So I was playing around in Double Drop D tuning one day and for no reason whatsoever played a descending G major scale:
And I had to laugh. I’m sure that some of you have read one of my old Guitar Columns called Christmas in June, or if you’ve ever heard me teach a beginners’ class on the importance of timing, you know that it takes the simplest changes to turn any descending major scale into the first line of a very, very popular Christmas carol:
Well, and stop me if you’ve heard this one before, I thought why not come up with an arrangement for Joy to the World in this tuning? After all, it would certainly give me something new to work out and it never hurts to explore a familiar tune in a new setting.
Anyway, before we get into this lesson, I do want to say that this arrangement may not be for everyone. I can’t tell you how many different ways I know to play this particular song – how many different tunings and how many different keys. I think it’s one of the reasons it’s so popular.
But I do hope you like this take on an old favorite. One advantage to it is that you can play this arrangement with a pick, and I know that appeals to quite a few of our readers here at Guitar Noise. Using just your fingers is perfectly okay, too.
Okay, first things first! In case you don’t know about Double Drop D tuning which, by the way, you can read about in our Guitar Column called On the Tuning Awry or in the Songs for Intermediates lesson on Cinnamon Girl, we should take a moment to get you and your guitar in tune.
Assuming you’re in standard tuning to begin with, all you have to do is to tune both of your E strings – the high (first) and low (sixth) ones – down a full step from E to D. You can obviously do this with a tuner or simply match the two new D strings to the regular D (fourth) string by comparing octaves. Whichever, you will now be tuned, from lowest to highest strings, to the following notes: DADGBD.
And now that you’re set, here’s the melody and accompanying chords, written out, as all our examples for this lesson are, in Double Drop D tuning:
That’s fairly easy, isn’t it? One thing to remember is that you can play your D notes in the melody with either your new high D (first) string or at the third fret of the B string as you do in standard tuning, whichever way seems most comfortable.
Before we add some accompanying chords to our melody, let’s remember that our basic chords are going to be different now because of our tuning. For instance, here are two ways of making a G major chord:
There are, of course, all sorts of ways to finger these chords. For starters, you might want to use your index finger on the sixth (low D) string, your middle finger on the A string and then your pinky or ring finger on the first (high D) string. Some of you might like not playing the A string at all, instead flattening your index finger slightly, which will mute the A string when you make a full strum. It’s a great way to practice that particular technique. You could, instead, use your middle and ring fingers on the sixth and fifth strings, respectively, which would mean using the pinky on the first string.
The full D chord also needs a little change of configuration:
And we’ll talk about the fingering for this one after we’ve taken a look at the first four measures of Joy to the World, written out in chord melody fashion:
In this case, it makes sense to start out by fingering what you currently think of as a “normal” D chord (middle finger on the second fret of the first string, ring finger on the third fret of the second and index finger on the second fret of the third) and then add your pinky to the fourth fret of the first string. Doing so puts you exactly in place to play the second and third notes of the melody with the chords attached. It definitely makes things easy in the first two measures.
The third and fourth measures will require a little accuracy in your strumming (as noted earlier, you can use either a pick or your fingers in this arrangement) and some of you might prefer to not even play the F# note (fourth fret of the regular D (fourth) string) in the second chord of the third measure. That’s okay; the open D (fourth) string will sound perfectly fine as a substitute. One of the things you may be noticing is that we’re kind of going whole hog with the chord melody approach so far. Joy to the World has a kind of a majestic sound, almost like a processional you might hear at a royal event, and using full chords that employ the entire range of the guitar help bring this out.
We continue with this approach in Measures Five through Eight, but I also offer a bit of a break to mix things up when we reach the long, drawn out G in Measure Seven:
Now, some of you may be asking, “Where did the Am7 come from? That wasn’t with the original chords!” And, you’d be right to do so. Normally, the C chord would be played there, but since Am is the relative minor of C and Am7 contains all the notes of the C chord (Am7 is A, C, E and G and C is, of course, C, E and G), it made sense to make this substitution for the sake of easier playing. If playing Am7 doesn’t work for your ears, then just don’t play the A string. You’ll have all the notes of your C chord and the only difference is that you have an E as your bass note instead of C. And that works out fine with D coming as the next chord.
Some of you may also not like all the space spent waiting between the G chord that starts Measure Seven (the word “king” when being sung) and the G note at the end of Measure Eight which, pardon the pun, heralds the start of the next line. Making use of a short arpeggio, such as the one shown in Example 3A, will certainly fit the bill. It’s totally your call.
Measures Nine and Ten (“…let every heart…” get repeated as Measures Eleven and Twelve (“…prepare Him room…”). The melody could be played totally over a G chord, but I like tossing in the C (or Am7 if you’ve come to like that chord) right before the end of each phrase:
Now comes the fun part, the “heaven and nature sing!” line that gets repeated until the end. This is a great place to work with the dynamics of the song and switching from full chords (or as full as possible) to double stops seems to work well for the first two times through the phrase:
Again, if you have problems with reaching both the F# (fourth fret of the regular D (fourth) string) and the A (second fret of the G), as shown in Example 5A, you can go with the open D (fourth string) note instead of the F#. But I do recommend you giving it a try. This is a stretch that you’re going to run into in a lot of songs, whether you play chords or lead lines, and it will be good practice for you. Notice the use of single bass notes to fill in the spaces.
We get back into the full chord accompaniment for the finale of our Christmas carol:
Since you’ve been playing all these chords for a while now, you’re probably getting good at striking just the strings you need to in order to make the melody ring out.
Okay, let’s put the whole thing together! And please forgive my falling apart right at the very end on the MP3 file!
I hope that you enjoyed this lesson and that you forgive our getting it online after the Christmas holiday! But it is pretty easy to learn, so you should still get the chance to play this lovely carol during the rest of the holiday season. There are twelve days of Christmas, no? If not, then start in on it whenever Christmas season officially starts in your neck of the woods. Some of our readers swear that’s September 1 and that seems almost around the corner!
As always, please feel free to email me (email@example.com) with any questions you might have. You can also reach me at the Guitar Noise Forum pages, either on a thread or by dropping me a PM.
Until our next lesson…