Christmas is quickly approaching, and what better way to prepare for the festivities than to learn to play some evergreen Christmas songs?
Whether you’re a seasoned musician looking to bring some holiday magic to your music repertoire or a beginner looking to learn some easy Christmas carols, there’s a jolly tune out there you can learn to play in time for Christmas.
Here are a few always-popular Christmas classics that are quick and easy to learn to play on both piano and guitar.
1. “Jingle Bells”
“Jingle Bells” is a classic Christmas song for a reason – as probably the most recognizable holiday staple, it truly embodies the Christmas spirit. Interestingly, though, it’s technically not a true Christmas song as it was originally written for Thanksgiving.
Written by James Lord Pierpont in the 1850s, it was first titled “One Horse Open Sleigh.” While it’s not about the holiday itself but sleigh riding in the snow, its catchy tune and jingling rhythm made it a perfect fit for Christmas. Best of all, it’s really easy to learn for pianists of all skill levels, including kids, thanks to its repetitive chorus!
2. “O Holy Night”
This touching, timeless carol makes for a calming addition to any Christmas playlist. It was written in France nearly two centuries ago – in 1847, to be exact – and gained immediate popularity.
But what makes it even more special is that, during World War I, it had a temporary ban in France due to its association with the enemy. However, the soldiers on both sides loved the song so much that an unofficial ceasefire was observed on Christmas Eve 1914, and soldiers from opposing trenches sang “O Holy Night” together. Talk about the power of music!
Practice the song slowly, paying close attention to the phrasing and emotional expression.
3. “Silent Night”
“Silent Night” is a gentle historical classic, a true Christmas masterpiece that evokes a sense of peace and serenity. And there’s a good reason why this moving hymn feels so serene: it’s practically a product of a real-life Christmas Eve miracle.
“Stille Nacht” was written in 1818 in Austria by a priest and guitarist, Joseph Mohr, and an organist, Franz Gruber. Legend has it that the church’s organ broke down on that fateful night, which prompted Gruber to write a tune on the spot to Mohr’s words that could be accompanied on the guitar. As for the words Mohr wrote, it is said they were the product of his meditation on the quiet, winter-laden Austrian town, Oberndorf.
This quintessential Christmas song can be played on both piano and guitar, so pick your instrument of choice or play with a friend or family member.
4. “Deck the Halls”
“Deck the Halls” is all about joy and merriment, so it’s a must-learn Christmas carol. It dates back to the 16th century, and its melody hails from Wales, where it was a New Year’s carol. Those catchy “Fa-la-la” refrains have a way of getting stuck in your head and are perfect for some family sing-alongs.
This song lends itself well to experimentation, so don’t hesitate to add your unique style. Try playing it in different rhythms or with playful variations to infuse extra holiday cheer.
5. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
This heartwarming classic comes from the 1944 film “Meet Me in St. Louis.” The songwriters were initially asked to make it more cheerful, but Judy Garland insisted on keeping the original melancholic version, which she found more heartwarming. It’s a reminder that even in the midst of holiday cheer, a touch of nostalgia can be beautiful.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” requires a delicate touch on the piano. You’ll also want to pay attention to the lyrics and their emotional context as you play so you can infuse each note with both warmth and nostalgia.
6. “White Christmas”
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…” Irving Berlin’s classic, originally written for the musical film “Holiday Inn,” is to be played with heartfelt nostalgia.
While a nostalgic song, “White Christmas” has a bit of an ironic history as Berlin wrote it while lounging by a pool in sunny California, longing for the snowy winters of his youth. The song’s first performance was by Bing Crosby on Christmas Day in 1941, only a few weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This lovely song is relatively easy to play, but there may be better options for complete beginners.
7. “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”
This lively Christmas song practically begs to be played on the guitar, and its catchy melody and upbeat rhythm make it a natural crowd-pleaser. Curiously, it was written during a sweltering California heatwave in July 1945 by lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne. They were probably wishing for a winter escape!
Emphasize the jolly atmosphere by using a lively strumming pattern and adding some fun variations, like occasional chucking or quick down-up strums.
8. “Feliz Navidad”
“Feliz Navidad” is a fantastic blend of cultures. José Feliciano, a Puerto Rican artist, composed the song in the ’70s, fusing English and Spanish lyrics. It’s become a holiday classic that embraces the diversity and inclusivity of the season.
If you’re looking for a true crowd-pleaser that isn’t hard to play, this is it. The lyrics are also simple but full of holiday cheer, so your friends and family can join in.
9. “Winter Wonderland”
“Winter Wonderland” is all about capturing the magic of the season. Like many other songs on this list, this one, too, was written during the summer, proving that you don’t need snow to dream about a wintry paradise.
“Winter Wonderland” was created by Felix Bernard and Richard Bernhard Smith in 1934. Interestingly, Smith wrote the lyrics while he was being treated for tuberculosis (then known as consumption). We have Honesdale’s Central Park to thank for the lyrics, as Smith wrote them after seeing the park covered in snow.
10. “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
Get ready for Santa’s arrival with this spirited song. First introduced on the radio show “The Eddie Cantor Show” in 1934, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” has a catchy warning to “be good for goodness sake,” which struck a chord with listeners and became an instant hit.
Don’t be surprised if your rendition has everyone in the room dancing and singing along!
Other Ways to Add Christmas Music to Your Family Celebrations
- Create a Playlist: A great way to get into the holiday spirit is to create a playlist of your favorite Christmas songs and play it all season long. You can find an extensive collection of holiday playlists on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube. To make it more personalized, you can even create your own playlist that suits your family’s taste.
- Caroling Tradition: Revive the age-old tradition of caroling by gathering your family and friends, bundling up in warm clothes, and visiting your neighbors to sing carols. This heartwarming activity is a great way to spread joy and connect with your community. Don’t forget to bring along some musical instruments like a guitar or even jingle bells for added festive flair. While you’re at it, why not design and deliver some customizable holiday photo cards along with your caroling? It’s a lovely way to personalize your warm wishes with a family photo and a handwritten note.
- Karaoke Fun: How about hosting a holiday-themed karaoke night for your friends and family? You can set up a karaoke machine or use any karaoke app, as they typically come with a vast selection of Christmas songs. Everyone can take turns singing their favorite tunes, creating a lively evening filled with music and laughter.
- Musical Games: During holiday celebrations, you can add some musical games to make it more interesting. You can play “Name That Tune” with a holiday twist and challenge family members to guess the titles of Christmas songs by humming a melody or playing a few notes. It’s a fun way to test your musical knowledge and create a friendly competition.