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O little star of Bethlehem - A fingerstyle guitar lesson

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate

O little star of Bethlehem - The Lesson explained

This one is pretty straight-forward, much easier to play than it sounds. For once, A seemed to be a better key, one that had less tricky fingering. It's nice to get away from G for a while too, it gets just a little tedious always dealing with the same chord shapes and moves.

Once again, this one is basically a melody line and bass line but there are a couple spots where I added a harmony line (bars 1 and 14) to keep the ear interested. There are a few passages where the bass line goes down while melody goes up in these, which seems to occur frequently in these carols. Another common trait they all seem to have is in the chord structure: mostly related chords from the key, but the vi and iii chords have been 'majorized'. In this case, the F# and C# chords, which are normally minor in the key of A, are major. I find it interesting how similar all these carols are in the way they were composed. It's almost as if there was formula that had to be followed for the tunes to qualify as carols.

I have indicated the chords that would be played by another instrument in the movie and tab, but don't let it confuse you. In a couple of spots I dimmed them down in the movie as they change with each beat. I usually indicate the underlying chord structure in these lessons for those who are interested in that kind of thing, but as I often say, there's really no need to know them if all you want to do is learn the tune. The way I arrange them, though, is to start with the chord structure (which I determine by listening to a few versions online) then stripping away most of the chord tones leaving the melody line and bass line. It's always amazing to me that by hearing those two lines played together, the brain can pretty much fill in the rest and hear the chords even though they're not being played.

This is a good lesson to get those picking fingers and thumb working independently. In several places, the bass line and melody line work in non-parallel fashion and that takes a little getting used to. I always think it's a good idea to learn each line separately so you can hear them on their own. The melody line is easy, since you've probably known these carols for years, but the bass lines are not so familiar and knowing how they sound on their own will help you to knit both together into a whole. A good example is bars 6 and 7 ... take the few minutes necessary to just play that bass line a few times to get it locked into your thumb and ears. Add the melody line once you've got it mastered.

A good lesson-within-a-lesson is that little harmony line at bars 1 and 14. Notice how the chord name changes momentarily from A to A diminished. That's because I'm flatting the 3 and 5 of the chord while retaining the root (A). Diminished chords by definition use a flat 3 and flat 5, so you can both see and hear that in those two passages.

As always, keep that musical flow going, take it slowly, make those fingers do what you tell them to do -- let them know who's boss -- and most importantly, have fun.

Merry Christmas!