10 Classic Christmas Carols Meant for the Piano

Ready for the holidays? Here, Brooklyn, NY teacher Liz T. shares her top picks for Christmas songs for piano to perform for your friends and family…

 

The holidays are approaching fast, and there’s no better way to spread some holiday cheer than by playing some good ‘ol Christmas songs for piano! In fact, there are many Christmas carols out there that were written specifically for the piano. Playing these songs at the holidays will improve your sight reading and ear training. Some of these arrangements sound very nice with just piano alone, and don’t even need other instruments or lyrics to feel like the holidays! Here is a list of my 10 favorite holiday songs that are perfect for the piano, along with YouTube videos so you can listen:

1. Deck the Halls


This Welsh carol, dating back to 1887, is rich in full piano accompaniment, and because of its strong melody, it makes you eager to sing, dance, and play!

2. Silent Night


This peaceful ballad gives the pianist room to improvise within the melody and chords, and also sounds nice played an octave above, at different tempos (slow with simple accompaniment or fast with more arpeggios), and with full chords as demonstrated in this video.

3. O Come, All Ye Faithful


Also known as “Adeste Fideles”, this Christmas song was originally written as a church hymn, and is typically played at Catholic Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Even though it is a church hymn, the pianist in this video does a very nice job at making it sound very contemporary and adding her own style to it.

4. Carol of the Bells


This is a dramatic Christmas song for piano, great for showing emotion with different dynamics, with its fast-paced tempo and four-note ostinato motif. Based on a Ukrainian folk chant, it has been covered by many artists, including the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and it was also used in the movie “Home Alone”. The pianist above, David Hicken, does an amazing job at ringing out the melody in the right hand to sound like bells. It makes you want to listen to the piece over and over again.

5. Joy to the World


This bright classic can be performed in the styles of classical, jazz, and even gospel! There is also room for much improvisation in this piece, especially in the beginning of the piece, where he sets the mood and tone right away. The pianist above does a nice job at making you really feel “joy to the world.”

6. We Three Kings


This is a great jazz Christmas piece to practice those jazz harmonies and chords. The rhythm in this piece can be played straight, or even swung to change styles. The original melody in this song switches from being melancholy to hopeful, and sounds like a song from the Middle Ages, but many people today interpret this in a smooth jazzy style.

7. What Child is This?


A beautiful piece for piano to capture its English melody in the right hand, this song’s lyrics were set to the tune of “Greensleeves” in 1867. The pianist in this video does a nice job at performing the call-and-response melody this song is known for.

8. Frosty the Snowman


This is fun Christmas song for piano that both kids and adults will enjoy playing! With its bright, uptempo feel, the song instantly makes you feel warm and happy inside. This pianist does a nice job at not only bringing out the right hand, but having a very strong foundation in the left hand. This is a must-learn crowd-pleaser.

9. Auld Lang Syne


Known in many countries to play at midnight on the last night of the year, to bid the year farewell, this song is also performed at funerals, graduations, and farewell occasions. Even with its simple melody and chords, and repeating chorus, there are many different ways to arrange this piece and make it sound interesting, just as this young pianist has done.

10. Jingle Bells


“Jingle Bells” is the most common American Christmas carol! Even though it is associated with the Christmas season today, it was actually written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857 for Thanksgiving. This pianist in the video above does a fabulous job at playing this song in a jazz style. He plays with the rhythms and tempos, and does a lot of improvisation. Even though the composer likely never thought this song would be played in a jazz style, today it makes as a wonderful piece to improvise and practice your swing and re-harmonizing.

 

LizTLiz T. teaches singing, acting, and music lessons in Brooklyn, NY, as well as online. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal Performance and currently performs and teaches all styles of music, including musical theater, classical, jazz, rock, pop, R&B, and country. Learn more about Liz here!

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Photo by kevin dooley

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