Silent Night - An Easy Fingerstyle Lesson
Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Beginner-Intermediate
Here's a simple version of 'Silent Night', consisting only of the melody line and bass notes. I did a trickier version also, but I figured that those of you who are just starting out playing finger style should also have something to play to the family ... I think you'll find this isn't too difficult to get the fingers and brain around.
I did this in the key of A, and the whole thing revolves around three chords, A, D and E, apart from one little detour through a F# minor chord. However, you won't need to worry about the chords, because I left them out! It is important, though, to realize that even if you're not playing chords, they're sort of there anyway ... the melody line and bass notes are in a sense disassembled chords.
What makes the key of A so nice for this exercise is that the bass notes for the three 'chords' are the three open bass strings, the E, A and D strings, so at least that part isn't hard ... all you need to do is pluck those open strings in the right places, which the tab indicates clearly.
The piece is in 3/4 time, which means each measure is 3 beats long. You can hear me count 'One two three, Two two three' at the beginning. That's two measures (which is why I say 'two' the second time around).
I suggest you work on the melody line first. I think we all know the melody to this carol, so it won't be that hard for you master. Don't worry about the fact that some of the notes are 'up' the fretboard ... you will eventually want to be using the whole fretboard anyway, so here's a good chance to practice moving up the neck a bit. Trust your fretboard markers! They are, of course, the inlaid dots that appear on every fretboard ... except on the guitar I use in this lesson! (It does in fact have dots, but they're on the side of the fretboard, out of view in this video.) They're there for a reason ... use them, trust them. They'll be there for as long as you play guitar, so take full advantage.
Once you're feeling confident about playing the melody line, add the bass notes. You can see that they are plucked at the same time as some of he melody notes, so you need to become familiar with how that feels, The bass notes are all played with the thumb, melody notes with the other fingers. In this, I used mainly my ring and middle fingers, as they are positioned above the treble strings where the melody is played. The movie shows it all quite clearly.
You'll see and hear that I do a couple of little pull-offs (bars 3, 11 and 21). These are more decoration than anything else and don't get hung up on them. The tab is a little unclear about how they're done ... the small number indicates the start note, the bigger number that follows indicates the main note. So you pluck the small number note, then pull your finger off the string very quickly so that the open string (the main note) rings without plucking a second time. Watch the movie carefully at those points and I think you'll see how it's done. As I say, if you find it too difficult, just pluck the second note, the 'big number' note, which is the melody note.
You'll notice that the bass notes come on the first beat of every second measure, except for measure 6, 7, 8 and 9, where for some reason I played them on the first beat of each bar. It wasn't until I started working on the lesson that I realized I'd done that. I guess subconsciously I felt it needed it ... you can either follow my lead or just keep playing every second measure. It's not important.
You can see my left hand wobble out some vibrato on those long notes, and hopefully you'll be able to hear the effect. Vibrato is something that becomes habit after a while ... it keeps the notes ringing and gives a bit of movement to the sound. Again, don't worry about that if you haven't yet looked into it. It's just a detail. Another detail is the way I slide from one note to another a couple of times ...
That F#m at bar 23 is a straight forward 2-note grab ... I think you'll agree that it has a great effect at that stage of the tune, that it seems to be saying "We're building to a close here! Get ready for a big ending." The effect is further enhanced by playing an E bass note under what is in fact an A chord at bar 25. Try playing the plain old A bass note there ... it will be perfectly correct, but won't have the same power as that E bass note.
Don't be shy! Once you learn the moves and feel like you've remembered the sequences, be bold about how you play it, make that guitar ring out. Playing something simple with confidence will always sound better than playing something tricky without.
Here are the other Silent Night lessons I've done over the years:
Silent Night Harmonized Version
Silent Night Strummed Accompaniment
Silent Night tricky fingerstyle
Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
As well as putting together these fingerstyle guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.