Christmas music is one of the most appreciated categories of music, but we typically don’t want to hear it all year round. The problem is, it can take months of practice to be able to perform a Christmas song by the holiday season. The examples listed below are a selection of Christmas songs in their simplest form. Hopefully, you can learn the songs without too much work, therefore allowing you to spend more time drinking eggnog and making out under the holly decorations. If you want to download the transcriptions listed below in PDF form with audio play-along tracks, then click this link:
The field of music pedagogy often does not hold itself to the highest standards when it comes to recommended publications. In other words, many guitar teachers (and music educators in general) will often recommend outdated books to their students to use as resources for learning.
Recently (as of the 21st century), publishers have dramatically improved their instructional material by providing additional audio or video content that helps with the learning process (in the form of CD’s, DVD’s, or content that is available online). I must note that some older publications have starting adding audio/video content to the original package, which is extremely useful. When audio examples are provided, I prefer that they are “play-along” tracks, meaning the audio examples are full-band arrangements, rather than just a single guitar part. If the guitar part is separated using stereo splitting or if multiple examples of the audio are provided, that’s even better.
Books that Focus on Songs
There are different aspects to the guitar parts within a musical arrangement, so how each book reviews specific songs should be taken into consideration. Some songs have identifiable riffs (low pitch rock motifs often derived from a scale). Other songs have melodies (slightly less repetitive high pitch ideas also derived from a scale). The background part (rhythm) is typically made up of chords (power, open, barre, etc.). These different parts (or all of them) might be the focus of attention within a particular publication, so choose your book carefully to make sure the parts you want to learn are included.
Books that Focus on Skills
Some instructional books do not review songs. Instead they contain topic matter that covers ideas such as skill building exercises, proper technique, concepts, specific styles of music, etc. Although it can be tedious to work thru these types of publications, they are extremely useful for a person who wants to be an overtly competent musician.
This first group of publications listed below is a selection of books for beginners who want to teach themselves.
Teach Yourself to Play Guitar – Alfred
Category: Selection of melodies. It includes audio examples, but they are not “play-along” tracks.
The Good: This book is written in tablature. There are 10 pages of extra simple melodies, so it moves the student slowly thru the material.
The Bad: The diagrams at the beginning of the book that cover general concepts such as how to hold the instrument or tune the guitar, are not well drawn and in some cases incorrect. About 20 pages into the written exercises, the publisher introduces chords along with the melodic arrangements. This is an added dimension that can be very difficult to follow for the absolute beginner.
Guitar Tab Method – Book One – Hal Leonard
Category: A selection well known easy to play rock songs that use riffs and chords.
The Good: This book is written in tablature and has good pictures and diagrams.
The Bad: The arrangements that use chords are not easy, and even if you played them perfect you might have to use your imagination to recognize the song. The audio examples are not play-along tracks, just a guitarist playing the written part.
Guitar for Beginners – Imagine Publishing
Category: Filled with lots of general information about guitar. It’s a modern version of “The Guitar Handbook – Ralph Denyer” (http://a.co/0ByAmec) which I would recommend to more advanced players.
The Good: Full color pictures describing a plethora of information such as how to hold the guitar, tuning, changing strings, different types of guitar, computers and music, etc.
The Bad: Out of print and it’s an international publication. Difficult material is presented early in the publication, so I would suggest skipping around.
Reading standard notation is not a pre-requisite to be an accomplished guitar player. It is time consuming and it can be a cumbersome way to communicate an idea. There’s a long list of reasons why it might be worth the time, and there’s a long list of reasons why it’s a waste of time. For those who have decided it is worth their while, here’s a list of books that can help a guitarist progress with their reading skills.
Guitar Method – Book 1 – Hal Leonard
Category: Review of standard notation for beginner guitarists.
The Good: The audio that is provided includes backing tracks performed by a full band. Some songs are very recognizable.
The Bad: The difficulty level increases exponentially. You will have to practice every day if you want to move past page 17!
A Modern Method for Guitar – Berklee
Category: Review of standard notation for intermediate guitarists with an interest in jazz music.
The Good: Written examples review notes in the open-position up to the fourth-position, so the student learns to read while performing pieces at various locations on the guitar neck.
The Bad: The audio that is provided has examples of someone performing the written examples; it doesn’t include full band play-along tracks.
Progressive Classical Guitar Method – Book 1
Category: Review of standard notation for intermediate guitarists with an interest in classical music.
The Good: It moves the student at a reasonable pace thru suitable exercises before presenting difficult arrangements. The included audio has examples of a person performing the pieces, it doesn’t include play-along tracks, but that seems more suitable for classical instruction.
The Bad: None!
The options in regards to publications for more advanced players are exponential. Here are a few suggestions, but the choices are truly endless, so of course, this is a list of quality books not the only options available. Listed below are general reference books that review theoretical concepts, skill building exercises, and technique drills.
The Picture Chord Encyclopedia
Category: Chords for guitar written in chart form covering the entire fretboard.
The Good: It’s not too complicated. Descriptions are limited to five examples for each chord.
The Bad: None!
The Guitar Cookbook – Jesse Gress
Category: General concepts of music theory (not jazz or classical/SABT theory) are reviewed in this book.
The Good: Describes music theory from the point of view of a guitar player.
The Bad: Understanding music theory from a book is very difficult. I’m a person who relies entirely on books to do many things in my life, but music theory is not one of them. I’d suggest finding a good teacher, if you really want to tackle this subject.
The Exercise Book – Guitar Grimoire Series
Category: Skill building for lead/solo instrumentalists.
The Good: A very large selection of exercises for improving your technique.
The Bad: Many of the exercises are just the same ideas recycled to a different location on the fretboard.
Specific Styles of Music
Studying different styles of music can greatly enhance your skills as a player. In the western world, we grow up with rock and blues, so it’s typically an easier subject matter to tackle. After we’ve learned those types of music it might be time to move on to Jazz, Funk, Reggae, Slack Key, Celtic, Mariachi, or even some Klezmer! Here’s a list of a few books that review a variety of musical styles.
Stand Alone Tracks – Blues
Category: A collection of blues play-along tracks with scale charts.
The Good: Great quality play-along tracks.
The Bad: This book is out of print. The scale charts can provide the student with an overwhelming amount of information. For beginner students, I would suggest using the basic scale patterns that are described and ignoring the more complicated instructions.
Jazz Play Along – Vol. 04 – Jazz Ballads
Category: Traditional jazz songs written in standard notation. The goal is to follow the chord charts, read thru the melodies with confidence, and improvise jazz solos. Ballads are much easier to play because they are slow, so start with this one.
The Good: Great play-along tracks with a split stereo signal so you can separate the bass from the piano etc. Each track has two examples, one with the melody and one without the melody. The “blank” middle portion is for soloing.
The Bad: Soloing properly with a jazz arrangement is difficult, both conceptually and technically. I would suggest finding a good teacher who can answer questions about jazz soloing (jazz theory).
James Brown – The Funkmasters – The Great Rhythm Sections 1960-1973
Category: Usually I would recommend an instructional book that doesn’t focus on an individual artist to learn a style of music, but James Brown is the godfather of funk, so you might as well go right to the source for this one.
The Good: Great play-along tracks. Sections are broken down into discernable parts. If you are extra motivated, you can also learn the bass lines and the drum parts.
The Bad: None!
World Beat Encyclopedia – National Guitar Workshop
Category: Study of various rhythms that lay the foundation for many styles of music from around the world.
The Good: Covers a very large selection of musical styles. Studying foreign music is a great way to improve your rhythm skills.
The Bad: The audio examples are very short and are not play-along tracks.
Simplified Sight Reading for Bass – Josquin des Pres (http://a.co/2jDsm2I): The first ½ of this book (35 pages) reviews rhythmic notation. Put the audio on and try to tap/clap/play along with these tracks. If you can’t keep up, you need to keep practicing. Any instrumentalist would be well off to work thru this section of the book in order to enhance their skills at playing and reading rhythms.
Signature Licks Series: If you want to learn the general idea of a song, it’s often best to just go online and find a basic version of the chords/riffs on a free website such as http://www.ultimate-guitar.com. If you want to learn a note-for-note arrangement/solo, then you should find a published version of the song. The reason I suggest the Signature Lick Series over other publications is because these books describe the concepts behind the arrangements instead of just printing the notes on the pages. They have released transcriptions for artists such as: The Beach Boys, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Wes Montgomery, Avenged Sevenfold, Carlos Santana, Etc.
The Song Train – Harvey Reid (http://a.co/9t6VEDu): A selection of extra-simple traditional songs that use common open chords. It includes 4 CD’s with well-played examples of every song.
Reggae Bass – Ed Friedland (http://a.co/dq0Wgqx): The instructional includes a great selection of bass parts taken from well-known classic reggae songs. Play-along tracks are above average in quality. A good reggae guitarist knows how to play the bass lines too!
Standard of Excellence – Jazz Ensemble Method/Guitar (http://a.co/i9umSwB): If you want to understand how to work with a group of musicians in a “big band” setting, as in a classroom jazz program, then I would say this book is mandatory. Make sure you can play thru this entire book before signing up to be a music major with a focus on jazz! Also, you will want to order the CD that they make for the “Director”, as it has recordings of the full band arrangements (the book doesn’t include that audio, it only includes segmented parts of each song).
Certain books have become standards within the teaching industry, but they are not necessarily the best books out there. In other words, we get comfortable with the way we learn to play our instruments – for good or bad – and we often assume the system that worked for us is the best thing available. Some books that are highly regarded, I would argue, often have problematic flaws. Here is a short list of often over-rated books:
Modern Method for Guitar – Grade 1 – Mel Bay (study of standard notation)
The Christopher Parkening Guitar Method – Vol. 1 (study of classical music in standard notation)
Suzuki Guitar School – Vol. 1 (study of classical music in standard notation)
Jamey Aebersold Series (study of jazz music in standard notation)
Topics other than performance are worth studying, but are outside the scope of this article. They might include: Repair, Recording Arts, Live Sound, World-Jazz-Classical Music, Physics of Music, Marketing/Careers, Film Score, Software Tutorials, Music History. Happy studies!
Here is another selection of simple songs that guitar players can perform that incorporate traditional melodies. The songs are slightly more difficult than the original examples found in this blog, so if you’re just starting on guitar, you might check that out first. You can download example below with audio attached at this link:
Brain Stew by Green Day has become a rock standard for the beginning guitarist. Here’s a detailed tutorial to get you started on this recent classic. Take it a step further by performing this song with power chords instead following the instructions provided and don’t forget to tune the music up a 1/2 step if you’re going to play along with a track from your collection. Next lesson….. How to smash your gear!
The movie Crossroads was a major influential hit that encouraged a large contingent of the American youth to try their skills on the guitar. As I took up the challenge, I hoped to eventually live an extravagant lifestyle with earnings directly related to my rock star career choice. This dream never came true, but I have managed to make music a love of my life. The list below profiles various groups that I’ve worked with, and describes our successes and/or lack thereof. The hope is, maybe there are some lessons to be learned from the experiences – and of course….. some “tasty” tunes brah.
Pudding in a Cloud (1988-1990) – Worcester, MA
For success to have become evident with this band, we would have needed interstellar circumstances of luck. Basically, we were a bunch of high school budz who liked to skateboard and play music (classic rock and loud jams). Our talents were limited; to a point that our bassist (Dan) knew virtually nothing about the instrument, but he could make the floor shake, and that was enough for us. Our low standards and absolute disorganization ensured us zero accomplishments.
Red House (1991-1993) – Boulder, CO
This was the perfect example of a band filled with college dropouts and unmotivated semi-wanna-be-pro musicians. We held smoke filled jams everyday/night, for hours on end, with absolutely no direction. Even with a series of local and international music business connections, this band was not going anywhere. We eventually recruited a singer-songwriter (Mark) and he gave us some focus, but it was too little too late.
Jamminils (1998) – Cape Cod, MA
This was my first extensive recording project done an a basic Tascam Portastudio with programmed drum parts, multi-tracking, bounces, and EQ’ed mixdowns. The musical styles were scatterbrained and so wasn’t much of the musicianship.
Woodshedding Years (1998-2004) – Various
The Jamminils recording project helped me realize that my skills needed serious improvement. I started practicing for countless hours everyday. No booze/drugs, no girls, no television, or distractions in any way. It was not uncommon for me to practice 6hrs-8hrs each day, even if that meant less sleep!
We Are One (1999) – Santa Cruz, CA
One of the most enlightening experiences of my life was a trip to Jamaica in 1995. My time with this band in 1999 really reminded me of how important it was for me to revisit the music and culture of the island. Ultimately though, this band was not going to see success, as it was made up of hired guns. With that, when it came time to collect our night’s pay, the bandleader (Maurice) would tell everyone that no money could be distributed because our expenses were higher than our pay. What was being considered an expense was often repairs on his gear (not ours) or fees for recording studio time that we never attended (he owed people for past sessions). Most bandmembers quit after a few gigs, so our lineup was constantly changing. I didn’t care too much about non-payments, since I was deep in my woodshedding period, and I was just chalking the whole thing up for the experience, but the band was never going to move forward with a business model like that.
September (2000) – Boulder, CO
I blew up my four-track during this project and it took over six months to complete, so this was not a simple project – and that’s with the typical cop-out decision to record half the tracks as acoustic singer/songwriter songs, which is always a time saver. On this recording I started to gravitate towards jazz, blues, and reggae – so at least the music selection complimented itself. At this point the years of woodshedding started to show, as the recording has fewer blatant mistakes.
Northwood Reggae Project (2001) – Northwood, NH
This NH reggae band was the bandleader’s (Greg) attempt at formulating a secure line-up of musicians (instead of using hired guns from Jamaica) for the regular beachside summer series that he had hosted for decades. I remember after two rehearsals the trombone player (….. different Greg) requested that I be removed from the band for personal reasons, even though I didn’t know him, so this one had a bizarre feel from the beginning (he was fired as a consequence of the suggestion). Nonetheless, I eventually got fired for lack of skills, but I’m sure the backstory goes further than that, especially considering that everyone else openly admitted and displayed that they also had limited abilities:)
Free Treats (2002-2003) – Dover, NH
This band was about as scatterbrained as my first EP. We played only original music. We didn’t settle in on a particular genre, and we used multiple songwriters, so we played anything from Grunge to Rap to Bubble-Gum Love Songs. It’s hard to market such randomness, which meant we played gigs at non-traditional venues, such as our first event at a movie theater lobby in Worcester, MA! I quit this band because I felt that everyone didn’t want to formulate clear goals….. a big one being: let’s fire bandmembers who don’t show up for rehearsals. Bandmember reliability is a recurring issue, and I take a hard stance on it, but this was my first break from a band in direct relation to the subject.
Drums, Guitars, Bass Lines, and Laid Back Rhymes (2004) – Portsmouth, NH
Considering that the backbeats on my recordings were always programmed drum tracks, I started arranging music so it complimented the electronic nature of the sounds that were being applied. The music on this CD was funky and jazzy with some hip-hop lyrics and a splash of reggae. It was still a bit disorienting, in terms of style, but I feel my performances were good, which is the most important thing.
J. Kell’s Band (2005-2007) – Portsmouth, NH
The J. Kell’s Band had a true family vibe with members hanging loose and playing music (as opposed to only being interested only in a paycheck or JUST the jams), yet they still took things seriously enough to gig and record. The bandleader (Jesse) was great at convincing venues to hire us and he hustled to make sure crowds were attracted to our shows. We played a mix of classic rock songs and originals – not my first choice, but it was worth the sacrifice to be absolved of management duties. Unfortunately there was no orchestral director, which meant everyone (six+ bandmembers) played as loud and hard as possible until the ear bleeding volume levels made our sessions/concerts sound more like noise than music. The drunk audiences never seem to care though, so I guess….. more power to us. Toward the end, we started having bandmember attendance issues along with a multitude of problems indicative of substances, girls, other rock-n-roll distractions. The band dissolved soon after doing a studio recording called “The Next Big Thing”. Maybe it should have been titled “The Last Big Thing”.
Exeter Music Band (2006) – Exeter, NH
What happens when you bring a group of talented well rehearsed musicians who have limited commercial success together to play in a classic rock cover band? Yes, I would have preferred to do modern material, but really….. am I going to convince the baby boomer hosts to play hip-hop covers by Outkast? This was a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario, but it was a great learning experience. I saw the best and worst in everyone, and closely watched the unofficial bandleader (Rich) do an incredible/amazing/outstanding job managing the riff-raff. We only had a couple of concerts, and they went well. For me, success was marked by a chance to spend some time with co-workers and friends, and less by the performance level of the overtly talented line-up.
Boom Lava (2006-Current) – Hampton Beach, NH
I was exposed to a lot of modern hip-hop, dub, funk, jazz, and reggae while living in Boulder, CO and Santa Cruz, CA. The problem is, New Hampshire is like a musical time warp, with a large array of people wanting motorcycle friendly classic rock/metal etc. I knew starting a band with a more internationally influenced vibe was not going to be an easy task, but I felt musically unfulfilled, and suspected this was the solution. I didn’t look forward to the management duties, but in all truth, there is no other way. We have had over thirty drummers rehearse with us, and five move thru the vacancy position (proving the theory: drummers are combustible). I have had to hire and fire more people than I ever cared to. Many have quit, none have died, but a few have been too stoned to make it onstage. Our sound has changed as we continually move thru bandmembers, with anything from outer-space DJ’s to female lead vocals coming and going. Nonetheless, I believe my ability to enjoy and manage this project has been a lasting and fulfilling one, so it has been worth the effort and time.
Wendy and Nils (2009) – Dover, NH
Christmas is a musical time of year, and I have released a few albums with that theme. The one that features my wife (Wendy) is certainly my favorite, as her performing, and especially her voice, is absolutely beautiful. I am not big on peer pressure, so I don’t often request that she contribute much to my musical projects, but when she does it’s magnificent. It would be wonderful to hear her voice on more, but I’ll leave that to her own devices. She’s always willing to perform if I ask her, so I look at her like she’s my secret gemstone – beautiful!
Greatest Singles (2010-Current)
Boom Lava is not going to tour New England or spend weeks in a studio getting everything perfect, so to placate my urge for recording quality music, I’ve turned to self-production. Modern technology has made it possible to create incredible bodies of work, so this has been a very exciting avenue for releasing my art. I title these releases “Greatest Singles” but I understand they are not great – very good would be a better description given my skills, commitment level, and resources.
Cocheco Street Jazz (2014-Current) – Dover, NH
While researching my guitar teacher (Joe) from the 1980’s, I came across an interview with him made by a colleague at WPI. He expresses some hesitation about the future of jazz. I was reminded about my love for jazz music and decided to start this band. For a variety of reasons, my management duties are limited, which means I can concentrate more on the music, which is wonderful. Good music, good people, and good jazz!
If you want to dig a bit deeper into the musical archives, you can download all of my personal recordings at this link:
As seen in my buyer’s guide, there are many things to consider when purchasing musical equipment. The logic that quality gear will result in better sound is not entirely unflawed. PRACTICE will lead to good sound. I live by example, as you can see from my instruments in the photos below.
Keep in mind, I am not materialistic and I have crafted my art to represent that. If I was working in a band that played formal functions, then appearance would be a more important factor, and I would concede to the proper stage presence.
As a full time private music instructor, I see at least fifty students each week. Honestly, the vast majority of my students have virtually no interest in becoming involved with music on a professional level. Most of them do it for personal enjoyment. My students spend a lot of their time doing schoolwork and other extracurricular activities, such as sports; therefore they do NOT spend countless hours everyday practicing music, and conclusively they are not high achievers (AKA crazy insane guitarists!?@&*^%)
The article below outlines how kids are often overtaxed with commitments. It describes how society has catered to this lifestyle and has propelled beliefs into our youth of outstanding achievement, even when it’s not true. It also addresses how that affects kids as they move into the world of adulthood. It’s a very good read!
In any case, I try to keep a levelheaded approach to this. Often, students just use the 1/2hr we have together each week to unwind. They learn a little guitar along with some basics of music, we hang loose, and they move on. If I happen to have a student who puts in the extra-commitment, I will certainly challenge him/her, but if they are not looking to become outstanding, then I lower my expectations to match their goals. Easy enough:)