Toggle Menu

Angels we have heard on high (aka Gloria in excelsis Deo) - A Christmas Guitar Lesson.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate

Angels we have heard on High (or by the title I know it - Gloria in excelsis Deo). This one takes me way back to my childhood: Gloria ... in excelsis Deo. That last bit always confounded me when trying to sing it.

This in G -- no surprise there -- and like most carols, revolves around the I-IV-V chords with the odd 'majorized minor' thrown in. The more I work out arrangements for Christmas carols, the more I see that they do indeed follow a formula.

There's nothing too difficult in the verses and the first chorus. I kept it all pretty straight forward for those sections. I thought I'd make the last chorus a little more complex for those who like a challenge. If you find it a little too hard now, just repeat the first chorus and come back to the second one later on.

You'll see that in the movie and tab that I call the underlying chord 'G' for the whole of bars 1, 3, 5 and 7. The reality is that the way I've arranged it, the chord changes on every beat. Bars 1 and 5 should really read "G D Em G" but it all looked way too complicated writing it out like that. This often happens with fingerstyle arrangements ... by weaving bass lines and melody lines together, you inevitably start coming up with new chords where once there was just one. In this case, just playing a G chord works for those bars, and if you strumming an accompaniment, that's probably what you'd play. I'm often torn between writing down exactly what's going on theory wise and keeping it simple.

In any case, those first 8 bars are what I call the verses. There are two of them, both are identical. If you know your chords and positions, you'll see that those chords I mentioned before (G D Em G) are played in two different configurations. In bars 1 and 5 I weave a mid-range descending bass line into the mix; bars 3 and 7 use a bass line an octave lower. But the chords are still G D Em G. Why use two different sets of the same chords? Just to keep it musical and sounding interesting. You might notice that I pause slightly every two bars. I hadn't really noticed until I'd watched it back. It was a subconscious desire to treat the sections as 'questions and answers' ... in other words, bars 3 and 4 answer bars 1 and 2; bars 7 and 8 answer bars 5 and 6. You don't need to mimic that, of course. You can keep it all in metronomic time if you prefer.

Bar 9 is where the first 'chorus' starts. That E7 is the 'outsider' in the progression. It's what I call a 'majorized six chord'. In the key of G, the six chord (vi) is normally minor. There's a momentary majorized ii chord also, that A7 (over C#) leading into bar 12. This is a nice little section to play. It's all quite compact on the fingerboard and presents no real problems once you map it out. Try to keep the chords in mind when doing so. All the little frilly bits hang off the chord shapes, so concentrate on gripping those chords first.

The second chorus, which starts at bar 15, is where I add some trickery. Again, I'm gripping those chord shapes for as long as I can and grabbing some arpeggio notes as I go, adding the odd bass line passing tones to connect it all up and at bar 17 play a little harmony line in 6ths to end that passage with a bit of oomph. I then play the next bit, which was very straight forward the first time through, in a fairly tricky way, playing the ascending bass line on the off beats, sort of staggering the melody notes against the bass line notes. I'm not sure what possessed me to do that but it just seemed right to do so.

Other bits that need a mention: There are two resolves, one at bar 12/13 the other at bar 18/19. I wind up having to play 3 D notes in a row each time. You'll see that I use fretted notes and open string notes to do that, and the last time I slide into one of them. This, again, is to keep it all flowing musically and to make it interesting for the listener. If I had just wound up playing the same open string three times in a row, it would have sounded quite flat and boring. I would have had to choke each note before plucking the next making it very difficult to maintain the flow. This way you wind up with one D note ringing on while the next comes into play on another string.

All in all, a really fun piece to play!

Oh, one more thing: at 0:51, you'll hear a little 'snap' sound, and if you look up at the top left hand corner of the movie you'll see an odd little flat-noodle thing flapping. That's the rubber band that holds the headstock of the guitar down on my desk breaking! When I shoot these videos, I anchor the guitar down to my desktop to keep it still in the frame so it's easier for you to view. To do that, I use a big gob of BluTack and a strong rubber band attached to a screw under the desk top, which pulls the headstock down firmly. It did certainly surprise me when it snapped, but I was so close to the end, I kept going ... and didn't miss a beat!


Most of my lessons, including this one, are now free. Please consider making a donation so I can keep these free lessons coming. -- To donate, simply click the green donate button below and you will be taken to a PayPal page where you can enter the amount you would like to donate. No amount is too small ... or big!

A big thanks in advance, Kirk Lorange