The Specific Jazz Inspired Chord Sequence That Make Christmas Songs Sound So Cozy

In order to find out what makes certain Christmas songs sound so comforting and cozy“, videographer Estelle Caswell of Vox spoke with journalist and professor Adam Ragusea about his wonderful musicological explanation of the now-classic Mariah Carey song “All I Want For Christmas” on Slate. What Ragusea discovered when comparing the aforementioned song with Darlene Love‘s “Christmas (Baby please come home)” and Bing Crosby‘s “White Christmas“, is that they all made use of major subdominant chords that “melt” into minors.

…the chord comes immediately after a major subdominant chord, giving the effect of a “bright” major subdominant that you might say “sighs” or “melts” into a “dark” minor subdominant spiked with a “spicy” extra tone (the added 6), before the songs settle back into their tonic, or “home,” chords. …I should say I’m talking here only about the song’s harmonic content. …It’s these Jazzy chords that give Mariah Carey’s song that kind of classic early 20th century Christmas Jazzy sound. And it’s just the most Christmassy sound in the world. I don’t know why.

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails. Lori can be found posting on Threads and sharing photos on Instagram.