Our 10 Favourite Christmas Songs for the Violin

Over the last several weeks we have been exploring our favourite holiday music for different instruments. We started with the most common instrument of all, the human voice, with our 10 Favourite Holiday Song to Sing Along To. We followed that up with our favourite song for the piano, and last week we explored Christmas songs for the guitar. This week we’ll be bringing this exploration of the holiday music to a close, with out favourite holiday songs for the violin!

The holiday season gives plenty of opportunities to practice, perform, learn new talents, and even show off! Indeed, there’s nothing quite like joining with other musicians this time of year to play traditional songs that we all recognize and love.

That being said, it’s not always easy for beginning violin students to know which holiday songs they should focus on during practice. It’s not uncommon for new students to ask about the best songs for beginner violinists. Luckily, many of the most popular and recognizable Christmas classics are remarkably basic.

Now, on to the list of our favourite Christmas songs for the violin! Each of these songs were chosen for their popularity, as well as the fact that they are excellent for new students because they use fundamental techniques, execution, and scales.

Jingle Bells

Let’s start with one of the best-known and most commonly sung American songs ever produced! Written and published by James Lord Pierpont in 1857 under the name “One Horse Open Sleigh,” this traditional holiday song was written in common time and G Minor, making it perfect for beginners.

Interestingly, this song was actually written during the autumn, and was meant to be for American Thanksgiving! It didn’t become a part of the Christmas tradition until the 1860s or ’70s.

Joy to the World

“Joy to the World” fell into Christmas tradition way back in 1719, when Isaac Watts first wrote the hymn’s lyrics, based on Psalm 98, 96:11-12 and Genesis 3:17-18. However, while we know who wrote the lyrics, the composer of the actual music is still a bit of a mystery. For a while it was thought that Handel composed the melody, but the most common version of the carol heard today is the fourth revision of the tune by Lowell Mason.

Away in a Manger

Perfect for beginner violists, this classic carol is simply beautiful when played with a slow tempo. Originally thought to be the work of the German religious reformer Martin Luther, this traditional carol is now thought to be wholly American, though who wrote the original lyrics is still up for debate.

Silent Night

With lyrics written by Joseph Mohr and music composed by Franz Gruber, Silent Night has remained a holiday tradition since the first Christmas is was performed, way back in 1818. The song’s popularity has only grown in the following 200 years, and it was declared an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011.

Over the centuries, thanks in part to the original manuscript going missing, poor Mohr’s name was forgotten for a time, and while the composition was credited to Gruber, many people thought the melody was composed by someone famous, like Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven. Thankfully, the manuscript was recovered in 1995, giving Mohr his due credit.

Deck the Halls

A traditional Christmas, yuletide, and New Years Carol, the melody of “Deck the Halls” comes from a Welsh holiday song dating all the way back to the 16th century, though the English lyrics were written in 1862, by Scottish musician Thomas Oliphant.

Despite the melody’s extreme age, it remains a holiday standard to this day. The basic melody is upbeat in common time, but it’s easily mastered with a little practice.

We Three Kings

Written by John Henry Hopkins Jr. in 1857, many versions of “We Three Kings” have been composed and performed over the years, and it remains an enduring Christmas classic. Hopkins was serving as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania at the time, and he originally wrote the carol for a massive Christmas pageant in New York City. The G Major composition in ¾ time should be fairly easy for beginners to learn, and its recognizable and familiar melody is a staple at any Christmas gathering.

Jingle Bell Rock

Written by American advertisers Joseph Beal and James Boothe, and first recorded by Bobby Helms in 1957, “Jingle Bell Rock” has become one of the most requested holiday classics every year. It’s got a fun melody and a rocking beat that’s a great addition to any holiday party.

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Though no one is really sure who originally wrote it, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” likely came to us from England, and harkens back to a more traditional time of carolers and revelry. The song’s earliest history is lost to time, as it’s not found in any of the earlier collections dating from 1822 and ’23, as well as anthologies created in 1861 and ’64. Today, it’s considered a traditional classic, but we have no sources or dates to connect it. The song’s G Major score should be simple for beginners.

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

With lyrics written by Charles Wesley in 1739, the music originally composed for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was slow and solemn, not the joyful song we’re most familiar with today. The popular version we know today is the product of changes and alteration by dozens of hands, most notably by Welsey’s co-worker George Whitefield who changed the opening couplet to the one we’re familiar with, and by Felix Mendelssohn, whose melody was used for the lyrics.

This song is a holiday classic in G Major and sounds simply lovely as a violin solo.

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

This holiday classic started out as a five-stanza poem written by Edmund Sears in 1849. Interestingly, there are two distinct melodies for the lyrics; in English (or Commonwealth) countries, the melody is based on “Noel,” adapted by Arthur Sullivan, while in the United States (and Canada), the “Carol” melody, composed by Richard Storrs Willis, is used.

This song does take some effort to learn, but if you give yourself plenty of time you’ll be playing this masterpiece for family and friends at your next holiday gathering!