Violin Christmas!

Well, it’s that time of the year and I would like to wish you all a Merry Violin Christmas. To that end, I’ve made an anthology of Christmas songs from around the world. It includes many carols that you’ll know – and many that you won’t. You can treat this like a library, choose one (or two, or three) that you like, and work on them to present to your family. In this post you will find a video and a sheet music download for each carol. You’ll also be able to download an accompaniment track, in case you are the only musician in your family (I’m the only one who got the letter to Hogwarts in my family, so I know how you feel).

Enjoy! And God bless!

1. Joy to the World!

Learn about the carol:

Everyone knows this one. You’ll even hear it on the radio in remote countries most people have never heard of. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that it’s great fun – and the opening strains are borrowings from Handel, who is easily one of the greatest musicians of all time. The other reason it’s so popular is that it’s really just a modified D Major scale. It’s easy as pie. Here it is:

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the sheet music, colour-coded to help you read:

2. The Huron Carol

Learn about the carol:

Moving from the familiar to the new, we have the Huron Carol. The Huron people, also known as the Wendat or Wyandot people, are indigenous to the north eastern part of North America. Their ancestral homeland is around Lake Ontario. Their language belongs to the Iroquoian group. These languages are not easy for outsiders to learn, but in the 17th century, French missionaries did just that. Chief among them was Jean de Brébeuf, who created the Huron Carol by taking a traditional French melody and setting it to Huron words. Eventually, Jean and his Huron companions would be martyred by Iroquois invaders.

This carol is magnificent in its simplicity and power. To mimic the sound of drums, I’ve added a special effect: play a long harmonic on G, while using your index finger to pluck the D. It’s not easy, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll sound great.

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

3. Deck the Halls!

Learn about the carol:

Next up in our violin Christmas line-up, we have Deck the Halls. This one is jolly, bright and easy to sing. It comes to us from Wales, a nation famous for its singing. The song is all about being at home, decorating the house and celebrating the passage of the year and the imminent arrival of the new one.

For our arrangement, I’ve chosen F Major, which has one flat: B flat. This means that your first finger on the A string must be pushed back. This key also makes it easy to shift the whole song up an octave if you are feeling brave!

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

4. Hark! The Herald

Learn about the carol:

This one is all about glory, triumph and hope. Like many carols, it has an interesting, collaborative history. The words and the music each have a different author. Two English preachers collaborated on the text, and about a century later, a musician noticed that the words went rather well with a melody written by a famous composer. He then used this melody as the music to accompany the lyrics. The end result is something that we all know and love:

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

5. God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen

Learn about the carol:

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the horribly (but aptly) named protagonist, Scrooge, hears someone singing the opening strains of “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen”. Unsurprisingly, this makes him so angry that the singer flees in fear. This quintessentially English Christmas Carol is in a minor mode, but it is full of seasonal cheer. To get the desired effect, you need to move at quite a pace!

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

6. Άναρχος Θεός (Anarchos Theos)

Learn about the carol:

In Greece and Cyprus, Christmas is a big deal. Its only rival is Easter. The whole country participates in the rites and ceremonies that celebrate the mystery of incarnation. If you’ve ever spent time around Greek people, you’ll know that family and tradition matter to them – and singing is one of the ways they preserve their culture. This song originated in the Pontus region, along the southern shore of the Black Sea.

I’ve arranged the music to imitate the ornaments and flourishes that typify Greek music. There are two effects we can use on the violin to achieve this: the mordent and the turn.

A mordent is an ornament that is represented by a zig-zag above the note. It tells us to play the note that is written, but with a quick tap of the note just above, like this:

Turns are twirly symbols above the note. They tell us start above the note, then come through the note, then below and finally up, back to the written note. It’s like threading a needle:

Here are the opening verses:

Άναρχος Θεός καταβέβηκεν και εν τη Παρθένω κατώκησεν
Βασιλεύς των όλων και Κύριος, ήλθε τον Αδάμ αναπλάσασθαί
Γηγενείς σκιρτάτε και χαίρεσθε, τάξεις των αγγέλων ευφραίνεσθε
Δέξαι Βηθλεεμ τον Δεσπότην σου, Βασιλέα πάντω και Κύριον

God, without beginning, came down and made a home in the Virgin,
God and Lord of all, he came to remake Adam,
You who dwell on earth, rise and up rejoice, angels in your ranks be glad,
Bethlehem, receive your master, king and Lord of all!
Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

7. We Three Kings of Orient Are

Learn about the carol:

This carol tells the story of the three magi, the wise men from the east who follow the star to Bethlehem. The word “orient” just means “east”. It’s a haunting melody that was inspired by eastern and medieval music. The composer, John Henry Hopkins, wrote it in the 19th century. This was a time when many people were interested in recovering older forms and incorporating them into new ones. The structure of this song is simple: a different solo male voice takes each verse, one for each of the three wise men. Each one bears his own gift: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. We end with the happy, broad refrain. Take your time when playing this!

I’ve used slurs to create the flowing, atmospheric quality we need in order to play this carol well. Pay careful attention to how much of the bow you give to each note. Crotchets should get the lion’s share, with quavers getting only the last third or so.

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

8. (Ավետիս) Avedis

Learn about the carol:

Armenia is a very interesting place. In 301 AD, the Kingdom of Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion. This was a decision that would reverberate through history. Right up to our present day, Armenia remains a Christian outpost in a part of the world that is known for its extreme violence, upheaval and destruction. Nevertheless, the Armenians are still here – and they make beautiful music. In this video you will hear an Armenian Christmas Carol called “Avedis” which means “Good News”.

Pay very close attention to accidentals. These are symbols like sharp, flat and natural. You have to choose the right one in order to achieve the desired effect. In eastern music, the division between major and minor is not as strict as it is in western music, so it might take some time for you to get used to. You’ll also notice that it doesn’t have a very clear beginning and ending: it feels like it could go on and on. Why not? Here are the words:

Այսօր տօն է սուրբ ծննդեան, աւետիս, 
Տեառն մերոյ եւ յայտնութեան, աւետիս, 
Այսօր արեւն արդարութեան, աւետիս, 
Երեւեցաւ ի մէջ մարդկան, աւետիս, 
Այսօր հրեշտակք յերկնից իջան, աւետիս, 
Ընդ մեզ օրհնեն զանմահ արքայն, աւետիս: 
Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ: 

Today is Christmas, the gospel,
 The gospel of our Lord and of revelation,
 Today the sun of righteousness, the gospel,
 A gospel appeared among men,
 Today angels came down from heaven, good news,
 Bless the immortal king with us, good news.
 Christ was born and appeared.
Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

9. The First Noel

Learn about the carol:

The word Noël means “Christmas” in French. In English you will find it either as “Noel” or “Nowell”. The carol The First Noel originated in Cornwall, which has historic ties to France, Gallic culture and Romance languages. The carol is most famous for its famous refrain:

Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell,
Born is the King of Israel.


This carol is very moving, especially when sung well. The words fit the music so perfectly. However, when we play it on an instrument, without words, we need to be inventive. To this end, I’ve added some features such as quavers and triplets to add some variety.

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

10. Gdy się Chrystus rodzi

Learn about the carol:

Poland is a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. Its culture is a fusion of Slavic, Germanic and Latin influences. As a result, it has a rich artistic and musical tradition. For something a little different, I’ve chosen this popular Polish carol and arranged it for us here. It’s not very difficult to play, but to play it convincingly you must aim for a big, broad, confident sound.

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

11. O Little Town of Bethlehem (American)

Learn about the carol

Philip Brooks traveled to Palestine in 1865 AD. At the time, the region was groaning under Ottoman oppression, one of the darkest periods in human history. Nevertheless, he was enchanted by Bethlehem, the place of Christ’s birth. He penned the lyrics of “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. Various musicians have taken these words and set them to music. This version is the one that is best known in the United States of America. The melody is actually borrowed from another song called “St. Louis”. The organist Lewis Redner first arranged the music to go with these words, and it’s been a classic ever since.

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

12. O Little Town of Bethlehem (British)

Learn about the carol:

Ralph Vaughan Williams is one of England’s many great composers. He’s featured around here before and his music is a great inspiration to me. He used an English melody called “Forest Green” to set the lyrics of O Little Town of Bethlehem. This is the version of this carol that is best known in the United Kingdom, and England specifically. It’s a supple, gentle melody that calls for deft string crossing and sensitivity. Enjoy!

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

13. The Coventry Carol

Learn about the carol:

Now, Christmas is a time of festivity, it’s true. However, the nativity story is a story of man’s redemption and this means that it is also about the reality of sin. In Matthew’s Gospel we read a harrowing account of the massacre of the innocents, in which Herod orders an unspeakable crime. This carol was written to commemorate the victims. It’s a haunting, supple melody that was first heard under the vaulted ceilings of Coventry Cathedral, which is now a ruin.

Playing in G minor means we must flatten B and E (first fingers on A and D respectively). Focus on a broad bow stroke, imitating a lone, high voice singing in a cathedral. At the end, the sun rises, as we end on a major chord, with a B natural. This device is called tierce de picardie, or the picardy third in music theory. This is because B is the third step in the G scale, and the composer has raised it (changed it from flat to natural) at the last moment. This is a common feature of medieval and Renaissance music. And while we don’t know exactly how old this carol is, we know that it is very, very old. Here are the lyrics:

Lully, lulla, thow littell tine child,
By by, lully, lullay thow littell tyne child,
By by, lully, lullay!

Watch the video!

14. Good King Wenceslas

Learn about the carol:

Imagine, if you will, a king in his castle. There is a huge feast laid out on the table for him and his guests. Outside, a blizzard rages, but within the castle walls, everything is warm, festive and well-fed, even the horses. Suddenly, the king gets up. He fetches his coat and orders his page to bring him some meat and wine. Out they follow him, into the wind and snow. The servants grumble a bit, until they see what the king is up to – he is bringing these gifts to a peasant who is struggling to collect firewood in the cold.

This story, like all good stories, tells us more than we think upon first hearing it. It is both the story of Wenceslaus, famed Duke of Bohemia, and the story of the Gospel. In the latter, it is God Himself, who, incarnate, descends to find us mired in suffering, joins himself to us and redeems us. It would not be possible for me to tell you just how much I love this carol.

I’ve arranged it in A Major, which means we have three sharps: F sharp, C sharp and G sharp. The first two are easy: simply stretch the second finger away from the first finger on the D and A strings. The third, G sharp, is a bit more of a challenge: stretch out your third finger, away from your second. Give the staccato notes a firm bow stroke and contrast these with the slurred notes. Finally, end it off with a triumphant open string chord!

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

15. Silent Night

Learn about the carol:

Last, but definitely not least, we have the inimitable Silent Night. In its original German, it is Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht. In three short stanzas it describes the scene in the stable, and the angels singing overhead. The shepherds get a mention – they are quaking, a word we usually associate with awe. While it’s very famous, this carol is not very old. The Austrian Franz Gruber composed it in 1818 AD. It would be impossible to list all the versions it has gone through since then, but at its core it has remained the same: relaxed, content and heartwarming.

For this arrangement, I’ve included slurs. These help us to imitate a human voice. The word “silent” is extended to include three syllables: “si-i-lent”, which we must slur in order to avoid creating a sense of interruption. Wherever there is a note without a slur, make sure that you give it a long, legato bow and link it to the next note, without big breaks in sound. Towards the end, there is a ritardando, which means you can slow down. I like to really take my time on that top F sharp, even allowing a brief silence, before concluding the song.

Watch the video!
Download your sheet music!

Here is a PDF of the carol, colour-coded to help you read:

Violin Christmas: Learning Tips

Congratulations! By scrolling down this far, you’re showing me that you’re serious! I hope you’ve been enjoying the carols so far. If there are any that you’d like to see on this list, please feel free to let me know. Once you’ve chosen the ones you want to work on, here is some advice to help you along in your practicing:

  • Start by singing! You will only really be able to play something once you have sung it.
  • Begin with pizzicato, to train the fingers of the left hand before adding the bow.
  • Take it slow! Focus on perfection in intonation, instead of speed. Speed comes later.
  • Have high standards – everyone knows these songs (well, most of them), so there’s very little room for error.
  • Put your own stamp on the arrangements. You can add position shifts, vibrato, or ornaments. Make the music your own!
  • Play for an audience. Music only happens when you share it. Friends, family, even pets – get them involved.

2 thoughts on “Violin Christmas!”

  1. Bridget Harrison

    Hi Dylan
    What a great idea and beautifully put together! Is there piano accompaniment to go with it or will that be in the 2021 edition?
    We are planning a Community Christmas Carol evening and it is a super way to get families singing and playing.
    Bridget

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