This year, you can entertain your family and friends during the holiday season with this fingerstyle version of the Christmas classic “Silent Night.”
“Silent Night” was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria. Featuring lyrics by Joseph Mohr and music by Franz Xaver Gruber, the song has undoubtedly changed in the intervening years. The melody sung by the congregation that night is most likely not the same as that which we’ve all come to know and love. Unfortunately, the original 1818 manuscript has never been found, but there are several existing Gruber-penned arrangements, including his 1855 arrangement for organ, from which this arrangement borrows.
Here, “Silent Night” is arranged in the key of C major and utilizes primarily barre-chord forms. This can be quite taking on your fretting hand, so be careful not to press too hard on the strings, which can result in fatigue and cramping. If you’re not used to playing barrre chords for sustained periods of time, work slowly to build hand strength and stamina.
Throughout this arrangement, you’ll want to make some slight adjustments to the standard barre-chord fingerings. For the first C chord, alter your fingering so that you play the C note on the 4th string/10th fret with your ring finger rather than with your pinkie. This will leave your pinkie free to play the A note at the 10th fret of the 2nd string, and the 5th string is covered by the index-finger barre (F note, 8th fret), which is played on beat 3 of the measure. This fingering also comes in handy in measure 7, where you’ll need your pinkie to play the B note at the 12th fret.
The next noteworthy alteration is for the G7 chord in measures 5 and 17. Here, barre the 10th fret with your index finger, and use your middle and ring fingers to play the 4th and 2nd strings, respectively. This frees your pinkie to play the high C# note at the 14th fret in measure 5 and the C note at the 13th fret in measure 18, which, although true to the original, differs a bit from the melody we’ve come to know.
If measures 11 and 15 hang you up (the G in the melody can be tough with a double-barre fingering), try using your middle and ring fingers to play the 3rd and 2nd strings, respectively. Or you can substitute the opening measures for these—the melody is the same.