With their luminous melodies and harmonies you can interpret in countless ways, Christmas carols make great material for solo guitar. Over the last few years I’ve been arranging my favorites for an ebook called Silent Nights Guitar Collection. Here are three new carols for this season, for both fingerstylists and flatpickers.
What Child Is This?
An adaptation of the English folk song “Greensleeves,” “What Child Is This?” translates beautifully to guitar—from its meditative minor key verses to its uplifting major chorus. My fingerstyle arrangement, in standard tuning, is in the key of A minor, where the melody and chords fall easily in open position.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
This lovely carol has some melodic and harmonic highlights that make it a particular favorite—such as the flatted third in the opening melody and the sweet change to the E major, which contrasts to the diatonic E minor chords found elsewhere.
This arrangement uses dropped-D tuning to play in the key of G. I added one harmonic twist of my own toward the end: I substituted a Cm6 for an Am right before the closing phrase.
Written in the 19th century by James Lord Pierpont, “Jingle Bells” is the “Wagon Wheel” of Christmas carols: incredibly catchy, irresistible to sing along with, and not exactly a surprise to hear at a holiday shindig.
Given the song’s overexposure, I was happily surprised to find a way to play it as a jazzy instrumental that is so fun and satisfying.
My take on “Jingle Bells” is in standard tuning in the key of G and stays right on the open chord shapes of G, C, and D. I use a flatpick (though this arrangement would readily adapt to fingerstyle) and play chord-melody style, putting the melody notes on top of the chord tones and bass notes.