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Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - A fingerstyle guitar lesson

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate


Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - The Lesson explained

This one sure brings me back to being a kid again! I remember wondering what "Hark the herald angels sing" meant for a start, but it's the melody and harmonic structure that was ingrained in my mind, the sound and feeling of those chords.

I picked C for this one. It seems to be the best key for avoiding barre chords and it suits the range of the tune well. C is also nice for anyone playing along on piano (they can play the chords I indicate in the tab/movie while you play this). I also tried to make it as sparse as possible sticking as much as possible to just melody and bass lines. Like just about all of these carols, it's built around the I-IV-V chords but introduces a few outside chords. The more I arrange these carols the more I see that they all fall into the same formula, especially when arranged the way I'm doing, like mini classical guitar tunes.

I've tried to keep this one nice and simple but there are a few little passages that need disciplined working out -- unusual sequences of fingerings -- but those are the bits I relish. There's nothing I love more than working out a tricky little bit of guitar playing, slowly running through it a few times to get those muscles to feel it out and then bringing it up to speed and making them familiar and musical. I think that's why I'm still playing on a daily basis: because I love the process of mastering these 'difficult' bits and pieces, turning the mountains into molehills.

The first tricky passage is bar 4 where I added another moving line sandwiched between the melody and bass line. The melody line stays on the one note which makes it easier to negotiate and the bass note just moves from C to F. Just make sure when you get to the F chord that you you don't play that B string ... you really want to let that descending line (C - B - A) stand out. That line turns the C chord into a momentary CMaj7, which is what gives it such a nice vibe.

When you get to bar 7 that Am chord comes into play and alerts us that the tune is heading off in a new direction. The next bit seems at first to be tricky, but it's not really. That whole D (which is in fact D/F#) shape simply moves up 5 frets to become the G chord at bar 8. You can see in the movie how my left hand freezes that shape and slides it up the neck as a unit.

Bar 12 and 13 are repeats of 10 and 11... nothing to difficult going on there, then at bar 14 I play two different A notes, one as a bass note (the open A string), another on the first string, fifth fret. At this point, the ear doesn't know what kind of A chord underlies the passage but as soon as I hit that C# bass note on the fourth fret of the A string, we know it's an A major chord, which is the second 'outside chord' in the piece. A minor is usually the A you hear in the key of C, but 'majorizing' it is what really lifts the overall sound there. (The other outside chord was the momentary D, end of bar 7. That F# in the bass makes it major, not minor as the key of C would imply.)

But that's all theory stuff ... you don't really need to know any of it to learn how to play this, but I do know that many of you find it just as interesting as I do. The more you look into why things sound the way they do, the more common connections you begin to see and the easier it all becomes to decipher and hear.

I think you'll find this one quite easy to get through once your fingers get used to the stretches required. Plucking non-adjacent strings can feel odd at first but it's a huge part of playing finger style guitar, so the more you do it, the better. You just need to learn how to avoid hitting those unneeded strings, keeping them quiet.

Have fun!