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

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CHRISTMAS Duets for beginning Violin and Piano

violin and piano

Hello everyone! It’s October, and you know what that means for music teachers…time to start Christmas music!

Two of my private students happen to be twins; they always want to try to play together, but since one is on violin (sharps!) and the other on piano, they don’t often have that opportunity at this point in time. (They have been playing for a little over a year now.)

Here are two duets that I arranged for them. They will probably be at least a little bit challenging, but I think they will be ready in time for Christmas. 🙂

I would love your feedback or to hear recordings of your students playing these arrangements.

Angels We Have Heard on High – VIOLIN

Angels We Have Heard on High – PIANO


What Child is This? – VIOLIN

What Child is This? – PIANO



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The Dreaded Clarinet Embouchure (VIDEO)

Correct embouchure is EXTREMELY important for getting a good sound on any instrument, but the clarinet is particularly difficult. One of the pitfalls that young clarinetists fall into is thinking that they are right simply because they can get a sound out and play a bunch of notes (or across the break). This is FALSE, and explains why students often don’t learn the correct mouth shape for clarinet playing. Unlike a brass player, who CANNOT access the full range of their instrument without first developing a correct embouchure, clarinetists can get the majority of notes out while using a poorly developed and incorrect embouchure (they won’t sound very pretty, though!).

Three very important elements of the embouchure for a clarinetist are:

  1. Pointed/Flat chin
  2. High tongue
  3. Corners in

When these two elements work together, musical magic happens.

Watch THIS VIDEO to learn how to make a proper clarinet embouchure.


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Simple Music Symbols Quiz

This is a quiz appropriate for probably 3rd-6th beginners to music. I’ve realized that most kids easily get basic symbols confused, and often do not know the name of the symbols they are reading. This assessment gives some brief explanation that reinforces concepts already learned while requiring students to attach the symbol with its name. For example, question two asks “The treble clef is used when composers write music for children’s voices, and also when composers write music for instruments that play HIGH notes. Please circle ALL instruments that play HIGH notes.”

This simple quiz asks students to:

Identify the symbol given (treble clef)

Identify which of tthe three instruments listed play high notes.

Identify the name of the staff.

Distinguish between which symbols are notes and which are not.

Distinguish between the repeat sign and a double bar line.

With a bonus response question about what instrument is the student’s favorite and why.


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Vocal Technique Tips

I found this article the other day, which goes over some interesting vocal techniques and links for other tips. DISCLAIMER: I have not read through all of the tips on this website and so cannot confirm their validity or safety. I do not recommend allowing a student (especially a young student) to navigate the page alone. Some of the things recommended are things that should be tried once to see how it affects the voice, so you do want to be sure that your students understand that not everything listed is meant to be all the time or for every style of music.

I know it’s been a while…sorry about that! I’ve been focusing on other projects including a novel, my YouTube channel, wind symphony rehearsal, and other elements related to teaching private lessons. Follow me on Twitter, if you like, click here for Twitter and click here to go to my most recent YouTube video. Be forewarned, some (not all, or even a large percentage) of my Twitter and YouTube content is political or social commentary. I tend to lean more toward the right, but have somewhat of a libertarian view (you do you, boo). My greatest goal is to be fair and honest in addressing things that I see happening in the world, hence the screen name. Most of what I post on Twitter is related to writing and research, networking with other writers, etc.

I hope your school year started out well and that you all will have a lovely and music-filled day!

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Female Broadway Duets

An article I found on Camp Broadway. Enjoy!


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Kids’ Broadway Songbook

I love this book! I discovered it at the studio in a stack of books they had for sale, and I love it! This is a wonderful resource for any vocal teacher who is looking for songs with an appropriate range and content for young singers. It is hard to find something that works well for kids in the under 13 category; often the content is too mature and would be inappropriate (or not believable) or the range/complexity of the melody is simply not suitable for a young and developing voice.

So far in this book I have enjoyed working with students on “Tomorrow” (Annie), “Castle on a Cloud” (Les Miserables), and “When I Grow Up” (Matilde). This last one was introduced to me by a student. She competed in Access Broadway recently (and did very well!). Her drama director selected the song, and they had to do staging, lighting, makeup, etc. as if it were a scene from a Broadway musical, and then they received feedback from professional directors. I am going to have this student work on one of the pieces that says, “I have Broadway on the brain.” (I forget which one this is…either “Let Me Entertain You” or “Born to Entertain”. I always switch them around.)

Another benefit of this book is that examples of the music being performed by children are readily available. There are multiple versions of Annie out there, some clips from other movies are on YouTube, and a recent award celebration featured “When I Grow Up” and is also available on YouTube.

NOTE: Please make sure you are getting the updated version of this book! (Unless you really want an older one.) TWICE I ordered used versions of the book, advertised as the revised edition, and both times (from different sellers) I received an older version! So I have THREE copies of this book. They are not identical, so if there is one particular song you want, be sure to check! One book has music from Peter Pan, but the others do not.


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