O Come All Ye Faithful

It’s amazing how quickly time flies by. One day you’re picking up the guitar for the first time and the next thing you know you’ve playing for what seems to be eons. It’s easy to forget what a chore it was simply changing from one chord to the next.

As you know from reading any of my lessons here at Guitar Noise, I’m a big supporter of using songs to teach both the basics of music and guitar techniques in general. The logic being that you’re going to be playing songs (at least one supposes so) for your own enjoyment if nothing else and it’s great to make music that sounds like music and not just noodling around.

One of the things I love about this time of year is that holiday songs and Christmas carols fill the air once again. I know that many groan about hearing these songs over and over again (something easily remedied by simply turning a radio off) but I find the melodies of many holiday songs quite captivating. And many of these songs can make great exercises for the beginning or early intermediate guitarist.

Case in point: Today’s carol, O Come All Ye Faithful (also known as Adeste Fideles), offers a host of chord changes that may pose a challenge to the beginner without being beyond his or her abilities. Better yet, these are chords that any guitarist is going to have to come to terms with at some point, so why not now?

These files are the author’s own work and represent his interpretation of this song. They are intended solely for private study, scholarship or research.

Let’s take this apart piece by piece, shall we?

O Come…

We’ll be playing this hymn in the key of C (for “Christmas”) major, if for no other reason than to make this lesson both challenging and pertinent. Many, many songs are in the key of C and the three main chords of this key, C, F and G, are going to be seen time and time and time again in your guitar lives. Getting used to making these particular chord changes cleanly and in time can only help you become a better guitarist.

This is also a great key to play this song because it will involve two versions of the open G chord:

Two G Chords

The first is your standard G, while the second is often misnamed “G5,” because of the substitution of the D note at the third fret of the B string for the open B string. This is simply a different voicing of the G chord. If it helps, think of your guitar as a small choir with six singers (your six strings). Normally, singer #2 would be singing a B note and you’ve simply instructed him (or her) to sing D instead. They’re both notes in the G chord, and you still have all three notes (G, B and D) being sung, so you haven’t created a new chord. Nor have you created an inversion (where the bass note of the chord is not the root note). All you’ve done is alter the voicing of the chord. We’ll be doing this with both the G and C chords at some point in this lesson.

In the music notation software that I use, this G chord may be labeled “G2” and you can ignore that as well. Computers can be so stupid sometimes…

To make matters more interesting, we’re using this new voicing of the open G chord voicing in order to get that D note into the melody line. So, in this song arrangement anyway, we’ll not be playing the high E (first) string anytime we play the “G (high D)” chord.

This decision will also make fingering this “G (high D)” chord a little smoother when played with the other chords in the songs. Most of the time, you’ll want to use your pinky on the D note (third fret of the B string), your middle finger on the B note (second fret of the A string) and your ring finger for the G in the bass (third fret of the low E (sixth) string). Playing the “G (high D)” chord with this fingering will leave your index finger free, and that will be very helpful in a couple of places in the song.

Okay, if you’re square with this new chord voicing, then let’s get going and look at the first line:

Example 1
Example 1 continued

You’ll hear, in the MP3 files accompanying this lesson, that mostly I’m playing this carol with my fingers, actually just strumming down with the thumb to get a kind of “shimmery” effect. Later, in the full MP3, I’ll also use my thumb for the bass note and my fingers (ring, middle and index) to pinch the other notes of the chord and melody. You can certainly play this song with a pick as well. I tried to make this arrangement so that it could be played in any number of ways.

We’ll start out nice and easy, using half notes (two beats each) for the accompanying chords. In the second measure we immediately find the “G (high D)” chord and it should be an easy transition from the C chord in the first measure. Starting with the C chord, simply shift your ring finger from the third fret of the A string (C) to the third fret of the low E (sixth) string (G). At the same time, move your middle finger from the second fret of the D string to the second fret of the A. Now you place your pinky on the third fret of the B string and there you have it!

Measures 3 and 4 (“…joyful and triumphant…”) give you a chance to really work on these chord changes, throwing in an F on the fourth beat of Measure 3 just to make things interesting. Here I like to use F/C, simply to pound out that C note in the bass and make the song a little more driving. Also, it’s easier for most folks than going with a fully barred F chord. The full F is fine, as is a “beginners’ F” (XX3211). You need to have that F note at the first fret of the high E (first) string in the melody, so Fmaj7 (XX3210) wouldn’t work here.

And, just to drive the point home, you should find that it’s easy to get the C note (first fret of the B string) at the end of Measure 4 if your index finger is free. That’s one reason why we discussed how to finger the “G (high D)” chord in the first place!

Moving on to the second line (Measures 5 through 8):

Example 2
Example 2 continued

Here we add a smidgen of a walking bass line (can’t get away from those, can we?) by going from the A (open A string) of the Am chord that kicks of Measure 5 and then playing the G (third fret of the low E) en route to the F# at the second fret of the low E (sixth) string. Since the B note is the melody at this point, we technically have a D6 chord (okay, D6/F# since the F# is in the bass), but most folks would just say it’s a D chord with the B in the melody being a “passing tone.” Whatever makes you happy…

To get the F# in the bass, many people would wrap their thumbs over the top of the neck of the guitar. When doing so, remember that you just need as much (read “as little”) of your thumb to get the note cleanly. But because this D chord has one other fretted note (the A at the second fret of the G string), it’s also feasible to use your middle finger to fret the F# in the bass, especially since you can then simply slide that finger up a fret to get the G note of the G chord.

In Measure 6, there’s also a walking bass line, a la You Are My Sunshine, although we stack chords on top of it each step of the way. The “G (high D)” at the third beat should technically be labeled “G (high D) / B” but my feeling at this point is that I shouldn’t turn the chord charts into an encyclopedia!

And here are two quick note concerning Measures 5 and 6: Sometimes I find myself playing the D6 chord along with the melody on both the third and fourth beats of Measure 5, simply strumming it all the way down to the B string on the third beat (“ye”) and only down to the G string (“O”) on the fourth. In Measure 6, Am is a perfectly acceptable substitute for the D7/A, which is played on the second beat. Totally up to you…

Example 3
Example 3 continued

The third line, Measures 9 through 12 (“…come and behold him / born the king of angels…”), begin with quick C to F to C chord changes. Again, I’m thinking that using the F/C is a good way to deal with this. As mentioned earlier, you can certainly go for either the full barre F or the “beginners’ F” if you prefer.

In Measure 10, I stick in a single B note (second fret of the A string) in the bass to give the song another tiniest bit of a walking bass line.

Measure 11 has the trickiest chord progression thus far in the Christmas carol, but when you look at it from chord to chord, it’s not all that hard. If you’re using the fingering for the “G (high D)” chord that we agreed upon earlier, then your middle finger gets to sit tight when you change from that “G (high D)” to E7. All you have to do is to pick up your pinky while placing your index finger on the G# at the first fret of the G string.

Going from the Am to the D/F# is probably the most complicated switch and there are many ways to go about it. I find myself playing using either my thumb or first finger or middle finger on the F# in the bass (second fret of the low E (sixth) string) while my ring finger gets the second fret of the G string and the pinky frets the third fret of the B string. Taking a very informal survey while working on this lesson, the middle finger seemed to require less thinking. As they say, “your mileage may vary…”

Regardless of which way I finger the D/F#, I want to make a big effort to use the same fingering I use for the G chord of Measure 12 that I use to play the “G (high D)” throughout the song. Why? This fingering frees up my index finger to easily play both the A (second fret of the G) and C (first fret of the B) that pop up in this measure.

Okay, ready for the big finish?

Example 4 line 1
Example 4 line 2
Example 4 line 3
Example 4 line 4

The first two lines of our “Finale” section, Measures 13 through 16, have a lot of chord changes, but nothing that should pose any kind of problem for you at this point. At least, not with a little bit of concentrated practicing! It’s mostly a matter of strumming down to the correct melody string. You’ll notice that I use the B note (second fret of the A string) as the bass note for the “G (high D)” chord at the fourth beat of Measure 13 and the second beat of Measure 15. Also the F/C comes into play on the fourth beat of Measure 15.

In Measure 17, though, I’m opting for the full barre F chord in order to make the bass line climb from F to F# (in the D9/F#) to G. This is probably the most complex chord change of the entire song and you’ll want to take your time to work it out. One big thing in your favor is that this is the big climax of the song and you can take a little dramatic liberty by slowing the pace and making the whole passage very “triumphant” sounding.

And, not to leave well enough alone, I can’t resist throwing in one last little moving bass line, using G# (fourth fret of the low E (sixth) string) to climb from G to Am. Don’t be afraid to discard it if it’s not to your liking.

Remember, too, that you can have a lot of fun with the dynamics on this tune, especially during the “finale” section. Start out very softly and get progressively louder with each “O come let us adore him…” Have fun spicing up your arrangement of this arrangement!

And here, warts and all, is a finished version for you to work with:

O Come All Ye Faithful 1
O Come All Ye Faithful 2
O Come All Ye Faithful 3
O Come All Ye Faithful 4
O Come All Ye Faithful 5
O Come All Ye Faithful 6
O Come All Ye Faithful 7
O Come All Ye Faithful 8
O Come All Ye Faithful 9
O Come All Ye Faithful 10

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little chord melody arrangement of O Come All Ye Faithful and that you feel free to play it for the upcoming holidays. And I hope that all these lessons inspire you to try out making chord melody arrangements of your own. It’s not all that hard to do and there’s no end of satisfaction to coming up with a song arrangement all your own.

And let me take a moment to wish all our readers, their family and friends, a wonderful holiday season. We thank you for your continued support of Guitar Noise and look forward to bringing you even more lessons very, very soon.

Until the next lesson…