This post has no affiliate links. In other words, I don’t get any compensation as a result of any purchases made using these links. I hope this list helps you to choose wisely among the vast amount of Christmas sheet music available.
There is so much Christmas sheet music out there! How do you choose? In the fakebook I own, there are over 150 pieces, and there’s another fakebook I don’t own that has almost double that! When I started teaching again, after a long corporate career with just my church job on the side, I used to skip teaching Christmas pieces. It was really daunting because I didn’t know where to find exciting and correctly leveled pieces, particularly for beginners.
Fortunately, there are lots of new books out there, like those from Piano Pronto. The leveled Faber books are great, even though I don’t teach that method except when with transfer students. There is an overwhelming number of choices, even at the advanced level. First, some cautions.
Even kids who haven’t learned how to read a grand staff can read notes on a reduced staff, or learn primarily by rote. That’s where teacher inventiveness is especially important. Jingle Bells can be learned by pretty much anyone; you just have to find the right path! It’s not just beginners who benefit from an inventive approach. Rote playing and playing by ear is a legitimate skill that I also teach to older students.
Lead Sheets vs Arrangements
I love teaching older students the skill of reading from a lead sheet. It’s where you get the melody, chord, and lyrics, and have to put the song together yourself. (Lead sheets are compiled together in collections and are often called fake or real books.) You can craft the left hand as simple or complex as you desire. You don’t need to struggle with an arranger’s idea of how to play the piece.
For some, this approach is quite liberating. It’s what professionals often do. For others, it’s a lot of work! Not everyone is going to have the patience or inclination to learn via lead sheets. If you’re going to go with a book of arrangements, it’s important to choose a correctly leveled book, and not just whatever handed-down book is found inside the piano bench.
Leveled repertoire means what it implies – the pieces in a specific book are at a narrowly-defined level. These levels correspond to method books and are often published as supplemental volumes by those same publishers. In my recommendations, I’m going to group books into larger segments. You’ll then want to go to that publisher’s Website to see examples of the actual pieces before purchasing. I am glad to provide my students with the level that would work best, plus some examples from ths compiled list.
I have to give credit to my mentor, Nicola Cantan, who provided many of the beginner and intermediate choices you’ll see below. She recorded this YouTube video that takes you inside a number of those choices. I hope it’s as helpful to you as it was to me.
If Unsure, Go Simple, Not Difficult
If you want to learn a difficult Christmas piece, start during Christmas in July. Don’t start a piece that’s a stretch for you in mid-November and expect it to be ready for a recital in mid-December. It might work, but it also may not. I make this recommendation based on experience, which includes frustration and tears.
We typically don’t think about learning Christmas music until it’s too late. That’s okay. Just learn one at your current level or one that is a level easier. You may even learn two or three pieces (or more) that way! The goal is to share with family and friends; keep that top of mind!
Researching/Purchasing Sheet Music
Where links are provided, they are to the publisher’s sites. I recommend starting there for two reasons: 1) It’s your best chance to look inside the book. 2) You will find out the suggested retail price. Some publishers like Piano Safari and Piano Pronto only sell materials through their own sites, so you won’t go any farther. However, for those books that are sold through music retailers, you’ll need to make an additional search. Please read ahead!
Armed with the suggested retail price, proceed cautiously if you want to buy your books on Amazon.com. It’s typically true that a book that ships from and is sold by Amazon.com to be at the retail price or better. Always beware when you see a 3rd party vendor! However, I found several of my new advanced book suggestions selling well above retail. Every one of them was selling at retail or at a discount on Sheet Music Plus, a reputed online music retailer.
I do group orders throughout the year at a brick-and-mortar shop that can ship, like my favorite, Cliff Hill Music. However, traditional retailers like Cliff who order wholesale, assemble the order, and finally ship to the customer are not the best bet when you need a book within a few days.
- Joy of Christmas – Piano Safari – Great for Piano Safari students. It provides the rich teacher duets that are typical in Piano Safari method books.
- Holiday Classics – Piano Pronto – Two volumes with 3 levels of each piece in each book.
- Christmas Together – Piano Pronto – Duet books intended for students at same level, called evenly leveled. Most duet books have a much more difficult teacher part.
- PlayTime or ShowTime Christmas – Faber – Available in numeric levels (like 1, 2A, 2B).
All of the books here should only be attempted by those at the early intermediate level. If you are still a late beginner, or even on the beginner/intermediate bubble, heed my warning earlier in this post. I’d recommend one of the Faber 2A or 2B books listed above instead.
- Christmas Classics – Piano Pronto – Two classically-based volumes that Nicola Cantan calls her Christmas favorites for this level. Students should not pursue these pieces until they are firmly at the early intermediate level. Wait a year on these if you are at the late beginner level.
- Rockin’ Christmas – Piano Pronto – Pop/Rock styles, great for teen students.
- Jazzy Jingles – Piano Pronto – Jazz styles, great for teen students.
- The Nutcracker – Piano Pronto – For students who like the Nutcracker.
- John Rutter Christmas Album – The difficulty is at the upper end of intermediate. I found this volume disappointing because it lacks imagination. It’s just a combination of the choral and accompanying parts on each of Rutter’s famous choral scores.
- FunTime, BigTime or AdvancedTime Christmas – Faber – Available in numeric levels (like 3, 4, 5).
- Solos for Christmas – Dan Coates – 50 Advanced Arrangements. My go-to book when planning a gig or recital.
- It’s Christmas – Dan Coates – I generally prefer the book of 50 to this much thinner and just slightly less expensive book. However, a few of the arrangements here are superior to the bigger volume. However, I’d only buy this instead if you’re only going to learn one or two pieces.
- Well-Tempered Christmas – Mark Hayes – Mark Hayes is one of the leading arrangers in church music today, and hails from Kansas City to boot.
- Christmas by Candlelight – Mary McDonald – This is a worthy choice to consider, although I don’t own this. I have played her Easter Suite called Sacrifice and Splendor.
- Christmas Tapestry – Joseph M. Martin – This book is one of the more difficult books in this set, but the pieces are very rewarding.
- Weihnachtsbaum (Christmas Tree) – Franz Lizst – Liszt wrote these 12 pieces of late intermediate to advanced difficulty late in life. Some are dazzling, some are duds, and some are in between. I’d start with the free download, though I did eventually buy the urtext Editio Musica Budapest.
- A Charlie Brown Christmas: Artist Transcriptions for Piano – Vince Guaraldi – If you like the jazz stylings found in the Peanuts movies, and have the chops to play them, this is a must-buy! These classic jazz arrangements are superb, and are amenable to further embellishment.
My suggestions are presented in hopes that you will play Christmas music versus just hearing it. Sharing these pieces with friends and family is a great celebration of why you decided to learn an instrument in the first place. Since Christmas music is relatively inexpensive, there’s no reason to struggle. If you find pieces that are too simple, you can add octaves and broken chords to increase the difficulty. It’s trickier to simplify a score. Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!