Christmas Time Is Here

Hi Hayden & community,

I’m now playing “Christmas Time is Here.” I’m a “Beginner 2” (I never know how to rate my ability, let’s say in a range from 1-6). I can play the fingering but I’m trying to become a better musician by taking your suggestion of a) Song form (this is an A-A-B-A) and b)understanding the progressions. But I can’t work out the progression of this song. Okay, the key is in FMaj, but the chords don’t seem to match any structure that I am familiar with. From FMaj, it goes to Eb13(#11). In the Bridge, does it change keys? …many questions. Anyway, I imagine there are substitutions for certain chords within the key framework.

My question, have you previously worked out the theoretical underpinning/ progression for this song?
Look, I know you are extremely busy, so if no… no problems.

I am trying to learn songs by progressions (in order to switch keys) but it isn’t easy. Maybe in 5 years…
Thank you, or anyone else that answers, for all your help.

Hi Armando,

I was curious about your questions, so I googled a bit. The Eb7 chord is the bVII of F. Here is what I found.


This is less of a chord progression and more of a harmonic technique that’s often found in rock and pop songs.

One easy way to keep a song centered but still moving forward is to simplify the harmony, like in this “progression” that moves from the tonic to bVII and back again.

bVII is a borrowed chord from the natural minor scale, but it feels familiar because it’s only a whole step away from the tonic.

bVII adds satisfying color to a progression because of its association with the Mixolydian mode.

I did not look at the bridge. I know Hayden or someone else can provide excellent answers to both of your questions. Just thought I would share what I found.


Hi Celia,

Thank you so much for your insight and help.

I see that the bVII is in the F minor chords but your insight of a)it’s a harmonic technique, b) borrowed chord a whole step away is helpful, and c) the association with the Mixolydian mode, are theoretical leaps I couldn’t have made. Thank you.
I will have to try it in other keys with similar melodies to see how it sounds.

Bar 5-8 may also be a harmonic technique moving down by semitones finishing with a ii-V-I (bar 7,8). The bridge, I don’t know. Okay, DbMaj7 is in the F minor chords (VI) but the Gb13(#11)?

By the way, in Bar 21, the chords is an Am7, not AMaj7 (it’s just wrong on the lead sheet but not in Hayden’s explanation in the vid.

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Hi @armando, here’s my analysis on the song:

Christmas Time Is Here.pdf (22.2 KB)

About the Eb7; You’re on the right track, this is “borrowed” from the minor key Fminor. In a matter of fact, Eb7 in the key of Fmaj functions as a IV-minor, as Eb7 is the same thing as Bb-7, remember the II V connection, II and V can be used together or separately, it still functions as a II V.

This harmonic event has been around since the dawn of western music, and appears in all genres, from Bach to pop- and jazz music.

Here’s a tutorial on the subject of IV minor, or bVII7:

Other place in this song that might need explanation is the bars 5-6 of the A section.

This descending harmony is a common harmony, a variation/substitution for II V I VI turnaround. Here’s a tutorial on this subject:

Let me know if this helped, and if you have any further questions, let me know!



Thanks for letting me know @armando - I will correct that typo.

If ever in doubt follow the demonstrations in the video.


Hi @Tuomo, @Hayden, @Celia

Thank you so much for the A section help and I will follow up, and have been looking up, and trying to get my head around the valuable information you have given me. I do have additional questions on the Bridge.

I imagine the composer changed keys to DbMaj7, so bars 17-20 are I-IV-I-IV, but I don’t understand bars 21-24 (e.g. I looked at the Db Major and Db minor chords and can’t figure out where the Eb7, D7, Gm7 and C are coming from - chord substitutions?).

Another question (sorry, not theory and I know this is the theory section). When you memorize songs, there are some that are simple in terms of progressions (e.g. Fly Me To The Moon) and I can remember the chord progression in Roman numerals, but something like this, is it better to just memorize the piece, since it seems difficult to write down the progression without a lot of extra information about substitutions and then memorize the progression (if I ever had to transpose the piece, I would do it on paper using intervals)?

Thank you for your help in advance,

Hi @armando , the second half of the bridge returns to the original key Fmajor:

Where the basic harmony would be:
A-7 I D7 (II V to the 2nd degree G-7) and G-7 I C7 (II V to Fmajor)

Now, the chords Eb7 and Db7 are tritone sub dominants to the next chord; Eb7 is a tritone sub dominant to D7, and Db7 to C7. Tritone subs are a replacement to a regular dominant (Eb7 is tritone subsitution for A7, Db7 is for G7). Adding dominants in front of any chord is a good way to create movement in harmony, and tritione subs are a good variation of the regular dominant sound.

Here’s a tutorial on the subject to check out:

About memorization, there are several techniques that can help you; understanding basic forms, common harmonic concepts and modulations, understanding how the “core” harmony, as well as learning to transpose into other keys etc.

You’re in luck, I’ll be starting a new classroom on the subject in 2 weeks, hope to see you there! We’ll be sending notifications and starting dates shortly :slight_smile:

Meanwhile, I did a live seminar on the subject, please check out:

Let me know if this helped,

all the best,



Dear @Tuomo

Thank you so much for the outstanding help you have provided. There is no way I could have worked it out and you have given me a window to progress. Also, I’m so appreciative of the details that you added. For example, the information about Secondary Dominants and that “tritione subs are a good variation of the regular dominant sound.” It’s so interesting that such a theoretically complicated song can sound so beautiful. Also thank you for the information about memorization! I guess for me, there is so much to learn but in a way, it’s good to learn patience too. I like Hayden’s concept of playing music as a way to learn theory (i.e. just look at all the information in this one song) but I can still enjoy it when I play it regardless. Unfortunately, I can’t attend your course in two weeks, but the great thing is that the classes are recorded (e.g. How To Memorise Jazz Standards - Jazz Piano Live Seminar) and I can check them out in the future. It seems perfect!

Thank you again Tuomo for all your kindness and work. Armando

@armando, I’m glad I can help!

About the classrooms, if you sign up to a classroom, you will receive notifications on everything that will be posted on the classroom page, from videos to homework assignments, to supporting material and music to listen to.

You don’t have to attend the zoom lessons, you can watch them later in your own pace, and do the assignment/ practice the topics in whatever way you feel fit :slight_smile:

Maybe you would also be interested in the Foundations Class? In this class we cover all the basics, subjects that are extremely important and useful for any further studies in music. Here’s a link to the Classroom main page for you to explore:


My two cents. This song was my Great White Whale about five years ago, something I was utterly determined to learn to play before I could understand it. I learned to play a somewhat simple, but to my ears very satisfying arrangement. I had no &#*#ing idea about anything in the song, I just learned the notes. At first I didn’t even know what chords I was playing!

I’m not saying this is a good way for someone at the level I was then at to learn, but it was an “I’m going to learn this or die trying, and keyboard, if I go, you go with me, so let’s just do this thing” situation.

If I carry any lesson from that, and other later experiences, it is that I don’t worry too much at any given point about exactly why something works. I ask myself, does it work? My ears tell me. If they say yes, I learn to play it, get it embedded in my brain. Then I start asking questions.

Because, if you ask me, few songs raise more pressing questions, once you start thinking about what is actually in the song, than this one. If you need to understand it before you learn it, it goes on the “some time in the distant future” file.

That was not an option for me and my grim obsession!

Now I’m experimenting with positively bizarre scales for improv on this song, and once again, I still have no idea why they work. But there are places where I can play bits of a C half-whole tone scale and it is a perfect fit. Maybe some day I’ll figure out why, but for now, I just play.

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Hi Dan!,

I really like your “two cents.” Thank you so much for responding. I have to say, I enjoyed your feedback! It was serious and humorous at the same time. And I love your “do or die” attitude (which is pretty much how I’ve lived my life!). Thank you for your comments regarding “What do your ears tell me.” That is so true. Sometimes when I’m reharmonizing a song, that is what I do. I know more theory than my piano playing ability (I also played guitar and bass) so I try to add a little theory when I can. Basically, I know a lot of songs fall into roughly 10 chord progressions, and it helps me keep track of what goes where. For example, progressions 1-6-2-5 (“The Way You Look Tonight” and “Heart and Soul"), Cycle of 5ths (“Fly Me to the Moon,” “Autumn Leaves” and “All the Things You Are"), Chromatic Walkup/ Walk down (“Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “It’s Only a Paper Moon), Blues progression and the rest. If it fits nicely into one of my groups, I remember it more. If it doesn’t I just do what you did and learn to play it without much thought. Unless I have arpeggiated left/right hands and then I need to remember the chord for the individual notes. I’ve learned it now and am working on the improv bit. But like you, I love it, the feeling the changes and was determined to learn it. Thank you so much for your thoughts. Also, you mentioned learning this song 5 years ago. I see you kept at it! Congrats!

@dan. Please see comment above. I forgot to add the @ sign, which I think I’m supposed to do for the reply to get to you. :face_with_hand_over_mouth: