Jingle Bells, Lead Sheet Activity

In the final week before Christmas, we were playing around with lead sheets and accompaniment styles. Jingle Bells is a great one to use because the kids all know it, and the right hand never goes out of a standard 5-finger pattern. Songs like that are rare.

When I planned this, I was worried it would be hard and frustrating for some of my kids, so I had planned a lot of Christmas jokes to use as interludes to break the tension. I needn’t have worried. They all enjoyed it, and I didn’t end up using any of the jokes at all.

What You Need:

Setup:

  • For older kids, no setup required.
  • For younger kids, you could lay the cards out on the floor and use dice and a Christmas ornament to select a card.

How to Play:

  • The student starts by sight reading just the right hand of the melody.
    • Beginners could do just the first line, or they could learn it by rote instead of reading.
  • Introduce or review the concept of a lead sheet.
  • Reinforce the concept by playing Jingle Bells with the Root Note Accompaniment. That card has a carrot on my cards.
    • Depending on the student, they could either play both hands or just the left hand.
  • Once they’ve got the idea, start drawing cards (or rolling dice) and play Jingle Bells as many times and in as many ways as you have time for.
    • The notes on the bottom of each card are there as a reminder only. The student should play by understanding the pattern, not by reading.
    • The accompaniment styles vary widely in difficulty. For each card, make a quick evaluation about whether this student should play right hand, left hand, or both. As the teacher, you play whichever hand the student is not using. Many of the styles can be made easier by using both hands to play it.
  • At the end, spread out all the cards the student has used and ask their opinion on which style of Jingle Bells they liked best. They liked being able to give their own musical review.

 

Jingle Bells, Accompaniment Style

Christmas Gift (How to Drill Anything)

‘Tis the season. I used this for sight reading, but it could be used for pretty much anything.

What you need:

  • Cards for whatever you want to drill
  • A game piece (I used Christmas ornaments)
  • Dice
  • A box or basket filled with a Christmas gift
    • I used leftover Halloween candy because I’m desperate to get rid of it.
    • I typically don’t like giving out food. You could also use party favors, erasers, printable Christmas jokes, whatever.

Setup:

  • Put your flashcards face down in a circle around the box.

How to Play:

  • Place the game piece on any random flashcard. The student rolls the dice and moves the piece that many flashcards ahead.
  • Remove the flashcard the student lands on. They should play (or answer) that flashcard.
  • Roll again and repeat. Since you are steadily removing flashcards, the circle will get smaller and smaller.
  • The game ends when all the flashcards have been removed. The student can choose one gift out of the box as a reward.

 

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Holy Child

The melody of this folk hymn comes from Southern Harmony, the 1835 shape note hymnal. The words and the SAB arrangement are my own.

Click here to download the music.

 

Gentle Jesus, Holy Child,

Born this night, in the dark and wild,

Come to save poor sinners here,

With thy saving grace, draw near.

 

Angels sang to shepherds there,

Easing nights of pain and care.

Let us all haste to thy side.

In thy presence let us bide.

 

Bearing gifts, came wise men three.

Gold and myrrh, they offered thee.

We, too, strive to do our part:

Willing hands and contrite heart.

 

Gentle Jesus, Holy Child,

Born this night to the dark and wild,

Come to save poor sinners here,

With thy saving grace, draw near.

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Silent Night

“Silent Night” was meant to be simple. Franz Gruber took a text by Joseph Mohr and set it for voice and guitar, and it was first performed on Christmas Eve, 1818 in the village of Oberndorf, near Salzburg, in Austria.

To my thinking, a large part of the beauty of this carol comes precisely because it is so simple. I have tried to reflect that in my setting for violin and piano, which I have uploaded here.

When we lived in Europe we never made it to Oberndorf, but the original St. Nikola parish church is no longer standing anyway. Salzburg itself was one of our favorite places. The Salzburg cathedral below is probably a bit more grandiose than the church where “Silent Night” premiered, but it has an illustrious musical history of its own. Mozart was baptized here, and he served as organist from 1779 to 1781.
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*** This post originally appeared on my other site here..

The First Noel

​”The First Noel” is a traditional English carol. It has an unusual structure which made arranging it a little difficult. It essentially only has one music phrase. That phrase is repeated twice in the verse, and then it is repeated again in a slightly different form for the chorus. All of this is just fine in a vocal setting where you have different lyrics to distinguish these phrases. It works well enough, that I had never even noticed how repetitive the melody is until I tried to set it for solo piano. Without words, it quickly verges on . . . boring.

My own arrangement has three verses: one with a simple arpeggiated bass, one with altered rhythm and meter, and one that is partially set in a canon. If you try to sing along the words you will find that my technique for avoiding boring was actually to mutilate the traditional structure. I don’t repeat the phrase before the chorus. Each verse is quite a bit shorter than it would have to be if it were sung.

Below is a typical English scene, except for the fact that it’s technically in Scotland. This was the park around the block from where we used to live, with a view of the parish church just across the hedge. I have no doubt that “The First Noel” has been sung there many, many times.​

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***This post originally appeared on my old site here.