Gospel Jazz Piano: I Surrender All Lesson

Would you like to learn how to play a traditional Christian hymn in a gospel jazz piano style?

You’re in the right place.

In this lesson, we’re going to talk about a couple of techniques you can use to spice up the hymnal.

Let’s get started.

“I Surrender All” Gospel Jazz Piano Sheet Music

Before we begin going deeper, download this arrangement of “I Surrender All”


After downloading the sheet music, let’s dig deeper:

1. Two Steps To Create A More Interesting Feel

The first step I took when writing this arrangement was I messed with the tune’s time signature.

I changed the time signature from 4/4 to 3/4.

Waltz time surely provides a different feel than what we’re used to in “I Surrender All”.

This creates a nice twist.

The second step I did to make the arrangement more interesting is to use a simple jazz waltz groove.

Now let’s proceed to how we made some changes to the notes.

2. How To Make The Melody Sound Bigger & Hip

In many styles of music, you can make the melody sound bigger by two ways.

The first way is by playing the melody in octaves. In cases where you are playing in a band with at least 4 members, you can get away with this fine.

However, when you’re playing in a trio, this only works when you’re also comping with the left hand.

The second way is by harmonizing the melody.

In the case of this arrangement, I chose to harmonize the melody.

To learn how to harmonize any melody you need to:

  1. Learn the melody and play it as single notes.
  2. Master the chords that accompany the melody.
  3. Practice playing the melody notes on top and rest of the chord as inner voices.
  4. You can also add the note an octave lower than the melody to even beef it up.

To make it sound hip, you also need to play certain chord voicings. Discover some of the chord voicings I use below:

3. How To Play Some Gospel Jazz Piano Chords

One of the things that will make your chord voicings stand out is the use of chord extensions.

This is a common technique in gospel jazz piano.

Guess what: Playing chords with extensions is easier than you think.

Let’s look at a couple of examples:

  • In the 3rd beat of the bar, I play a Bm7(11) with my right hand by playing D-E-F#-A-D, the E being the 11th. All I had to do was add an E to the usual D major triad:

    Gospel Jazz Piano

  • I also play an E7(9) on the “& of the 2nd beat of bar 5. I voice this using D-F#-G#-D.
  • On the 6th bar, I play a Dm7(9) by simply playing F-A-C-E with the right hand and D:
    Gospel Jazz Piano
  • I play a G7, F-A-B-D and a G7(13,b9), F-Ab-B-E on the 8th bar.

Gospel Jazz PianoYou can learn more chord voicings like these inside Premium Jazz Lessons.

Premium Jazz Lessons has an extensive chord library that help you learn great-sounding chords. You can add another layer of sophistication to your playing with those chord voicings.

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Now, let’s look at a classic Ray Charles move to give the hymn a more traditional gospel flavor.

4. How To Play A Ray Charles Walk-Up

Here’s a classic walkup lick as an intro for “I Surrender All”.

Gospel Jazz PianoWalk-ups are a very important component of Gospel piano music.

They are a very good way of transitioning from a dominant chord to a tonic chord. In this example, I use this Ray Charles walk-up to go from G7 to C.

You can learn more cadential moves like this when you learn how to Play Like Ray.

Inside Play Like Ray, discover 63 pages of transcriptions, written examples, licks, & templates. These will help you build skills to sound like Ray Charles in multiple styles.

Learn how to Play Like Ray here.

Let’s look at more ways to spice up the hymn.

5. How To Use Gospel Jazz Cadences & Chord Substitutions

Gospel Jazz PianoIf you look at most hymnals, “I Surrender All” features only a I – IV – V chord progression.

Gospel jazz piano features cadential progressions that add flavor and interest to many hymns.

As you can see in the arrangement, bars 2 & 3 have the I chord. The melody is harmonized with a classic I – IV – I movement in the right hand.

Gospel Jazz Piano

Bars 4 & 5 have the vii and III7 chords respectively. Take note that I used a minor chord as a 7th chord rather than a minor 7(b5).

Bars 5 & 6 have the vi and ii chords:

  • Gospel Jazz Piano

Bar 8 has the V7 chord which resolves to the I chord on Bar 8. From bars 3 to 8 we have what we call a 7-3-6-2-5-1 cadence.

Bars 10 to 13 feature a minor line cliche emphasized by a descending bass line.:

Gospel Jazz Piano

One big takeaway here is that in gospel jazz piano music, we use chord substitution a lot.

We create more excitement and drama by reharmonizing what used to be the traditional I – IV – V chord progression of “I Surrender All”.

6. How To Play A Classic Ray Charles Fill

Gospel Jazz PianoAt the end of the line of the chorus, we have a classic Ray Charles fill that looks like this:

This is what you can call a New Orleans inspired lick. It’s a really classic sounding lick that has resulted in plenty of variations.

To play this lick, I use a I-IV-I move initially before going for an arpeggio downwards:

Gospel Jazz Piano

Since I’m playing over an Dm7 that’s approaching a G7 chord, the New Orleans lick is in G and is anticipatory.

This lick works nicely as a fill or as a response to a melodic phrase. You can also use it to develop other licks as well.

The New Orleans lick is an important piece of vocabulary. Learn it in all 12 keys.

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I hope that you enjoyed this lesson on gospel jazz piano.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for the next lesson, feel free to leave a note in the comments section below.

As usual, it’s now time to go to your piano and practice. Have fun making music.

About The Author

Mark A. Galang

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at FreeJazzLessons.com. He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music.