The Pianodao shortlist of the best Christmas Music books begins with music collections aimed at beginner to elementary players (around UK Grade 2).
We’ll start with a book that has clear pedagogic intent, moving towards the simple carol collections and Christmas song books suitable at this level…
Get Set! Piano: Christmas Crackers
Reviewed on Pianodao back in 2018, Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers offers a collection of well-loved Christmas pieces arranged in progressive order for younger players in their first 2-3 years of learning.
Most method book series include a seasonal collection, but Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers can really be used alongside any other method, with material structured progressively around clear pedagogic aims, meaning that pupil progress doesn’t just stop for two months to make way for Christmas music.
The book is chock-full of great ideas, creative approaches, and fun suggestions – all given an engaging and often amusing festive twist. And the carol arrangements all benefit from an astute awareness of what really works on the piano at this level.
In a crowded market, Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers really does offer something different, interesting and hugely valuable. Not only so, but the book is very keenly priced, and will for many children be the only Christmas book they ever need!
Christmas Cool Piano Duets
Educational composer Heather Hammond’s various series of Cool Piano, Even Cooler Piano and Cool Piano Sport books published by Kevin Mayhew have long proved a useful source of fun-inspired music for elementary to advanced players. Christmas Cool Piano Duets sits at the easiest end of the spectrum offered by these great books. and is suitable for players in the earliest stages of learning.
The book includes twelve pieces (one for each of the ‘Days of Christmas’?) ranging from the traditional (God rest ye merry, gentlemen, Good King Wenceslas, etc) to the more contemporary (Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer), each with a primo part organised around a five note position for the student. The secondo parts, designed to be played by the teacher, are a model of delicious arranging, as one would expect from so accomplished a musician.
The book would make a lovely ‘first’ Christmas music book for a beginner, but is also highly recommended as a teacher resource that can be pulled out in lessons to use with elementary players as sight-reading practice.
Although linked to the Pianoworks method books “for older beginners”, this collection has no links to that series other than the name and presentation. As a free-standing collection of Christmas Carols and Songs I have found it has been hugely popular with players of all ages.
There are two particular strengths that contribute to my enthusiasm and make this my top recommendation for a traditional Christmas collection.
Firstly, the range and choice of material here is second to none, with a selection of 18 of the choicest traditional carols in arrangements suitable for early elementary players followed by 6 more contemporary pieces (including an absolutely-spot-on easy arrangement of Walking in the Air).
Secondly, while some arrangements of carols found elsewhere are adapted from church choir versions, with awkward four-part harmonies, here we have truly idiomatic piano writing, but which is no less faithful to the spirit of each carol, maintaining familiar harmonic colours rather than diminishing them in any way.
The Bullards are the best! And if you are looking for a no-nonsense collection of great Christmas arrangements, Pianoworks Christmas is a runaway winner
Christmas Treats & Treasures
If you are looking for a more extensive and progressive set of truly brilliant Christmas song arrangements, you need look no further than Catherine Rollin’s superb Christmas Treats & Treasures, which offers three carefully paced and progressive books (with two more in the pipeline).
The first three books in the series are ideal at this level, and offer respectively:
- 11 Piano Arrangements of Holiday Favourites with Optional Duet Accompaniments (Early Elementary to Elementary)
- 11 PIano Arrangements of Holiday Favourites (Elementary to Late Elementary)
- 9 Piano Arrangements of Holiday Favourites (Late Lementary to Early Intermediate
The carefully and expertly tailored arrangements mean that each book will suit the player for one year (giving plenty of material). A small number of pieces reappear at subsequent levels in more difficult arrangements, but most of the pieces are different in each book, making this a great set for developing a seasonal repertoire in successive years.
UK readers will want to note that (in common with several US publications I’ve seen) the earliest books in effect use an alla breve pulse to avoid quavers, and some of the melodies are those better known to the US market rather than those popular in the UK.
But what makes these books special in my view are Rollin’s characterful and imaginative arrangements that appear throughout; excellent indeed!
Really Easy Piano: Christmas
Next, a collection that focuses entirely on elementary arrangements of seasonal chart hits. The popular best-seller Really Easy Piano: Christmas, 24 Festive Hits from Wise Publications will undoubtedly make a lot of players very happy again this year!
From Mariah Carey’s All I want for Christmas is You to Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime, here’s a selection that covers the basics admirably, each arrangement spot on for Elementary players.
In general, each song here in organised with single notes in each hand, occasionally amplified by additional harmony notes in the RH. Simple chord symbols appear above the score, and some song lyrics (but not all verses) appear tucked between the RH and LH staves.
A particularly nice bonus here is that each tune is prefaced with a short comment on its chart history and some handy Hints and Tips to help the player. Nice!
Faber Easy Piano Series: Christmas
Finally a newcomer in Faber Music’s growing Easy Piano Series. This collection includes a mixture of slightly more difficult arrangements, including both traditional songs and contemporary hits.
Ace arrangers Oliver Weeks and Pam Wedgwood have concocted a delicious recipe stirring together a beautifully balanced mix of music from different genres, with something to please players of all ages.
Although advertised as “elementary”, the level of these arrangements pushes towards early intermediate in my view, but these pieces are well worth the challenge.
Once again, chord symbols are included, as are the words (here 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. Without doubt, this collection is going to be a big hit with my students!
And now that we’ve completed this short survey of great Elemenray piano collections, are you ready for something more challenging?
If so, let’s move on to look at some Christmas Piano Music for INTERMEDIATE players…
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