Christmas Carols For Guitar: A Definitive Guide

Grab your egg nog and your pick, and let’s explore some standard Christmas carols for guitar!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • 10 Christmas carols to play anywhere
  • Why these songs have been reinvented countless times
  • How to make even the most complex Christmas carol simple!
  • Why it’s important to have a song book

Ready To Learn Some Christmas Carols For Guitar?

As a musician, you have a wonderful ability to share the songs you know and love in your real or virtual neighborhood.

This is particularly true when it comes to the holidays.

When the weather gets cold – if it gets cold wherever you are! – and people just want to hunker down, you and your guitar can bring everybody together for some lovely music.

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

You may already have a handful of Christmas carols that you enjoy playing.

  • Today we’re going to add to, or start, your Christmas carol song bag with our top 10.
  • These Christmas carols for guitar are all in the traditional vein.
  • People of all generations will know our top 10, and if they don’t, now is your chance to teach them!

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

Christmas Carols For Guitar 1: “Away In A Manger”

The a cappella group Pentatonix has a lovely happy version of “Away In a Manger”.

The lyrics have been attributed to Martin Luther, but scholars have been chipping away at that theory and now nobody knows where they came from.

The melody is sometimes different, depending on where in the world you are singing the carol. Pentatonix’s version is the common melody sung in the US.

As with many Christmas carols for guitar, you’ll only need three chords to play it!

D (xx0232)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

(If you don't understand the above image please read our article "How To Read Guitar Chordboxes In 60 Seconds". It will make everything clear!)

G (320003)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

A7 (x02020)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

Follow this chord progression for the verse.

D D G D

A7 A7 G D

D D G D

G D A7 D

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

“Away In a Manger” is in 3/4 time, meaning that there are three beats and not the usual four in a measure. With a simple song like this, it’s nice to also keep the strumming simple.

You can always just strum down in a quarter note pattern, meaning three strums in a measure, or you can strum with a pattern like this:

Down, down-up, down-up

Many of these Christmas carols for guitar sound absolutely gorgeous when you use a simple fingerpicking pattern.

For “Away In a Manger,” you can use something like this:

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

You can refer to this chord and lyric sheet for “Away In a Manger.”

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

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Christmas Carols For Guitar 2: “Angels We Have Heard On High”

Your Christmas carols for guitar should give everyone a chance to sing their favorite harmony parts. This song will bring out the singer in everyone!

Josh Groban and Brian McKnight teamed up to give you this lovely version of “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

If you’re wondering what they are doing with that pronunciation of “excelsis,” you are not alone!

Here’s the entire collection of chords you’ll need for  “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

D (xx0232)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

A7 (x02020)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

B7 (x21202)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

Em (022000)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

G (320003)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

A (x02220)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

The chord progression has two parts:

One for the “Angels we have heard” section, which goes like this:

D  |A7 D|  D |A7 D|

The other for the lengthy “Gloria” part:

|D B7|Em A7|D G|  A

|D A D G|D A|

|D B7|Em A7|D G|  A

|D A D G|D A|  D

This song has four beats in a measure, so the quick chord change is that measure with D, A, D, and G. Those chords only get one beat each!

Try using this simple but powerful strumming pattern:

Down, down-up, down, down-up

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

Pro-Tip: The rhythm you use for your Christmas carols on guitar can depend on the setting in which you’re playing them.

  • A lacy fingerstyle pattern is gorgeous when you are indoors and/or have a few singers, but it might be drowned out in an army of voices.
  • Coming up with multiple rhythm arrangements is a good way to be sure you can adapt the guitar part to your surroundings.

Christmas Carols For Guitar 3: “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”

There aren’t many Christmas carols for guitar that were written in a minor key, because the minor sound isn’t often associated with celebration.

“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” is a great exception, a happy song written in a minor key. Annie Lennox’s version is jubilant and funky.

Use these chords:

Em (022000)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

C (x32010)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

B7 (x21202)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

Am (x02210)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

G (320003)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

D (xx0232)

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

Much like “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” has a verse and a refrain. The chords for the verse are as follows:

Em Em C B7

Em Em C B7

Am G Em D

The refrain, “Glad (or Good, or Oh) tidings of comfort and joy,” is supported by these chords:

G B7 Em D

G B7 Em Em

Almost any four-count strumming pattern will work for this song, and if you’re stuck for ideas, you can try this.

Down-up, down, down, down-up

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

Christmas Carols For Guitar 4: “O’ Holy Night”

Ready for a bit of a project? “O Holy Night” is among the longer and more complicated Christmas carols for guitar, but it is worth the effort!

This gargantuan arrangement of “O Holy Night” is from Hillsong, a really spectacular worship music group from Australia.

Let’s take “O Holy Night” in three sections. The first one has these chords:

C (x32010)

F (xx3211)

or (133211)

G7 (320001)

Em (022000)

B7 (x21202)

Here’s the progression, from the lyrics “O Holy Night” through “the soul felt its worth.”

C C F C C

C G7 C C

C C F C C

Em B7 Em Em

Christmas-Carols-For-Guitar

The second part, from “the thrill of hope” to “the angel voices,” has this progression, and two additional chords:

G7 G7 C C

G7 G7 C C

Am Am Em Em

Dm Dm Am Am

Dm (xx0231)

Am (x02210)

And the third part, “Oh night divine,” goes like this:

C G7 C F

C G7 C C

G7 G7 C F

C G7 C C

You can use this chord and lyric chart for “O Holy Night.”

“O Holy Night” has a 6/8 feel, which opens up a couple of possibilities for strumming.

Try these and see how you like them.

Down, down-up, down-up, down, down-up, down-up

Down, down, -up, down, down, -up

You can also perform a simple fingerstyle arpeggio. Here’s what you would need to do that:

Christmas-Songs-For-Guitar

Christmas-Guitar-Songs

Christmas Carols For Guitar 5: “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”

To prepare yourself for a great evening of Christmas carols for guitar, take a listen to George Strait’s beautiful arrangement of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

Fun fact about this carol: the melody was adapted from a cantata that moderately famous classical composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote in 1840 to commemorate Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type.

We’ll play this one in D, using these chords:

D (xx0232)

A (x02220)

E7 (020100)

B7 (x21202)

Em (022000)

G (320003)

There’s no limit to how many chord changes you can squeeze into this song, but we’ll use a semi-simple version of the chord progression.

D  |D A|  D |A D|

D  |D E7|  A |E7 A|

D  |D A|  D |D A|

G  |B7 Em|  D |A D|

G  |B7 Em|  D |A D|

For the rhythm, we can try a simple bass strum, alternating between picking the root of the chord and strumming the chord.

Guitar-Chords-Christmas-Songs

Here is a chord chart for the song, if you’re looking for something to follow along with.

How-to-play-Christmas-songs-on-guitar

Christmas Carols For Guitar 6: The First Noël

Here’s Mister Christmas himself, Andy Williams, with “The First Noël”.

This was initially a Cornish carol of unknown date of origin. The lyrics used to be “Oh well, oh well…” instead of “Noël, noël!”

  • This is also one of those Christmas carols for guitar that is in 3/4 time.
  • There’s a split measure every once in a while, and in those cases, just put two beats on the first chord and one on the second.

In the key of G major, these are the chords you’ll need:

G (320003)

C (x32010)

D (xx0232)

Bm (xxx432)

or (xx4432)

The chord progression for the verse goes like so:

G  D C  G

C  Bm |C D|  G

And here’s the refrain, the “Noël, noël” part, almost but not quite the same as the verse:

G  Bm C  G

C  Bm |C D|  G

Easy-Christmas-Songs-To-Play

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With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Christmas Carols For Guitar 7: “Joy To The World”

“Joy to the World” sounds so great with a little touch of soul!

Have a listen to Teddy Pendergrass’s version to start with.

Reharmonizing Christmas carols for guitar involves knowing which chords to substitute.

Begin by learning the chords you need:

G (320003)

C (x32010)

D (xx0232)

From there, you can learn the progression so you know the structure of the song:

G  G |C D|  G

C  D G  G

G  G G  G

G  G D  D

G  C |G D|  G

Then experiment with different chords that sound like they’re related in some way to the above chords.

For example, Em is related to G, and Bm to D, because those chord pairs share two notes.

Here’s a chord chart for “Joy to the World” with some embellishments added.

Guitar-Songs-For-Christmas

Christmas Carols For Guitar 8: “What Child Is This?”

Speaking of reharmonization, here’s Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy and beautiful arrangement of “What Child Is This?”.

If this song sounds complex, we’ve got a much more attainable version for your collection of Christmas carols for guitar.

The chords you need are listed below:

Em (022000)

D (xx0232)

C (x32010)

B7 (x21202)

G (320003)

The song is in 3/4 time, with no split measures; in fact, most of the chords last for two measures each, making this one of the easier Christmas carols for guitar!

Check out this steady chord progression below:

Em  Em D  D C C  B7 B7

Em  Em D  D C B7  Em Em

G  G D  D C C  B7 B7

G  G D  D C B7  Em Em

Although this one won’t take you long to memorize because it’s nice and repetitive, here is a chord chart for “What Child Is This?”.

Christmas Carols For Guitar 9: “O’ Come All Ye Faithful”

There are plenty of versions of this song in Latin, and perhaps you’d like to sing in Latin yourself.

We get so few opportunities these days, but Nat King Cole has the most Christmas-y performance of this song, a huge arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful.”

In the key of G, here are the chords you’ll need:

G (320003)

D (xx0232)

A (x02220)

Em (022000)

C (x32010)

The chord progression is a little bit twisty, but the song is so familiar that you’ll have no problem picking it up:

G  D G  D

Em  D A  D

G  |C G|Em C|  D

G  G G  |Em D|

|Em Am|D C|G D|  G

This song calls for a very steady rhythm, making it easy to pick up (even if the chord changes seem a bit daunting, at first).

Try the following strumming pattern:

Down-up, down, down, down-up

Christmas Carols For Guitar 10: “Little Drummer Boy”

David Bowie and Bing Crosby performed a timeless rendition for TV of this classic Christmas tune. Check out their version of the song here.

You can play this one in G using just these three chords:

G (320003)

D (xx0232)

C (x32010)

The progression leaves a lot of room to strum in the interesting and percussive rhythms that “Little Drummer Boy” presents.

If you haven’t considered structuring your rhythm around the lyrics being sung, you should try it! Emphasize the lyrics that your singer emphasizes with heavier strumming.

Check out the chord progression below:

G  G |C G|  G

G  G |C G|  G

D  D D  D

D  G |C G|G D|  D

G  G |C G|  G |D G| G

This chord chart of “Little Drummer Boy” has a great suggested strumming pattern, or you can try this slightly simpler one.

Down-up, down-up, down, down

Find More Christmas Carols For Guitar!

We’re glad you’ve taken our lesson on Christmas carols for guitar, and hope you use it to bring holiday cheer to your friends and family.

There are enormous amounts of free resources out there for more carols and songs of the season.

Recommended Resources

Here’s some more National Guitar Academy lessons you may enjoy!

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