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Jingle Bells - A fingerstyle guitar lesson

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Beginner-Intermediate


Jingle Bells - The Lesson explained

I did a lesson for this years ago, during my one-year stay in Canada, back when I had only one camera and less video editing know-how. I was going to redo that version but when I listened to it I realized what a complicated arrangement it is and decided to retain the vibe, but strip it back to make it easier to learn. So I did, and I wound up with this arrangement: the melody line and an unusual bass line, a sort of counterpoint melody on the bottom end. The bulk of it is just two notes although the fingerings need to be worked out. I'd call it a 'challenging beginners' level lesson.

I kept it in G, it's such a good guitar key and kept the opening chord structure the same as the old one. I say 'chord structure' even though no chords are ever played in this version. That's because I started out with a chord progression (which you can see in the tab) but then removed all but the melody line and bass line. I might do another version with the chords in the future because it sounds so nice fleshed out, but this one is an exercise in minimalism.

The chords I show in the tab are not indicated in the movie.

There's nothing in this that is too tricky, other than remembering all the fingerings of course, but that applies to all guitar playing. There is one little part in bar 3 (and the repeat in bar 11) where I play a note on the second fret/fourth string and then use the same finger to do a little mini-barre for the note on the second fret/third string ... that might look confusing in the movie. I found that to be the best way to deal with that passage, but there are other ways. Do whatever suits you. There is never really and 'right' or 'wrong' way to play guitar, just different ways.

There are two occasions in the movie where I'm playing open strings and I move my hand way up toward the body of the guitar ... don't let it confuse you. I'm not sure why I do that (perhaps to fill in the beat with some sort of motion?) but I'm not playing anything up there, my hand is just moving in thin air.

That note I play up on the 7th fret in bar 8 (a D note) can also be played at the 3rd fret of the second string, but I like the subtle sound of the slide up and that can only be done on the same string. This is a good example of why the guitar is so darned neat: you can find the very same note in multiple positions and use the best one to suit the occasion, in this case a slide-up.

The melody line of the first half is very simple with a whole lot of repeating notes, so it's a good one to practice this kind of 'melody + moving bass line' style that will develop finger independence. You need to be able to get those fingers moving according to what you tell them to do, not what they want. All it takes is time, so don't get discouraged if they don't obey immediately. Even after 47 years of playing, I still have to convince my fingers to make new moves, so it's an ongoing thing and one of the main reasons it's essential to play everyday, even if it's just a few minutes worth. It's amazing how quickly fingers revert back to 'You're not the boss of me' mode, but if you keep that guitar out of its case in plain view where you can quickly grab it for a few minutes and play through your current favorites, you'll be reminding them who's in charge.

The second half which I call the chorus in the tab gets a little trickier as the melody and bass lines are 'further apart' string-wise. The actual fingerings are not too demanding, but the switching from one to another is, so (as always) take your time, take it slowly, keep referring to the tab (or notation) to make sure you're on track and piece it together one bar at a time. I also suggest you make sure that you know both lines independently, so learn the bass line on its own -- it is, of course, all the notes I play with my thumb on the thicker strings (I've included a midi file of just the bass line in the downloadable version) -- and learn the melody line on its own. Merging them together will be much easier if you can hear each line separately.

At the end I come back to the verse for a short outro, but this time I flesh it out with a few more notes and you'll hear the chord structure that is implied in the first verses. Those open strings are G chord tones, so you can hear the various flavors coming in and out of play, the Maj7, the 6, the augmented. Play (and listen) long enough and you'll be able to hear those flavors and name them ... by ear.

This slightly left-field arrangement will do wonders for your finger independence and will certainly perk some ears up on Christmas Eve.

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