When you are first taking guitar lessons it is great to try out a few Christmas songs. They are very popular, often not too difficult, and once you know a few you will find the rest are very similar! Here are 10 easy Christmas songs to play on your guitar and prepare you for the music of the holidays.
A Note on Christmas Music Theory
Before we get into the list there are two main kinds of Christmas songs. Traditional tunes like carols are very old. They will have a classical or folk sound but can often be categorized as ‘easy guitar songs’. In the 40s and 50s, Christmas music experienced a boom and reflected the rhythms of rock with the extended guitar chords of jazz. Most of the popular modern tunes copy this rock style that set the precedent for what Christmas pop songs should sound like.
One thing to keep in mind is that ‘easy’ is a relative term. There are many different versions of Christmas songs. When looking up chords, tabs, or sheet music there are usually beginner and advanced instructions depending on your skill level. In the beginning, stick to playing the chord structure. You can then add in further melodies and riffs as you get better.
10 Easy Christmas Guitar Songs
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
This song originated during the Great Depression and has been heavily covered since. One of the easiest versions to play is the verse in G, C, and D7. It has a standard blues-style progression where we move back and forth on the G and C a couple times before hitting a D7 and back to G.
The bridge uses a G7 and adds an A7 along with the C and D again. This song was originally recorded on a banjo so be sure to give it a strum that emulates a claw hammer vibe. Hit the bass strings of the guitar so it provides an accent and syncopation.
This Christmas carol is about 200 years old and is very simple to play. Of course, many different musical approaches and keys have been used but for the guitar, the key of G is the best to use. It only has the I, IV, and V chords so we only use G, C, and D7.
You can strum these chords in a slow tempo or you can pluck out arpeggios in a fingerstyle manner. This just means holding the chord down and plucking the different strings to give it a nicer sound. This is a good one to memorize, as it is a song many like to sing along to.
Joy to the World
This Christmas carol beats the last by 100 years! And just like Silent Night, it is only made up of the I, IV, and V chords. Once again, our best key is G and our chords are simply G, C, and D. Of course you will find many different keys and versions of a 300-year-old tune!
The strumming here will be more upbeat or a faster plucking of the strings. If playing fingerstyle, work on playing single notes from the melody. While these easy traditional songs are great for the audience, they are so simple they can get a little boring to play.
Here is a more recent song from the 1970s that is more upbeat and adds pop-rock elements. It also adds a fourth chord to our G, C, and D mix. That other chord is the vi degree in the scale, which means it is an Em.
This song is Puerto Rican so our playing is going to have a Latin-style rhythm. If you are a beginner just aim for a little syncopation in your picking to get the right vibe. This song also has moments where we play no chords, like at the start of the word ‘Feliz’.
Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer
This song is a 1980s Christmas parody hit that has a nice country vibe to it. We want to be sure to give it some heavier accents on the bass strings for syncopation. The chords are again just G, C, D, and Em for the entire piece.
The strumming can be done in a Travis picking style or any method that gives it the boom-chick back and forth that is the hallmark of country pop. It’s a silly song altogether and easy to remember.
Run Run Rudolph
This upbeat rocking number was a 12-bar blues hit from Chuck Berry. It has the same structure and even many of the same riffs as all his other hits. Once you know one Chuck Berry song, it is very easy to learn the rest.
The easiest way to play this song is in the key of C. All it has is the I, IV, and V so just C, G, and F. In this case, we will want to look at the tabs. It will give us a better idea of how to play Chuck Berry’s riffs. Break the parts up one at a time if you are new to guitar.
Here we have a completely different Christmas song mood with the 80s synth band Wham! and George Michael singing. This song can be a little challenging as it uses a Bm but it’s good practice for the barre chord.
The original composition is in Db so we will instead change it to D as that is easier to play on guitar. The chord sequence is D-Bm-Em-A and is repeated the entire time. This is known as a jazz standard chord progression and is very common in Christmas songs. It has a lightly upbeat strum and a medium tempo, but take it slow at first to get that Bm transition right.
This was written in 1948 and made popular by Elvis. So far on the list, it is the hardest one to play. It has a variety of keys that artists use, mostly E and D. If you play it in E then you will have to deal with a B7 and F#, which can be tough for beginners.
This song makes use of seventh chords to give it that strong blues vibe. The strumming can be heavy on downstrokes or a boom chick back and forth, either way, the key is to make it feel low and sad like Elvis did.
Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
This is a Rockabilly tune sung by Brenda Lee in the 1950s, like Elvis above it uses 7th chords so it will be a little more complicated to play. While the song was written in Ab major it is easier for us to use the key of G with simple chords in the verse like G, Am7, and Dm7.
The bridge gets a little harder with a change to the key of C. This song has an upbeat tempo and can be played with just chords or the specific tab that Hank Garland the guitarist played. He also played with Bobby Helms on “Jingle Bell Rock”, which is why those songs have a similar feel.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
We will end the list with a very old carol that is generally beloved by all listeners. The easiest way to play this song is in the key of C, the chords are simple, but there are a lot with many changes.
The good news though is that the changes occur with the very simple strum and rhythm of the song. That is the nice aspect of Christmas songs, most are so familiar in our musical memory that it makes it easier to know what the final sound should be.
Now that you know how to play these easy Christmas songs on the guitar it is not hard to play the rest. If you investigate the guitar tabs and chords of other hits you will find they are mostly the same chords as the songs above. The Christmas music genre doesn’t have too much variation, which makes it perfect for guitarists to find lots of nostalgic songs to play!