Video Lesson: Learn a Sophisticated Guitar Arrangement of ‘Joy to the World’

In this guitar lesson, you'll learn a fingerstyle arrangement of 'Joy to the World' set in dropped-D tuning.

Joy to the World” is a Christmas anthem that tells of the coming of Christ in the words of English theologian Isaac Watts. Prominent 19th-century American church musician and educator Lowell Mason composed the music for the tune based on melodic strains and motifs from George Frideric Handel’s oratorio mas­terpiece Messiah. While this song is typically performed with a large chorus of singers accompanied by an organ, it works beautifully for solo fingerstyle guitar.

This arrangement is set in dropped-D tuning in the key of D major, adding power to the melody and chords with a resonant low-D pedal. As you’ll notice in the intro (bars 1–4), this arrangement features a lot of triadic movement—apply careful practice to moving those triads around the neck, ensuring a clear sound. Try to imagine your guitar as a chorus of singers, and allow the two open D strings to sustain and ring out like the sound of a church organ.


Experiment with different fingerings for the triads in measures 1–4, 25–31, and 37–49, as well as the double-stop melodic figures that can be found through­out measures 5–24. Measures 33–36 feature the melody accompanied by a set of triad voicings that omit the second string. Get your picking hand ready for this at the begin­ning of measure 33 by lining up your ring, middle, and index fingers with the first, third, and fourth strings, respectively.

Keep an eye out for some tricky rhythmic syncopation between the picking-hand fingers and thumb in measures 17–20, and again in measures 37–40. You may want to practice the bass and treble parts independently to establish the groove of each before attempting to play them together.

This arrangement is excerpted from Sean McGowan’s Holiday Songs for Fingerstyle Guitar, available at


Guitar Arrangement of 'Joy to the World' music notation sheet 1
Guitar Arrangement of 'Joy to the World' music notation sheet 2

Holiday Songs for Fingerstyle Guitar

From Holiday Songs for Fingerstyle Guitar | BY SEAN MCGOWAN

Learn to play holiday songs and christmas carols on acoustic guitar
Sean McGowan
Sean McGowan

Sean McGowan's work focuses on jazz, fingerstyle, composition, and injury prevention for musicians. He is a professor of music at the University of Colorado Denver and has authored several instructional books.

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