This is a post about how to get live music and singing happening with your family and friends at Christmas.
With ukuleles. (Of course!) I think ukuleles and Christmas go together wonderfully well.
Even if you’re a beginner ukulele player, you can play Christmas carols.
Going to big carol singing events is great. But having live music in your living room or on your porch is wonderful and special. It shifts the energy. It brings Christmas magic into your home.
We haven’t always had music at my family Christmas. Even though my family is full of musicians.
For years, we’d sit around eating and drinking too much and trying to avoid political arguments. Occasionally someone would start singing Good King Wenceslas, after consuming a certain amount of brandy. But nobody could ever remember how the second verse goes.
About 20 years ago my husband Matthew started bringing his guitar on Christmas day. He and my stepmother Lena, who loves a singalong, would start off the carol singing. Matthew plays by ear, so he didn’t need chord charts.
It was live music and it was wonderful. But, we didn’t know most of the words.
And I’d be sitting there longing to take part, but I didn’t know the chords. We had a couple of old Christmas carol books, but they were piano arrangements, and nobody could play them, and besides there wasn’t a piano.
Five years ago I put together a set of Christmas song charts. The song charts have the words, and they also have chords that are not too complicated for ukulele players (or guitarists).
Every year I bring along several copies of the Christmas songs to our family gathering. Other people bring ukuleles, guitars, hand drums, bells and shakers. And the whole family joins in singing Happy Xmas War is Over, Jingle Bells, etc.
Having live music at Christmas, that everyone can take part in, is the highlight of the day for me. (Okay, the food is usually pretty good as well.)
How to get music going
Christmas is a great opportunity to make music with your family and friends. It doesn’t have to be a performance. You won’t have to sing on your own. People will sing along with you, if you provide them with song charts.
Here’s my recipe for Christmas music:
Song charts with words and chords. Pick songs with chords that aren’t too complicated, to begin with. Some Christmas carols are easier than others. See my list of three-chord Christmas songs further on in this post.
Not all chord charts are created equal. Make sure the chart you’ve chosen is in a key that you can sing easily. E.g. Silent Night in the key of C (with chords C, F and G) is very hard to sing, because the melody goes too high and too low. The key of G (with chords G, D and C) is much better.
A music stand is very helpful for holding your music in a place where you and other people can easily read it.
If you don’t have a music stand, tell your loved ones that you want one. It’s an excellent Christmas present for a musician. See my post on handy musical gear for more on music stands.
Start small. Pick four or five Christmas songs. Or even just two. You can always add more.
Practice the songs before Christmas. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to know the chord shapes, the strum and how to count in to start the song off.
Make several copies of the song charts, depending on how many people will be at the event.
The song charts should be printed out clearly, with large font, so several people can read from one page if necessary. Don’t just print something off the internet at the last minute. (I say this from sad experience!)
Songs to start with
Here are seven great three-chord Christmas songs.
1. Jingle Bells
This is fun and easy to play, and everyone knows it. It’s hilariously out of place for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere, but it’s a great song to start with.
Some people don’t get beyond Jingle Bells, but I hope that you will, after reading this.
2. Little Drummer Boy
This is one of my all-time favourites. And it’s about the gift of music at Christmas!
3. Feliz Navidad.
This is pretty much a three-chord song. It has an E minor chord after the first verse, but you can leave that out if you want to take it easy. NB It’s much easier to sing in the key of G (with chords G, D and C).
4. Silent Night
I love this one so much. Like Feliz Navidad, it’s easier to sing in the key of G.
5. Away in a Manger
6. Joy to the World
7. The First Noel
Want to learn to play Christmas songs?
I’m doing a free Christmas ukulele webinar on Friday, December 14. I’ll show you how to play some favourite carols. Many of these only have three chords so they’re ideal for beginners.
Here’s the link to sign up for the webinar: https://alicebulmermusic.com/christmas-ukulele
It’ll be great fun if you can come live to the webinar and play along with me! But if you can’t be there on Friday 14th, I’ll post a recording.
Everyone who registers will also receive a Christmas carol songbook with the words and chords.
How to work with me
I’ve been in love with the ukulele since my mother, Sue, taught me three chords when I was six. Sue learned to play ukulele and guitar when she was a student in Hawaii in the 1950s, before she came to New Zealand.
I teach ukulele to people all over the world via Zoom and Skype. If you happen to live in Hamilton, New Zealand, I also teach group ukulele classes.
Here’s a link to book a free, no obligation 15-minute chat to find out how I can help you. https://alicebulmermusic.as.me/free-15min-chat