3.5 Rules for Picking Christmas Music

It’s that time of year, when music teachers all over America (and I assume other places too!) begin picking Christmas music with their students. I enjoy this particularly because it is like hitting the reset button for the students: they play music they know and enjoy, can perform for family, and can step away from the more “serious” homework-like pieces in their method books. We do seasonal songs right up until Christmas! I tend to use the various Faber Christmas books, but I often go to 8notes.com, method books (Rubank for winds, Essential Elements for strings), and MusicNotes.com, sheetmusicplus.com, etc.

For years I’ve followed these unwritten rules about picking music for recitals, but I never verbalized it until yesterday when I boiled it down for a curious student. Essentially: I don’t particularly care what you play as long as it follows these basic guidelines.

  1. It must be new — While I love refreshing Christmas music that has already been learned, for recitals and assignments the pieces have to be something on which the students have not previously worked. It can be the same traditional song, but should be a different arrangement.
  2. It must be unique at the recital — Typically my students play two pieces for the recital (some advanced play three), and I try my best to ensure that there are no more than two performances of any one song, and it’s best if they are different arrangements. The audience can only handle so many primer-level versions of “Jingle Bells”.
  3. It must be appropriate level — I don’t mind if younger students (particularly those who do not practice as much as I’d like) play pieces that are slightly easy for them. This can be wonderful for developing confidence as well as reinforcing note-reading and muscle coordination. It also tends to encourage practice! I try to have all the seasonal pieces be at the student’s level (or a tiny bit easier) with one that is a little more challenging (especially if it’s one they really want to learn). I also take into account the age appropriateness, particularly for vocal students. “All I want for Christmas is You” would be more appropriate for a teenage student while “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” would be better suited to an eight-year-old student.
  4. It must be appealing — This should be a given, but sometimes it isn’t expressed to the students. The music doesn’t all have to be Holiday, but it must be “pretty” and fitting for the uplifting holiday season. It also should be things the audience will enjoy, even better if it’s something that isn’t performed as regularly at student recitals (like “O Little Town”, “Christmastime is Here”, “Grinch,” etc.)

Examples: “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” (vocal), “Sonatina in C” (piano), “The Ash Grove” (flute), “Cool Ghoul” (piano – it’s jazzy & really neat), various woodwind duets.

Bonus: Teachers, if you can play the duet part for your younger beginner students, please do so. Having you on the stage with them helps them relax, lets you help them when they get muddled, and the accompaniment makes the music sound so much nicer for the student and the audience.

These are some pieces my students are playing:

Piano: Christmastime is Here, Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, Jolly Old St. Nicholas, Jingle Bells, Twas the Night Before Christmas, Away in a Manger, Over the River and Through the Woods, I Saw Three Ships, O Christmas Tree, Carol of the Bells, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (the boys always like this one), Deck the Halls, Sonatina in C

Vocal: Santa Clause is Coming to Town, O Holy Night, Silent Night, Do You Want to Build a Snowman, Love is Christmas, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Rudolph, Joy to the World, We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Flute: The Ash Grove (duet), Minuet from Orpheus (trio) , Greensleeves

Clarinet: You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch, Duet

Strings: What Child is This, Angels We Have Heard on High, Hannukah, Mele Kalikimaka

About Lady Fair

Lady is a musician with a bachelor's degree in music education. She plays multiple instruments and has participated in numerous musical ensembles, giving her a wide variety of experiences and knowledge to use in her teaching career. Of her ensemble participation, she has fifteen years of band experience, nine years choral, and four years in orchestra. Éowyn's primary instrument is clarinet, with voice and piano being close secondary instruments. Throughout her musical education career she studied voice and clarinet simultaneously. In addition to clarinet, piano, and voice, she has also studied violin and oboe at the college level, and also plays recorder, tin whistle, and other instruments in the woodwind family. If you ask her, she will say, "I chose to major in music education because I have a desire to use my knowledge and experience in music to share its beauty and foster a love of music in the hearts of my students. I hope to encourage my students to try their hardest, feel like they have accomplished something, and give them a life long passion for music." Lady currently teaches private lessons on clarinet, sax, flute, oboe, piano, and voice, and recently gained a position teaching orchestra and chorus at a local middle school. She is also a member of the Once Upon a Dream woodwind ensembles.
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