It’ll come as no surprise to you that I have two shelves of Christmas carol books and another whole shelf dedicated to Christmas books for piano. Then there’s all the single sheets, choral music and choral sets. It’s a lot of music which comes out for just a tiny fraction of the year.
In this blog post I wanted to share my top 10 Christmas books for piano. Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced pianist, a teacher or a learner, there’s something here for everyone.
1. Piano Time Carols
Suitable for: Grade 1 and below
There are a plethora of carol books for beginners, but I particularly like this one which accompanies the popular Piano Time series of books. It contains 19 easy arrangements using mainly each hand individually. LH parts, with one exception don’t move hand position. They are pleasing arrangements, and when combined with the duet accompaniments, sound effective. The arrangements in this book will, in the main, suit pianists who haven’t yet reached Grade 1 level.
Piano Time Carols (arr. Hall) is published by Oxford University Press, ISBN 0193727374.
2. Carol Jazz
Suitable for: Grades 4-6
This was one of the first books I had which presented carols in alternative, ‘jazzy’ arrangements. Christopher Norton has arranged five familiar carols including Silent Night, Away in a Manger and We Three Kings to represent a range of styles including ragtime, jazz, rock and blues. They are challenging arrangements, particularly in terms of the rhythm, and would suit pianists of around Grades 4-6 level.
Carol Jazz (arr. Norton) is published by Universal Edition, ISMN M00804023.
3. A Feast of Easy Carols
Suitable for: Grades 1-2
I have a bit of a soft spot for these books as I had them about 30 years ago when I first had piano lessons. They are, if you like, a step up from the beginner books which are mainly melody line with teacher accompaniment. In the two volumes, Carol Barratt has produced over 50 arrangements of Christmas carols including all the familiar favourites, some of which also have their alternative tunes. The arrangements in both books, all of which are hands together, would suit pianists of around Grades 1-2 level.
4. Christmas Cool Piano Duets
Suitable for: beginners
I couldn’t let my recommendations pass without including these excellent and fun arrangements by Heather Hammond. Heather has taken a mixture of 12 secular and sacred Christmas pieces and arranged them in a range of different styles. Of particular note is We wish you a merry Christmas as a jazz waltz, While shepherds watched in a swing rhythm and Jingle bells with a walking bass. The primo parts are suitable for beginners, including those who’ve only had a few lessons.
Christmas Cool Piano Duets (arr. Hammond) is published by Kevin Mayhew, ISBN 9781848674873.
5. Sleigh Ride
Suitable for: Grade 7+
I couldn’t not include this fabulous arrangement of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. Arranger, John Eidsvoog effectively transposes the music into the irregular 7/8 and 5/8 time signatures. This is Sleigh Ride as you’ve never heard it before!
Sleigh Ride (Anderson, arr. Eidsvoog) is published by Alfred Music, ISBN 9780739099643.
6. Christmas Carol Time
Suitable for: beginners
As I said previously, there are so many books for beginners and like Piano Time Carols mentioned above, this book contains 12 easy carol arrangements. The arrangements here are easier and the stave size is large. They would be ideal for a beginner, even one who hasn’t been playing that long. There are optional duet parts which would suit a player of around Grade 1 level.
Christmas Carol Time (arr. Waterman) is published by Faber Music, ISBN 0571509568.
7. Silent Night
Suitable for: Grades 5-7
This was my favourite book of Christmas 2019 and I’m looking forward to enjoying them once more. Nigel Hess has crafted 14 beautiful and sensitive arrangements of carols for solo piano. If you’re after something different, but not necessarily jazz, I’m sure you would enjoy these. What I enjoy about these is that they make very effective use of the piano, notably the pedals. O come, O come, Emmanuel and Infant Holy, Infant Lowly are particular favourites.
Silent Night (arr. Hess) is published by Faber Music, ISBN 0571535690.
8. Christmas Tunes for Three
Suitable for: Grade 1 and below
There are numerous carol duet books, but how about some trios? Laura Shur has arranged six popular carols for six hands, one piano where every player gets a chance to shine. Carols include Away in a manger, We three kings and We wish you a merry Christmas.
Christmas Tunes for Three (arr. Shur) is published by Novello, Catalogue no. 100282.
9. Jazz on a Winter’s Night
Suitable for: Grades 4-8
Anyone familiar with Nikki Iles’ Jazz in… series will be delighted with both volumes of Jazz on a Winter’s Night. Iles arrangements a mixture of both sacred and secular pieces in her own unique style, drawing inspiration from some of the great jazz musicians of the past. In book 1, Have yourself a merry little Christmas and Santa Claus is coming’ to town are particularly effective; however, book 2 is my pick with several standout arrangements including Adam lay bounden, Past three o’clock and We three kings of Orient are.
10. The John Rutter Christmas Piano Album
Suitable for: Grades 5-6
Brand new for 2020, John Rutter has transcribed eight of his best-loved Christmas carols for piano solo. That said, you may find your favourites are conspicuous by their absence, notably the Star Carol and Shepherd’s Pipe Carol. Of particularly note are the Angel’s Carol and What sweeter music which transfer very well to the piano in these solo arrangements. Less well-known transcriptions include A Child’s Lullaby, The Colours of Christmas and The Very Best Time of Year. I for one will enjoy playing these over the festive season.
The John Rutter Christmas Piano Album is published by Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780193547483.
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