The Christmas season is accompanied by a uniquely popular and significant body of music spanning multiple genres, and it’s no wonder that there are so many varied piano collections to choose from, whatever your level.
Once again this year, here is the updated and expanded Pianodao shortlist of the best seasonal piano sheet music, including a mix of new releases and classic favourites!
The 2021 Pianodao shortlist continues with music collections aimed at INTERMEDIATE players (around UK Grade 3-5)…
You will find the Pianodao 2021 Christmas Shortlists for other levels here:
Faber Easy Piano Series: Christmas
This collection includes a mixture of 12 early intermediate arrangements of songs, including both traditional songs and contemporary hits. It has already proven hugely popular with my students, thanks in no small part to its very judicious song choice and classy presentation:
Ace arrangers Oliver Weeks and Pam Wedgwood have concocted a delicious recipe here, stirring together a beautifully balanced mix of music from different genres, with something to please players of all ages: a predominantly classic/traditional flavour with a contemporary twist.
Although advertised as “elementary”, I have found the level of these arrangements nicely suits players at around UK Grades 3-4. Chord symbols are included, as are the words (happily including all the verses), enabling others to sing and strum along.
I especially like the quality of these arrangements, so sympathetic to the originals while also being accessible to less advanced players. A top choice indeed!
Christmas Songs in Easy Keys
A major new release for Christmas 2021, Christmas Songs in Easy Keys is part of a larger set of four new songbooks (the rest of the set will be reviewed here separately).
The USP of the series is that each collection contains accessible piano arrangements of contemporary favourites, none including more than one sharp or flat in the key signature. That isn’t to say the pieces themselves are all that easy; with syncopated rhythms, frequent accidentals, hand position changes and chord playing, this collection is best suited to those at early intermediate level, around UK Grade 3.
Helpfully the presentation again includes the lyrics, verses and all, written between the LH and RH staves.
Also included, simple chord symbols are presented above the solo piano arrangements, making the book well-suited for a family sing-song including guitars, electronic keyboards and so on. That said, the chords shown are often more complex than the ‘elementary’ level suggests, with chord extensions and inversions enriching the simple harmony delivered by the piano solo.
Fingering is included but minimal, and as a fresh publication for 2021 I am slightly surprised by the lack of backing tracks and demo recordings. As a whole, however, the presentation in Hal Leonard house style is superb, and I suspect this series as a whole will fly off the shelves.
The collection joyously traverses the seasonal scene, covering established hits such as Do You Hear What I Hear? and White Christmas, jazz favourites It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the more contemporary All I Want for Christmas is you.
Piano Calm Christmas
Philip Keveren is one of my favourite arrangers and composers, whose music has a contemporary popular vibe. Piano Calm Christmas, which appeared around this time last year, promises “15 Reflective Solos for the Season”.
Piano Calm dresses traditional carols with a contemporary reflective vibe. While the music has the Christmas stamp on it throughout, I am happy to report that the piano writing and style of arrangement is in a similar vein to the previous Piano Calm book (reviewed here), making this a perfect fusion of seasonal cheer and relaxed piano vibe.
There is a brilliance of musical ingenuity throughout, from the simplicity of his Holly and the Ivy arrangement to the twinkling beauty of his Silent Night, in which only a careful attention to voicing will allow the melody to emerge from within the broader piano figuration with clarity (making this a wonderful learning tool as well as a gorgeous piece to just sit and play).
The notation is cleanly presented and easy to read. Keveren includes ample but not excessive articulation and phrasing in his pieces, some pedalling suggestions, and there are modest fingering recommendations throughout.
To summarise, I’ve not found any drawbacks in this publication at all, and there’s nothing to stop me giving this collection “full marks”. It’s really great, and my students love it too!
New for 2021, Christmas Reflections is a beautifully repackaged reissue of an earlier Phillip Keveren collection of “15 calming carols arranged for easy piano solo”, originally published back in 1997.
Keveren’s treatments of traditional carols here are a little more tricky than those in Piano Calm Christmas, but still firmly “intermediate”, making this book a perfect sequel for those who have first enjoyed the other.
And although there is overlap (7 titles are the same), Keveren’s arrangements here are entirely different. Which is good news indeed because it really is Keveren’s genius as an arranger which makes all the books in his series winning choices.
As expected, Hal Leonard’s presentation is also as lovely as for all of Keveren’s books, with nicely engraved, well-spaced notation and ample fingering throughout.
Christmas Reflections makes an excellent bridge between the easier Keveren collections and his more advanced “classical piano” arrangements, perfect for more established intermediate players.
Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos
Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos also comes from Hal Leonard, who clearly have a special affection for the holiday season!
This collection and offers a mixed selection of 30 seasonal pieces neatly arranged for intermediate to early advanced players. It is part of the larger series, Peaceful Piano Solos which I have previously reviewed here.
A big draw of this publication is the spot-on selection of seasonal music, blending together so many great pieces in one affordable book. Most appear here in well-crafted piano arrangements too, confirming the book as a delicious concoction for the Christmas holiday season.
It should be noted here that no words are included here though: these are very much solo piano arrangements of the songs, offering a lovely mix ranging from traditional classics to the swinging Christmas favourites of the mid twentieth century.
Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos is without question one of the best and most useful anthologies of its kind currently on the market.
Christmas Jazz, Rags and Blues
If you are looking for something with more of a swing to get the party going, look no further!
Martha Mier’s Jazz, Rags & Blues series is a true milestone in educational piano music publishing, and I’ve been using the five core books with students for years. Here we have five companion books which can be used parallel to the main series during the festive season.
The intermediate player will be able to whizz through the first book, aimed at elementary players, before exploring the second, third and fourth, which provide a wealth of progressive material that the student can look at year by year. The fifth and final book is suitable for early advanced players.
Mier has a canny knack for both nailing a musical style and throwing down a catchy tune. Here, interestingly, she eschews the jazzy Christmas songs of the crooners in favour of traditional carol melodies, which she then turns on their heads to produce some fabulous re-workings that players and listeners alike will surely fall in love with.
It’s worth noting that several tunes recur from one book to another, with more complex arrangements to suit the developing player.
Also, UK readers will again want to know that the books have a US-centric choice of music. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but some carols have different tunes to those British readers will be expecting, and some titles here are less known on this side of the pond.
Regardless, there’s something brilliantly festive about these collections, and I find myself returning to them every year at around this time!
Christmas Jazzin’ About
Bringing a more British spin to a similar concept, and attached to another landmark publishing phenomenon, Pam Wedgwood’s Christmas Jazzin’ About is an equally sure-fire triumph.
Wedgwood opts for a diverse selection of songs past and present, with upbeat arrangements of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer side by side with more relaxed contemporary renditions of I Saw Three Ships and Silent Night.
In addition to the 8 solo pieces in the collection, three duets appear at the back of the book: Sleigh Ride is a great arrangement of the Leroy Anderson classic, while swinging arrangements of Santa Claus is Coming to Town and O Come All Ye Swingin’ Faithful offer a rumbunctious conclusion to this great collection!
An included CD offers complete performances and backing tracks for these pieces.
A second book offers a further eight duet pieces, suitable for players at the late intermediate level. Sadly there’s no CD with this one, but it’s another great collection that will surely appeal to enthusiastic duo partners everywhere.
If I have one caveat in recommending these titles, it’s that the notation of swing quavers is inconsistent and perhaps won’t appeal to those familiar with more recent jazz education materials. For my money however, that doesn’t change the fact that Pam’s arrangements here are exquisite, hugely enjoyable, and not to be missed!
These Christmas Jazzin’ About books are firm favourites that have pleased students and amateur players for many years already, and are likely to remain hugely popular for many more to come!
Capturing the Spirit of Christmas
Finally at the intermediate level, it’s a pleasure to again remind you of two excellent collections co-written by composers Alison Mathews and Barbara Arens, Capturing the Joy of Winter, and Capturing the Spirit of Christmas.
Arens and Mathews are fine piano educators and composers with many publications to their separate names; here we find their two musical voices side-by-side, complementing each other in arrangements of traditional Christmas carols and songs which are mostly lesser-known.
Capturing the Spirit of Christmas finds them taking turns to present deliciously pianistic accounts of such pieces as We Three Kings, Deck the Halls, Gabriel’s Message and O come, O come, Emmanuel. There’s 12 pieces in all, six from each arranger.
Capturing the Joy of Winter is an equally gorgeous collection, although here the selections eschew the religious aspects of the season in favour of pieces that celebrate and evoke the natural order and home comforts that accompany the colder months.
If you are looking for music in an accessible contemporary style, and something a little bit different from the usual fare, these books are for you, and are highly recommended!
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