#99 How To Play "This Christmas" (Donny Hathaway) On Sax

beginner christmas Dec 06, 2020

It's Christmas again! A time for mulled wine, mince pies and your favourite Christmas songs played on sax! Each year I add to my Christmas Playlist, so make sure you go and check out the others. There's some really cool versions of songs that I'm sure you're familiar with. We're kicking off this years Christmas saxfest with one of my favourite songs of all time, "This Christmas", the 1970 classic by the one and only Donny Hathaway. You'll learn how to play the whole song, and I'll even show you how to take a great solo in the middle.

Be sure to pick up your free PDF sheet music transcription of This Christmas here, which has got the melody written out for alto AND tenor, plus a transcription of the solo that I play. Here are the Q&A topics covered in this lesson, with video time stamps (min:sec). Clicking on the time stamp will take you straight to that portion of the video on YouTube (in a separate tab). Full Time stamps for the video and a complete transcript are available at the bottom of the blog.


Is it easy to play This Christmas by Donny Hathaway on sax? (1:08)

  • This Christmas is pretty easy on sax, whether you play alto or tenor
  • all the notes are from G major for tenor, or D major for alto


Is there sax on the original version of This Christmas

  • there's no lead saxophone part on the original - just saxophone in the horn section on the track
  • however, it's such a melodic song it works really well on sax


How do I solo on the middle bit of This Christmas? (4:59)

  • you can play a solo using only one scale - the major blues scale
  • for alto the notes you can mix up are D - E - F - F# - A - B
  • for tenor the notes you can mix up are G - A - Bb - B - D - E
  • You can find out more about blues scales and pentatonics here


 What are the sax notes for This Christmas by Donny Hathaway? (2:23)

For the full transcription, get your free PDF sheet music transcription of This Christmas here. These are the notes for each phrase.

* = second octave, ** = third octave, ***=fourth octave

__ = a longer note

  • phrase 1 - tenor (2:59): B__B  B  D*  B  A  G  B__B  B  D*  B  A  G  A  G____
  • phrase 2 - tenor (3:18): E*__D*__B__
  • phrase 3 - tenor (3:34): F#*  E*  E*__D*  B  B__
  • phrase 4 - tenor (3:46): E*  B*  B*  G*  E*  C  A*__B*  G*___
  • phrase 5 - tenor (4:01): G*  A*  A*  B*___A*__G*__
  • phrase 6 - tenor (4:14): G*  A*  G*  A*  A*  B*___G*  E*  A*__G*__
  • phrase 7 - tenor (4:44): G*  G*  E*  D*  B__G  C  B  A  G  G___


  • phrase 1 - alto (2:59): F#__F#  F#  A  F#  E  D  F#__F#  F#  A  F#  E  D  E  D____
  • phrase 2 - alto (3:18): B__A__F#__
  • phrase 3 - alto (3:34): C#  B  B__A  F#  F#__
  • phrase 4 - alto (3:46): B  F#*  F#*  D*  B  G  E*__F#*  D*___
  • phrase 5 - alto (4:01): D*  E*  E*  F#*___E*__D*__
  • phrase 6 - alto (4:14): D*  E*  D*  E*  E*  F#*___D*  B  E*__D*__
  • phrase 7 - alto (4:44): D*  D*  B  A  F#__D  G  F#  E  D  D___


Where can I find a backing track for This Christmas by Donny Hathaway? (8:39)

  • there's a backing track that you can play along to, here!


So that's it for this week, I hope you enjoyed learning this Christmas classsic. If you wanna sax up your Christmas there's plenty more where this came from, just go to my Christmas Playlist. Don't forget to get your free PDF sheet music transcription of This Christmas here, lovingly transcribed as always for tenor and alto. Next week there'll be another Christmas corker, but until, practice smart and I'll see you later! 

Jamie :-)


Video Timestamps

0:00 - Intro performance

0:48 - intro and titles

1:08 - about "This Christmas" by Donny Hathaway

2:23 - the notes and scales








4:59 - the solo section scales

5:28 - song structure

6:04 - adding your own flavour



10:43 - sign off

11:53 - end music and bloopers


Video Transcript

Hi i'm pro saxophonist Jamie Anderson. You're watching Get Your Sax Together, and on this week's special Christmassy free online saxophone lesson you're gonna learn how to play “This Christmas” by Donny Hathaway.


Ah! Christmas time is back again. A magical time full of festive cheer, mince pies, and of course, Christmas classics played on sax! I’m gradually building up an awesome library of Christmas songs for saxophonists of any standard. Just go to my Christmas playlist to pick your favourite. The Jobim-inspired bossa version of Little Donkey is wicked, and the backing track is laced with sexy alto flutes, so what’s not to like? This week you’ll learn one of my favourite Christmas songs of all time, and that’s Donny Hathaway’s 1970 classic “This Christmas”. Yeh, I know, I always say I don’t do sax versions of vocal melodies on this channel, but hey, what good are rules if you can’t break ‘em now and then? Especially for Donny. Even though it’s December now and we’re officially into Christmas, EVERY week is Christmas on Get Your Sax Together - just go to the description of this video to get a bunch of awesome free goodies, like my deluxe finger chart, my free one hour masterclass, and of course, the free PDF for this song, written out for alto AND tenor sax. Anyway, there’s mulled wine to drink, and those chestnuts won’t roast themselves, so lets get on with learning this song! Oh, and make sure you watch to the end, cos there’s a backing track for you to play along with to entertain your friends and family.

[STING: The Notes]

Even if you’re a beginner on saxophone you’ll able to manage this song as all the notes are from a D major scale for alto or a G major scale for tenor. In fact, if you get your free PDF using the link in the description, you’ll see that almost all of the notes are from the major pentatonic scale, so, even LESS notes to think about! As always, I’ve broken it down into manageable chunks, which I’ll teach you in slow motion, then, once you’re up to speed, you can play along with the backing track at full tempo. Here’s the first phrase in slow motion. This is the first part of the verse.

[phrase 1 slow]

Here’s the second phrase now. This is the second half of the verse.

[phrase 2 slow]

When you perform the song you’ll play phrases 1 and 2 again, then go onto phrase 3. This is the pre chorus part of the song. Here’s phrase 3 broken down for you.

[phrase 3 slow]

Phrase 4 is the second half of the pre chorus.

[phrase 4 slow]

Phrase 5 is the start of the chorus. Here it is in slow mo.

[phrase 5 slow]

Phrase 6 is the second half of the chorus.

[phrase 6 slow]

Now here’s the thing - the next thing that happens is that cool hook section, with the instrumental melody and the missing beat, but if you’re a beginner, just miss this bit out - your performance will still sound cool without it. This is the last phrase to learn, and you’ll play it twice.

[phrase 7 slow]

[STING: The Solo Bit]

I’ll re-cap the song structure in a sec, but after you’ve played all the phrases through, there’s an 8 bar section over the verse chords that you can take a solo on. If you don’t want to, then just repeat phrases 1 and 2 again instead. If you DO wanna have a little crack at an improv then just use the major blues pentatonic. That’s D for alto and G for tenor. You can see the notes on screen now. After your 8 bar knock you go back to the pre chorus, which is phrase 3. 

[STING: Putting It All Together]

So you’ve now got all the phrases you need to assemble the whole song. If you go and get your free PDF transcription for This Christmas, you’ll see how the structure works. Play the verse (phrases 1 and 2 repeated), the pre chorus (phrases 3 and 4) and the chorus (phrases 5 and 6), then the optional instrumental hook (phrase 7 x2). After that you can either take an 8 bar solo, or repeat phrases 1 and 2. Then it’s back to the pre chorus (phrases 3 and 4), the chorus (phrases 5 and 6), and you finish by playing phrase 7 four times. Just before I demo it all, remember that this is a vocal melody, so you can add your own little variations wherever you want. You can add little twiddles from that blues pentatonic, change the octave, or just flex the rhythms a bit. That’s what I do in this run through, and in case you’re wondering, all the notes in my solo will be from the scale I showed you. I won’t cheat, I promise! So, if you wanna jazz it up a bit, get familiar with the main melody first, then add your own tasteful expressions. The intro, is the instrumental hook, played once. Here we go!



[STING: Before You Go]

So that’s it for this week, consider your Christmas well under way, and thoroughly saxed up! There will be more sax Christmas songs coming up, and remember to check out my Christmas playlist (linked in the description), which has got some awesome backing tracks featuring alternative treatments of familiar classics. The hard swingin’ Basie-style Jingle Bells is one of my favs! Don’t forget to pick up your free PDF using the link in the description, and if you wanna learn some more in-depth sax stuff go to Get Your Sax Together dot com, forward slash masterclass, to get your free one hour lesson with me. You can help me out my subscribing, click the bell icon for notifications when I upload or go live, and give me a thumbs up and a comment. If you wanna contribute even more, you can buy me a coffee using the link in the description, and thank you SO much if you’ve already done that - I read every comment and really appreciate your generous support. Next week will be another festive winner, but until then, practice hard, practice smart, and enjoy your music. See ya later!


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