Make your own dashing arrangement of Jingle Bells

About 4 years ago, Wendy Stevens of asked her piano students to learn the chorus of “Jingle Bells” and create a variation. Each arranger was filmed debuting his/her arrangement and then made into a lovely video.

Wendy's Jingle Bells project got me so pumped that I not only assigned all my students this unique task but I blogged about it at I began my blogging years ago. Here's the post (and the video) from December 2011, with a few minor updates.

The Plot

When preparing for the upcoming holiday recital, lesson time can be zapped by ironing out the wrinkles in performance pieces or drilling the performance etiquette routine. Little time is left for covering new concepts or new pieces. This calls for an assignment that captures the students’ attention, challenges their creativity and that can be accomplished in a short amount of time.

 The Production

The following steps were taken to prepare students:

1) A lead sheet featuring the melody and chord symbols was reviewed.

2)  For inspiration, students were asked to listen to Mozart’s Twelve Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” and follow along with the score. Next they watched the youtube video of Wendy’s students. (As I offer 30-minute lessons with a 30-minute off bench time, this was assigned during the lab time and did not take away from lesson time.)

3) A checklist of composition devices, provided by Wendy, was given to charge up the creative juices. About 5 minutes of lesson time was taken to prod students’ idea bank. We looked over a list of various moods and styles that sparked the imagination engines. Most were inspired to borrow ideas from their current pieces which boosted their confidence as they were not starting with a blank slate.

Additional ideas included varying the melody with neighbor tones, repeated notes, rhythmic changes and using standard LH patterns they encounter on a regular basis in lesson books and repertoire. Students were encouraged to keep it simple. However, they know I am a huge fan of intros and outros (codas), so most added them to please the teacher.

4) Pianists (arrangers) were asked to return to the next lesson with a completed variation.


The following week was like Christmas as each student “unwrapped” his/her variation for me. Some were perfected and camera-ready, some even had more than one variation, while others needed last-minute tweaking to work out rhythm or harmony issues.

Recording each student usually took more than one “take” but they did seem relieved to know that only their hands would be filmed. They were all reminded to use their best hand position but some were quite surprised with what they saw while watching their own video. (Note to self: pull out this camera more often–a picture can say so much more than words!)


After accumulating the clips, they all headed to the editing table (iMovie). Every student who participated was included in the final cut, however there were so many that a ‘sequel’ was needed.

The Editor’s cut  (the video at the top of the post) features the "best" twelve variations (yes, it was hard to choose!).

The project offered an opportunity to cover theory topics like the theme and variation form, primary chords, secondary chords, modality, composition techniques…the list goes on. The students enjoyed the creativity and seeing their names and hands on the "big screen."

Your Turn

With the few lessons left in the year, why not encourage your students AND yourself to make your own dashing arrangement?

Want More Ideas?

Still puzzled about the steps to encourage young arrangers and composers? Using a simple tune like "Jingle Bells" works. I'm also convinced that pop music really can help, too. Want to know why I believe that to be true? Then you'll want to attend the 88 Creative Keys winter webinar featuring Bradley Sowash, yours truly and the king of teaching pop, Tim Topham. Follow this link to register for the webinar.

IMPORTANT! If you have attended an 88 Creative Keys Summer workshop in the past, you are invited to attend this winter webinar "webshop" for FREE!

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