It’s been a while since our last chord melody arrangement, not to mention since our last holiday song, let’s start out the new holiday season with something relatively easy. How about Silver Bells? That should fit the bill nicely. It centers around G, C and D chords, yet still has some interesting touches that will give you a bit (but not too much) of a challenge.
Fool that I am, I’ll assume that we’re all on the same page when we’re talking about chord melody arrangements. If you’re kind of not sure about that, just pop over to the lessons on the Song Arrangements page or any of our other Christmas song lessons.
For this lesson, I want to try to keep things as relatively simple as possible. You should be able to play our arrangement of Silver Bells with either a pick or your fingers. In fact, I’m using a pick in all of the MP3 examples. Let’s see, other things you might want to know – the song is in 3 / 4 timing, and we’ll be playing this in the key of G and will pretty much be using versions of simple G, Am, C and D chords you already know. We’ll also toss in a few interesting voicings to help us out in playing the melody.
Like many songs, the chords and melody of Silver Bells involves a number of repeated patterns and phrases. That makes it a little easier to learn. Let’s begin with the very first line, actually just the first part of it:
If you’ve never tried a chord melody before, this is as close to as easy as it gets. Silver Bells begins with two eighth notes played on beat three. This, as we’ve learned in other lessons, is called a “pickup.” So, for instance, if we were counting aloud for our bandmates, we’d call out “one, two, three, one, two” and start in on “City sidewalks…”
Here in the first half of the first line, we strum an open G chord and then remove whatever finger you usually use on the third fret of the high E (first) string and strike that now open string. We’ll then place a finger (most likely the one you took off the first string) on the third fret of the B string and strum down only to the B string. Then take that finger off the B string and strum the G chord once more, this time again only going as far as the B string, which is now an open string. So far, so good?
Okay, then. We’re good to move to the rest of this line (the “…dressed in holiday style…” part):
The melody note at this point moves way up to the B note found on the seventh fret of the high E (first) string, so that means we’re not going to find an open position chord that allows us to easily reach that note. So we’ve got to make an adjustment. Fortunately, the accompanying chord with this part of the melody is G7, so this adjustment turns out to be a very simple one that uses just two fingers.
In case you’re interested in such things, or if you’re someone who might like to learn something that you can use later on in your musical and guitar life, what we’re going to do is use a different voicing of G7 that is derived from our open position D7 chord. Basically we’re moving the D7 chord five frets further up the neck, where it becomes a G7 chord. We can simplify this even further by opening up the G string since G is, after all, part of the G7 chord.
But since the A note that is located at the fifth fret of the high E (sixth) string is the next note in the melody, it makes sense to try to finger this part of the song in a way that will allow you to get all the needed notes. I suggest getting your middle finger onto the sixth fret of the B string and also having your index finger in place on the fifth fret of the high E (sixth) string. Now use either your ring finger or pinky to get the B note at the seventh fret of that same string.
If you do want to read up a bit of the use of open shapes up the neck, then mosey on over to the Guitar Column titled Moving On Up and hopefully this will make a bit more sense.
The first full measure of this section starts out with a slightly different voicing of our normal open position C chord. Just use your pinky to get the G note at the third fret of the high E (sixth) string and you’ll be fine. You can strum the full E7 chord, but I like the sound of the descending bass line, going from C to B and finally to A for the Am chord. Another option would be a different voicing for E7/B (x22130) that brings the D note out on the B string. Try both out and see which you prefer. Then be sure to try them out at tempo to see if you can make the changes from chord to chord!
Example 3 deals with the line “…in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…”
Once again our melody note, the A at the fifth fret of the high E (sixth) string, is a little out of the stretch of our open position chords, but simply laying your finger of choice across the first four strings at the fifth fret gives you an Am7 chord. You might want to use your ring finger for this as that will give you time to shift to the G note (third fret of the first string) with your index finger. The rest of this phrase consists of careful strumming of the D, Dmaj7 and D7 chords. Take your time practicing this. Listen to yourself play and bring out the melody note with your strumming, especially if you’re using a pick. With fingers, it’s somewhat easier in that you can strum down with your thumb until just before the string with the melody note and then pick that string on the upstroke with a finger. Either way, though, let the melody be your guide. If you can’t hear the melody as you play, then you need to concentrate on being accurate with your picking.
At this point, Silver Bells repeats the opening phrase that we covered in Examples 1 and 2. The last line of the verse (“…and on every street corner you hear…”) is almost an exact copy of Example 3, but it does have a slightly different melodic ending:
As you can see and hear, this final phrase mirrors our last example up until we get to the D9/A chord. This isn’t all that different from the Am7 used to start the phrase. Use your ring finger to cover the first three strings at the fifth fret and your index finger to play the F# note at the fourth fret of the D string. The open A string serves as your bass note. This is a particularly cool sounding, jazzy sort of chord that you’ll need again in this song. But that shouldn’t stop you from using it in other songs as well. It can serve as a wonderful chord substitution for D7, so be sure to try it out.
I also throw in a little ending for the verse in the final two measures, just to fill in some space. If you’re going strictly with your fingers, try pinching the D and B strings and leave the G string alone. You might find it more to your liking.
Shall we move on to the chorus? One of the inherent challenges here is that there is a lot of time between the first singing of “Silver Bells” and the second. So I’ve taken the liberty of throwing in a simple little fill:
Now, there are a lot of different ways we could have gone with this. Many arrangements simply repeat the melodic phrase of “silver bells” twice, but I wanted to try something a little different. Plus, I wanted you to have something that was somewhat challenging for a beginner but certainly not, pardon the pun, out of his or her reach.
The trick here is to fret your G chord at the start of the chorus differently than many of you probably do. Use your ring finger for the low E (sixth) string and your middle finger on the A string. This frees up your index finger for the C note at the first fret of the B string and also keeps your pinky ready for the D note at the third fret of the B string. Then your index finger is ready to get all the non-open string notes in both fills. You’ll be able to pick this up faster than you think.
If this sounds a little weird, it’s because I made a chord substitution in the second half. Normally you’d want a C chord there, but I’m using Am7 in order to maintain relatively easy fingering for the melody notes along the high E (first) string. The notes of a C chord, as you know (or can find out by reading any of our easy theory articles here at Guitar Noise are C, E and G. The notes of Am7 are A, C, E and G. That’s pretty close. You could even argue that it’s a C6 chord with the A note in the bass.
But the main reason I choose to make this substitution was, as I mentioned, to keep the fingering of the melody simple. Try using a C chord and see which way you like best.
As with the second and fourth phrases of the verse, the second and fourth phrases of the chorus are almost identical. So let’s tackle them together:
I told you we’d run into that D9/A chord again. Both these phrases are relatively simply. You just want to be careful with the timing differences in the second measure.
In Example 6 we end with a single-note walking bass line, starting from the D note of the open D string down through C, B and A on the A string to G on the low E (sixth) string. For Example 7 we end with a repeat of the closing phrase from the verse.
All right, then, let’s try out putting the verse and the chorus together:
I guess we can officially declare the holiday season open, as we’ve now got two song lessons online already. And, as always, I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little exercise in chord melody arrangement and that you get a chance to play it for your family and friends during the upcoming holidays.
Until our next lesson…