There was a time when families gathered around the upright piano with one tickling the ivories while they all sang Victorian songs and Christmas carols with joyful abandon. Nowadays we lie slumped on sofas at Christmas, stuffed, staring, mostly bored, at the TV screen. But cheer up, there is hope – you can change the mood by picking up the guitar and weaving a magic spell. And you don’t need to be a great player to do so. In some of my musings below I assume a very low base: you won’t need to play a single piece all the way through.
Does this resonate with you?
Does it ring a jingle bell?
If so read on.
A Christmas Medley to show off without playing any piece all the way through
Yes, it is possible. There are loads of pieces on the guitar in the key of E. If you string together the opening notes of various tunes you can glide seamlessly from one to the other because they are all in the same key! Here is a sequence for any bluffer:
Villa-Lobos: prelude no.1 (opening) seque to
Albeniz: Leyenda (opening) seque to
Tarrega: Adelita (opening) seque to
Anon: Spanish Romance (1st part only)
Having established a totally new mood in the room and basked in the praise of your nearest and dearest you might try your luck with a few more outtakes. More of that below. But first a message for those of you less fluent.
Five notes, anybody?
You will need to play 5 different notes and repeat some of them. Phew! I am thinking of Howard Blake’s Walking In The Air from the film The Snowman. The notes are
e a a g g e – e a a g g e – c d
Too difficult? No problem….
Five notes that sold millions
This song has sold 100 million copies. Irving Berlin wrote the lyrics and the music. Here is the opening verse:
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow
All you need is five notes next to each other – a mini-chromatic scale. Here it is:
e – f e d# e f – f# g
Add a C major chord at the beginning and a chord of F on the long f note and you are really in business. Can’t manage 5 notes? No problem…
Just four notes, that’s all it took
The tune that landed the guitar on the orchestral stage as a concerto instrument and has been recorded more than any other. Here are the notes. Recognize it?
f# e f# – f# g a – a g – f# e f#
Yessss! It’s the theme from the Adagio of Rodrigo’s Aranjuez Concerto. The rest of the concerto is fiendish to play, yet the iconic phrase is not. What’s more, amazingly, it is recognizable with just two notes….
Two notes, and that’s enough
f# e f#
…spell out the theme of the Aranjuez. Play them in different octaves and slide up a semitone. Play them again in different octaves – with feeling. Repeat the process until someone in the room calls out “that’s enough”.
For those guitarists who are shocked by my flippant tone here is a more serious menu to follow on from the medley in E above:
Barrios: Villancico de Navidad (Christmas Carol)
This is beautiful and not too hard.
Sor: Study in harmonics op 29 no.21
This sounds like a slowed down version of Jingle Bells.
I hope that all this has given you some ideas of how to have fun at Christmas with your guitar-playing. If you need any help just let me know and I will try to think of a tune with just one note.
Ah, I have just thought of one…
Thank you for reading this far.