I love Christmas Music. I love listening to it, I love singing it, and I especially love playing it. When I hear Christmas Music I’m reminded of very happy holiday times, especially times from my childhood with family and friends. The soundtrack of my holidays includes traditional songs and carols learned from countless school and church programs over the years, along with seasonal pop songs heard in heavy rotation on radio and TV every season.
I began playing holiday music professionally over thirty five years ago. I was inspired mightily by David Grisman’s Acoustic Christmas (1985), and his stunningly beautiful performances and arrangements. I learned as many of the songs as I could on guitar and mandolin, added other favorites of my own, and pretty soon I was out there performing Christmas Music at department stores, shopping malls, and company parties. I enlisted the talented Mike Wollenberg on guitar to form the mandolin and guitar Holiday Duo. As the years went on the basic duo expanded, and we ended up playing jazz-oriented versions of the same basic repertoire, often with a string bass player, sometimes with horns and drums. It’s been a wonderful experience, and after all these years I still love this music and look forward to playing it every holiday season.
A few years ago I collected some of my arrangements of Christmas Music into instructional music books which were released by Mel Bay Publications as book and audio sets: Christmas Favorites for Solo Guitar: Best-loved Traditional Songs for Bluegrass Guitar and Christmas Crosspicking Solos for Guitar. I’d like to tell you a little about the books and share a song from each one.
Christmas Favorites for Solo Guitar, with “Silent Night”
Christmas Favorites for Solo Guitar contains thirty flatpicking solos on well-known Christmas and Holiday tunes. The sheet music has melodies in standard notation, plus tablature, chords, and some lyrics. The book comes packaged with downloadable recordings of all the solos at both slow and regular speeds. You can also download for free a complete sing-along book of lyrics for all the tunes in the book from here.
Most of the solos use the basic “bass note/strum” of the Carter-style technique with melodies integrated into common chord patterns. Others feature “the arpeggio strum,” a beautiful technique where the melody is played on strings one or two of the guitar after the accompanying chord is strummed on the lower strings.
Let’s look at the solo to Silent Night in the basic bass note/strum or Carter-style. Silent Night is one of the best-loved Christmas songs ever. It’s beautiful, peaceful, and easy to play and sing in the key of G. I’ve included lots of hammer ons, noted between music and TAB staffs with an “h,” to give it that Carter-style sound.
The small numbers in the music are fretting finger suggestions. Play Silent Night at a slow and even tempo that vocalists would choose. Download the music and TAB for “Silent Night” here.
You can hear a recording of this arrangement of Silent Night here.
Click here for complete information, including a list of songs, about Christmas Favorites for Solo Guitar. You might also enjoy videos of these other songs from the book: “We Three Kings of Orient Are” and “Away in a Manger/The First Noel.”
Christmas Crosspicking Solos for Guitar, with “The First Nöel”
Christmas Crosspicking Solos for Guitar has thirty-one arrangements of the most popular and best-loved traditional Christmas songs for crosspicking guitar. Crosspicking is a beautiful technique used on guitar and mandolin where a melody note is played and then accompanied by two chord tones on nearby strings. Crosspicking is often described as mimicking the roll of a five-string banjo. (Click here to see a video explaining the cross picking technique.)
All the arrangements in the book include chords, melodies (in tablature and standard notation) and some lyrics, as well as extensive instruction in the crosspicking style. Downloadable recordings of all the solos at both slow and regular speeds are included with the book. Download a complete sing-along book of lyrics for all the tunes in the book for free here.
Let’s look at the crosspicking solo to The First Nöel. I don’t think songs come much prettier than The First Nöel, and this one lends itself particularly well to crosspicking. You can download the music and TAB here and play along.
I play the song capoed at the seventh fret, way up in the guitar’s North Polar regions. That’s just because I like the sound of the guitar in that range. You can put the capo at any other fret or not use it at all in order to accommodate the range of singer’s voices. If you do capo, double-check your tuning. The sixth, fifth, and sometimes the fourth strings of most flattop guitars tend to go sharp when capoed this high up the fingerboard. Most of this solo is played at the low end of the fingerboard but you’ll briefly get out of this position in measures 6 and 14 where you’ll play B and D notes on strings 3 and 2.
The arrangement follows the shape of the melody and the solo is a mixture of the three-string crosspicking pattern and up and down, two-string pattern picking. I’ve included some pick directions to get you started on these patterns. Again, the numbers between the staffs are fretting finger suggestions. Click here to listen to a recording of this crosspicked solo to The First Nöel.
In the book I also explore a few songs with the “down-up-up” crosspicking pattern on strings 3-1-2 and 4-2-3. Click here to watch video samples of other tunes from Christmas Crosspicking Solos for Guitar including We Three Kings of Orient Are, Away in a Manger, Angels We Have Heard on High, God Rest ye Merry, Gentlemen, and Joy to the World. Click here for complete information, including a list of songs, on Christmas Crosspicking Solos for Guitar.
I hope you’ll enjoy playing these arrangements to Silent Night and The First Nöel and that they’ll help make your holidays joyful, warm, and fun.
Here’s wishing you a wonderful Christmas season!