Three Christmas Carols for Solo Acoustic Guitar

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers teaches simple arrangements for "Angels We Have Heard on High", "Silent Night", and "O Holy Night" that let the melodies shine.

Every year I love making up guitar renditions of Christmas carols, just sitting by the tree. Here are three favorites, all available in a songbook called Silent Nights. My approach to these arrangements is to keep things simple and sparse, and let the melodies shine. I’ll try a melody in various keys and positions until I find where it sits best, often with bass notes on open strings, and then add in touches of the chords.

Check out more holiday songs from Acoustic Guitar


Angels We Have Heard on High

I use dropped-D tuning all the time—and not just for the key of D. Playing in the key of G in dropped-D tuning, as in this arrangement, works great, because when you go to the V chord (D), you’ve got a low root on the open sixth string (plus the octave on the fourth string). I was happy to discover I could play parts of the melody with natural harmonics, too, as in the intro.

Silent Night

Although there’s a long distance between Austria, where composer Franz Gruber lived, and Hawaii, there’s a touch of slack-key guitar in this arrangement—that relaxed feel with lots of ringing open strings. I use G6 tuning (D G D G B E) and play in the key of G. Having open string bass notes for the I (G) and V (D) chords gives me lots of freedom to play the melody up the neck.


O Holy Night

This sublime piece fell so naturally in dropped-D tuning, in the key of D. Hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides make a big difference in giving character to the melody. The music builds into these big, dramatic moments, where in church the organ and choir would be booming; with the much quieter sound of one guitar, I hint at that intensity by slapping some chords with my thumb.

Learn to play holiday songs and christmas carols on acoustic guitar
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, founding editor of Acoustic Guitar, is a grand prize winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and author of The Complete Singer-Songwriter, Beyond Strumming, and other books and videos for musicians. In addition to his ongoing work with AG, he offers live workshops for guitarists and songwriters, plus video lessons, song charts, and tab, on Patreon.

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