Christmas Music is Great for Your Ears
Guitar Noises #21: December 8, 2021
Throughout 2021 I’ve been writing about online guitar lessons and delivering them to your inbox every other Friday. (We’re on a Wednesday schedule now until after the holidays).
Christmas is an important time of year for aspiring guitarists. I know this because the number of visitors to Guitar Noise soars every year at this time. Traffic starts building around the start of November and grows steadily until to the big day. A typical Christmas Day on Guitar Noise has double the number of visitors than an average day in July.
I’ve come to believe that people practice guitar more at this time of year. The reasons for renewed interest in practice could be many. It’s colder outside and gets darker earlier for a lot of people. There are family gatherings on the horizon where you might want to play with or for someone. Things only get merrier when the guitars and ukuleles come out. If a relative’s house has a piano you can bet the keys get dusted before your holiday visit.
Forget about people taking guitar seriously as part of a New Years Resolution. All the evidence suggests people want to end the year on a high note.
Christmas Music is Great for Your Ears
One thing I’ve found to be true over the years is that Christmas songs are really good for learning music. Most popular Christmas songs are great for ear training. If you’ve never figured out a song by ear before, the best song to start with is “Happy Birthday.” The melody is so ingrained in our memory even an uncertain ear will know which note is correct. The next most recognizable song in the world has to be “Jingle Bells.” You’ve probably been making up your own words to it since you were a kid: “Jingle Bells Batman smells….”
Our familiarity with “Jingle Bells” makes it a great song to try and learn by ear. Figure out the melody from memory using just a few strings, playing one note at a time. From there, if you know the note names you can figure out some chords. If you can do this with “Jingle Bells,” think of how many other Christmas songs you’ve heard a million times before. Your ear probably knows them well enough to figure some of them out without even having to look at tab. If you can do that, you might as well tackle the next most recognizable song in the world: Für Elise.
Every year around this time I like to dust off David Hodge’s version of Silent Night. It’s a simple arrangement that’s perfect for beginners. Simple doesn’t mean it sounds bad. It’s a tune that nearly everyone recognizes. David’s lesson is like an introduction to fingerstyle playing, and the results sound pretty enough to impress family and friends.
If you want to learn a few holiday songs this year, I can help you find them. Guitar Noise has several Christmas song lessons aimed at the beginner and intermediate level. I’ve also been looking back at some of the sites I’ve written about this year. They have their fair share of Christmas coverage too.
Lauren Bateman has a Christmas Playlist on YouTube with some simple beginner tunes, including Jingle Bells, Silent Night, All I Want for Christmas is You and several others.
Brian at Active Melody usually does a holiday song every year in his unique style. You can search for them here or check out this year’s lesson, a cool take on God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman. Brian usually does the songs in a bluesy or funky style which will help when you’re graduating into non-holiday songs after Christmas.
Over on Play Song Notes David Pots has a collection of holiday song lessons. There are lessons on WHAM!’s Last Christmas, The Eagles’ Please Come Home for Christmas and John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over).
A fun entry this year is Marty Schwartz teaching Jingle Bell Rock by Bobby Helms. He breaks the song down step by step showing the cool licks and how to keep the D chord sounding interesting.
Surprisingly, when I start hearing Christmas carols in October it doesn’t turn me into a Grinch. I keep my ears open and start soaking up the melodies. I try working out the songs in my head while shopping or driving. And the payoff is noticeable when it comes time to put my fingers on the frets.
A Little Christmas Trivia
Did you know that “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” was written by Johnny Marks, the same guy who wrote “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” He also wrote “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Run Rudolph Run” among many others. Seems he had a knack for writing Christmas songs. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and passed away in 1985. It goes to show there’s a market for every kind of talent.
Have a great week.