“O Come, All Ye Faithful” is a widely known hymn, with lyrics commonly sung in both English and Latin (and sometimes referred to by its Latin name, “Adeste Fideles”). Its words and melody are commonly attributed to an 18th-century English hymnist named John Francis Wade.
This solo-guitar arrangement moves twice through the song’s simple verse/chorus form, set in the key of E major. The first verse features contrapuntal motion with inner lines moving under the melody. While the majority of the harmonies in both verses are diatonic chords in E major, there are also several non-diatonic passing chords that offer additional color and texture to the melody. This arrangement was created with a cappella vocal groups like Singers Unlimited and Take 6 in mind, because they are known for singing unembellished melodies with lots of colorful, chromatic harmonies below.
The chorus begins in measure 13, with the melody harmonized in sixths over a low open-E pedal for four measures. Starting on beat three of measure 16, the melody begins appearing as the top notes in a series of harmonized block chord voicings, working up to measures 20 and 21, where a two-bar interlude sets up the second verse. Pluck each quarter-note block chord voicing evenly with the thumb and fingers of the picking hand, making sure to emphasize the top melody note of the voicing.
The second verse is similar in texture to the first, but with some different chord changes for variety. Most of these are four-note chord voicings that should be played with the picking-hand thumb plus index, middle, and ring fingers. Take your time through measures 28–29 and allow the music to breathe. The second verse concludes with some stacked-fourth voicings in the first two beats of bar 32, leading to an E6/9 chord and the second chorus.
The second chorus is to be played exactly like the first, but moves to a short coda after the Am6 chord in measure 18. This section begins with the normal E/B–B7 cadence but moves to a surprising D13 chord (bVII7) before resolving to the E tonic to end the song. The last two measures feature harmonics on beats three and four: two natural harmonics at the 12th fret over the sustaining D13 chord, and two artificial harmonics at the ninth fret over the E6/9 chord.
The last two measures feature harp harmonics on beats 3 and 4. For the first pair of harmonics, keep the D13/A shape held with your fretting fingers. At the same time, lightly touch each string directly above the fretwire at the 12th fret with your picking hand’s index finger, while picking the string with that hand’s thumb. For the E6/9 chord, once again holding the grip with your fretting hand, play the harmonics with your index finger over the ninth fret, resulting in tones an octave plus a fifth higher than the fretted notes (C# and F#). For more on harp harmonics, see the Basics lesson in the February 2017 issue of AG and Woodshed in the August 2018 issue.
This arrangement is excerpted from the newly updated print edition of Sean McGowan’s Holiday Songs for Fingerstyle Guitar.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.