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Twelve Days of Christmas - A fingerstyle guitar lesson

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate

Twelve Days of Christmas - The Lesson explained

Here's a challenge for you! This is not for beginners, but if you reckon you're a 'Beyond' here at GfB&Beyond, then this one will keep you busy. The challenge is not so much in the playing -- it's not really that difficult -- but in remembering where all the parts go. It certainly will help if you know the tune, I guess we're all familiar with it, but if you know the words to it and can sing along mentally, you'll be a long way ahead of the pack.

It wasn't until I started looking into it that I realized what an incredible piece of writing it is. The tune is peppered with 3/4 bars and is in fact a mosaic of 7 different sections. For that reason, I have color coded them for you so that you can make more sense of it all. It turned in an '├ętude', a study.


I cheated on this one: I didn't play all 12 days! It would have been way too long to do, to edit, to load up and to watch, so (after a long time of listening and figuring out how to present this) I decided to cut it down to the minimum size that includes all 7 sections. The bit that you need to repeat is the green measure, the 3/4 bar. You need to string them together as the number of days increases. When you've strung enough together (assuming you will bother to do so), proceed to the next section, the orange section.

OK, now that I've got that out of the way, let's have a look at it.

It's in G, our favorite, and it sticks pretty much to the diatonic chords (those that arise from the G scale). The one exception is the A7, which can be seen as a II7 for those who are familiar with the Roman numeral way of tracking progression. Other than that, it's I-IV-V and a lone vi. I listened to a few versions before I arranged this and many don't even use the vi chord (the Em), but that A7 has to be there. It's the chord that relieves the monotony, the repetition. You'll notice that that section is also in 3/4 time. It's very interesting the way it keeps shifting between 4/4 and 3/4 time, especially when you think of the countless millions who sing this song every Christmas with total ease without ever realizing that they are dealing with a fairly complex set of time signatures.

There are a few pull-offs in those blue bars (bars 23, 33, 44) ... you should be able to see them in the movie. The overhead shot makes it a lot easier to see all that stuff, which you get in the downloadable version. But, you don't have to play it exactly as I did. It's not the most wonderful version anyway, and it's always best to find a way that's most comfortable for you.

The little colored snowflake follows the colors in the tab to make it a little easier for you, and I also indicated the 'day' I'm playing so you can follow that too. You'll see that I left out the 4th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th days, and that I end the the whole thing on the 7th day the way I would have on the 12th... and if you can follow all that, you're doing better than I am!

There are some nice slash chords in this, I do like that orange section -- the partridge in a pear tree bit -- sounds very Elizabethan. You can find all the words and an interesting article about its origin and structure here.

Enjoy this one, you've got a few days left, and there's always next year. This sounds great on a nylon string. The only reason I didn't play it on my nylon is that the hot lights kept sending it out of tune.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

Kirk LorangeAs 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.



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