Once again the Christmas season approaches and I find myself looking for new Christmas songs to arrange for guitar. I usually begin by looking for hymns and carols, particularly those with an Irish melody, as I find those to be my favorites.
One Christmas hymn that I’ve loved ever since I first heard it is Love Came Down At Christmas. I first heard it in church – it’s in many hymnals including the Methodist and Lutheran hymnals – but Shawn Colvin also did a wonderful job of covering this song on her Holiday Songs and Lullabies CD.
The melody used for Love Came Down is a traditional Irish tune titled Gartan, which can be found in The Complete Petrie Collection of Ancient Irish Music, Part II (1902). The words were written by poet Christina G. Rosetti (1830-94). Several of her poems were used for hymns, including In the Bleak Mid-Winter, which I covered in a lesson last year.
I did this arrangement in DADGAD, a tuning I often use when arranging Irish tunes.I used a capo on the third fret to put the melody in the key of Bb (I’m fingering the tune in G instead of D).
This arrangement starts with a descending bass line to contrast the upward moving melody. I didn’t notate it, but you’ll hear it on the recording – I like to add a quick little half step hammer-on and pull-off starting on the second fret on the first string on beat four. The tricky part of the arrangement comes in measure three, where I finger the C on the third fret of the fifth string with my first finger and the G on the fifth fret of the fourth string with my fourth finger, moving you quickly to third position. I put both fingers down at the same down even though they are played on separate beats. You do the same thing in measure four, playing in second position for the first two beats, and third position on the last two beats.
In measure five, I use an ascending bass line (suggesting E minor instead of G major) for a little variation. Measure seven has the quick jump to third position, just like measure three.
On my recording, I added a second guitar part on the third time through tune. The second part adds the melody played as harmonics using a slightly different tuning, DADGAB, to accomodate the melody.
This is a beautiful Christmas hymn, and a fun one to play in DADGAD. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning this tune as much as I have.