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!
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 offer a series of carefully paced and progressive books.
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 Bumper Christmas Book
Lastly, a collection that offers a stunning selection of 45 Top Hits, with elementary arrangements of an enticing mix of traditional and contemporary seasonal chart fare.
With a contents page that lists ever-popular hits by Wizzard, Mariah Carey, John & Yoko, Elton John, Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney and many more alongside an impressive selection of your favourite traditional carols, here’s a collection that covers the basics admirably.
The arrangements are spot on for Elementary players, with mostly 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, frustratingly, not all of the verses) are included between the staves.
A particularly nice bonus here is that each tune is prefaced with a short comment on its background or chart history, as well as handy Hints and Tips to help the player. But it doesn’t stop there…
Also included with the physical print publication, the purchase price includes two significant digital additions: an ebook version of the main publication, and the SoundWise interactive assessment software.
Both can be run from within an internet browser or using an iPad app, and the assessment software allows you to record yourself in time with a metronome and scrolling score, analysing the audio and providing feedback about any inaccuracies. I had fun putting this interactive practice aid through its paces with my best Les Dawson impersonation, and can report that it is very accurate in its feedback: how useful!
To summarise, this popular, sturdy 88-page best-seller from Wise Publications will undoubtedly make a lot of players very happy again this year!