he did not write the music to the famous tune. There’s still a bit of mystery surrounding who wrote the original tune of “Joy to the World.” Many people mistakenly believe “Joy to the World” was written by George Freideric Handel. This is because in 1836, American composer Lowell Mason wrote an arrangement of “Joy to the World.” At the top of his composition, Mason wrote “Arranged from Handel” because he had used two passages from Handel’s “Messiah” as inspiration for his own tune. This message led people to believe Handel wrote the music!
While many people believe that Lowell Mason originally composed the famous tune, there are several compositions that suggest that “Joy to the World’s” melody has existed long before 1836. All these compositions have unknown authors, but it’s fair to say that Lowell Mason created the most popular and widely recognized arrangement of the tune for “Joy to the World.”
Interested in learning more holiday tunes?
Search our piano tutorials under our Popular Song page. Under the “All Categories” tab click “Holiday & Religious” to see all our favorite holiday tunes! Happy playing!