Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Christmas Sheet Music for Piano Students

Only one week until Christmas, but that’s plenty of time to learn and play new carols!  As promised in my last post, the newest additions to Christmas Music Songs are arrangements for piano.  My goal is to provide several arrangements of each carol so that pianists of all levels can find something they are looking for.  All of these arrangements are available as free, printable PDFs.  As of now, there are three different versions of twenty eight carols, with more arrangements on the way.  The versions are progressively difficult, with arrangements suitable for beginners to more advanced players.

Version 1 of each carol features just the melody, written in the treble clef staff.  Beginners or pianists who only want the melody can use these arrangements.  The songs are written within the staff and avoid ledger lines whenever possible.  Most of the songs are in the key of C, G, or F.  Instead of using key signatures, I have included accidentals where needed.  This arrangement of Joy to the World demonstrates the Version 1 arrangements.

Joy to the World free, printable sheet music arranged specifically for beginner pianists.

Version 2 of each carol features the melody split between both hands, using treble and bass clefs on the grand staff.  At first glance, these arrangements might look a bit confusing, but once students begin playing them, they will see that the music is not very complicated.  The Version 2 songs are a great pedagogical tool to help students learn the melody while using both hands and developing their coordination.  For many of the carols, students can perform the melody without ever changing hand position.  Like the Version 1 carols, they do not have key signatures, but use accidentals.  This arrangement of Deck the Hall shows how the Version 2 arrangements use both hands.

Two hand arrangement of Deck the Hall, free, printable sheet music arranged specifically for beginner pianists.

The third version of each carol is a bit more challenging than the first two.  The melody is written entirely in the right hand in treble clef.  The left hand now has a basic accompaniment role, playing a simple rhythmic line that usually represents the root of each harmony.  Sometimes, to provide for better voice leading, the left hand will play the third or fifth of a chord.  These arrangements of the carols do use key signatures.  Here is a Version 3 arrangement of Jingle Bells.

Jingle Bells, free, printable sheet music arranged specifically for piano students, with the melody in the right hand and a basic accompaniment in the left.

Besides offering pianists of different levels carols that match their ability, these arrangements can provide students and teachers with a nice pedagogical tool to help them develop their technical and musical skills while performing fun Christmas songs.  Since the piano is not my main instrument, I consulted the outstanding pianist and teacher Dr. Kuei-I Wu. She gave excellent assistance in helping me determine the difficulty of each arrangement, and she provided great pedagogical ideas.  Thank you Kuei-I !!!

Coming up next — more versions of the Christmas carols for piano, with more interesting accompaniments and harmonies.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Christmas Songs for Winds, Brass, and String Instruments

In my last post, I discussed the “Christmas in July” project to complete the arrangements of twenty nine Christmas carols for woodwinds, brass, and string instruments.  They’re finished!  Since my goal has been to create arrangements that can be played by as many people as possible, a good deal of time and thought was spent determining the best key for each song,  The Christmas wind and brass arrangements are all in the same key so that flute, clarinet, oboe, saxophone. trumpet, trombone, and any other band instruments can play along with each other.  The string arrangements of the Christmas carols are in the same key so that violin, viola, cello, and bass can play together.

I have kept beginning and intermediate players in mind, and made the keys as easy as possible, but I realize that it’s difficult to make everybody happy.  Finding a key that puts alto and tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, and trumpet all in a comfortable key for students is a real challenge.  My solution was to place as many instruments as possible in a friendly range, and for the instruments that are not in a comfortable range, I have provided an extra arrangement.  For example, the band version of The First Noel is in the key of concert B flat, which places many instruments in an easy key.  However, that key forces the clarinet to cross the register break several times, which can be problematic for some students, so I also included an arrangement of The First Noel for clarinet that is entirely in the lower register.

A version of The First Noel for the clarinet that is only in the lower register, making it easier for students.

Whenever possible, I have placed the band and string arrangements in the same key, so that all woodwinds and brass can play along with violin, viola, cello, and bass.  Typically though, the wind and brass arrangements are in the key of C, F, or B flat, while the string arrangements are in the key of C, G, or D.  There are still several options for all types of instruments to play together, though.  The main lead sheet page for each carol also includes arrangements of the songs in seven different keys: up to three sharps and three flats, (and no sharps or flats).  Therefore, if a tenor saxophonist and a cellist want to play Hark! The Herald Angels Sing together, they can easily find arrangements to play it in the key of concert G (key of A for the tenor), or any number of other keys.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, melody and chords in the key of G. Bass clef and alto clef versions are available, too.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to provide an arrangement for every single need, but I’ll keep trying.  Next up: lots of piano versions of the carols.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Christmas in July - Jolly Old St. Nicholas

It’s hard to imagine, especially given the mid-90 degree temperatures we have been experiencing on the east coast, but Christmas is exactly five months away.  The tradition of celebrating Christmas in July goes back at least 100 years.  In the northern hemisphere, it’s a happy reminder of cooler temperatures and the holiday season.  In the southern hemisphere, July is typically the coldest month of the year, making it a nice time to think of snow and Santa Claus.  Christmas in July also has given stores an excuse to offer sales in the middle of summer.  It’s also a good reason for people to give gifts and spread the joy of Christmas throughout the year.

The phrase itself was further engrained in our minds by the 1940 Preston Sturges film “Christmas in July,” which featured Dick Powell and Ellen Drew.  Interestingly, it was released in October of that year, not July.  The film tells the story of a young couple who suddenly become rich after the husband thinks he has won a prize of $25,000 (adjusting for inflation, that is over $400,000 in today’s economy).

I am celebrating Christmas in July this year by resuming work on my Christmas song arrangements for wind, brass, and string instruments.  Today I completed the sheet music for Jolly Old St. Nicholas.  The wind and brass music for Jolly Old St. Nicholas is in the key of concert B flat, so all band instruments can play it together.  The string version of Jolly Old St. Nicholas is in the key of C.  There are also versions of the carol in seven different keys, so anyone can find an arrangement that matches their range or comfort zone.  Merry Christmas in July!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The History of Ding Dong! Merrily on High

Ding Dong! Merrily on High is one of the happiest and most spirited Christmas songs, and like many of the traditional carols that are sung today, it was written hundreds of years ago.  The earliest record we have of the song is from 1588, making it at least 428 years old.  However, the piece originally had nothing to do with Christmas -  it was a standard tune used for French dances.  The melody is written (sideways! - see the image below) on page 92 of a book called Orchesographie by Thoinot Arbeau, which was the pen name of Jehan Tabourot (1519-1595).  His choice of pen name was particularly interesting because it is an anagram of his real name (the same letters were placed in a different order).  A facsimile of Orchesographie can be viewed on the Library of Congress website.  

Orchesographie is a very important historical document that provides us with many of the popular melodies of the French Renaissance, and it gives instruction on how to dance to the music.  The book also includes woodcut illustrations of dancers and musicians.  The melody of Ding Dong! Merrily on High has the title Branle de L'Official, and while the book is authored by Arbeau, there is no indication that he wrote the music.  The entire book was translated to English in 1948 by Mary Stewart Evans and is a fascinating glimpse into the world of sixteenth century France.  It is available on Amazon with the title Orchesography: 16th-Century French Dance from Court to Countryside.

The tune circulated through Europe for over 300 years until it was set to a new English text by the Anglican priest George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934), thus creating the Christmas carol Ding Dong! Merrily on High.  The song was first published in 1924 in The Cambridge Carol Book.  The sheet music to Ding Dong! Merrily on High is available at ChristmasMusicSongs.com, as are the lyrics to the carol.  It is now ten days until Christmas, and as I write this post, the wind chill temperature is 4 degrees fahrenheit outside.  Performing Ding Dong! Merrily on High is a nice way to warm the day!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Twelve Days Till Christmas

It’s only twelve days until Christmas!  I’d like to celebrate the countdown to Christmas by featuring some of my favorite carols.  It seems appropriate to present The Twelve Days of Christmas today.  Although some people think that the celebration of twelve days occurs before Christmas, it actually begins on Christmas day and continues through early January.  The sheet music to The Twelve Days of Christmas is now available on ChristmasMusicSongs.com as a free, printable PDF.

The Twelve Days of Christmas carol dates back to the late eighteenth century, and tells the story of how one’s “true love” gave gifts for twelve straight days.  Many gifts!  If you add up the total number of presents given over the course of the twelve days in the song, it adds up to 364!  For over thirty years, PNC Bank has provided a whimsical financial analysis of how much it would cost to purchase each of the gifts.  They call it the Total Christmas Price Index. In 2016, the total cost would amount to $34,363.49, which is a slight increase over last year’s total, due to the lack of availability of Turtle Doves, and “wage increases for the Drummers and Pipers.”  However, if you were to actually purchase all 364 items, it would run you $156,507.88!  The site is very interesting and entertaining, and it even includes a coloring book of the images used for the index.

The tradition of celebrating Twelve Days of Christmas began before the middle ages.  Different parts of the world have observed the holiday in different ways, but basically the celebration begins on December 25 and continues until January 5, also known as Epiphany Eve.  The conclusion of the holiday features a big party called The Twelfth Night.  Each of the twelve days has religious significance or is associated with a saint.  WhyChristmas.com presents an informative history of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and explains the significance of each day.

In anticipation of the holiday, here are two drummers drumming (I didn’t have time to create twelve).  Visit the Two Happy Bears for a countdown to Christmas day.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Welcome to Joyful Santa!

Welcome to Joyful Santa!  My goal is to help people celebrate the Christmas season, and to present information and news about my Christmas websites.
It's December 1, and time to start the Christmas countdown.  As of today, there are only 24 days left until Christmas.  For those who can't wait, here is a precise counter that shows how many days, hours, minutes, and seconds until Christmas:  http://www.christmasmusicsongs.com/countdown-to-christmas.html
Fluffy and Ivy, the Two Happy Bears, will help Santa calculate exactly how many days until Christmas.  Let the countdown begin!
How many days until Christmas
Fluffy, Ivy, and Santa countdown the days till Christmas