The best Christmas piano music
Here is our pick of the best and easiest Christmas music that you can play on the piano
Getting into the Christmas spirit? We certainly are here at BBC Music Magazine.
And one of the most joyous things you can do during the festive season is to get friends and family around the piano for a good old Christmas singalong.
Here are some of the best Christmas carols and songs that you can accompany on the piano without the need for concert-level piano skills. We've also linked to the lyrics of many of these wonderful festive melodies.
You can find plenty more lyrics to your favourite Christmas carols here.
What are the best and easiest Christmas songs to play on the piano?
1. 'Jingle Bells'
You're probably very familiar with this festive classic: but did you know its origins? The song was created by American composer James Lord Pierpont, as a Thanksgiving song in 1857. It's now a favourite the world ever, cropping up in shopping centres, on doorsteps, at children’s carol concerts and much more.
Here are the lyrics to 'Jingle Bells'. And here's an easy piano tutorial:
2. 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas'
Unlike 'Jingle Bells' above, 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' has steadfastly British origins. Composed in the West Country in the 16th century, it had to wait more than three centuries for its moment in the (winter) sun.
The song was popularised by Arthur Warrell (1883-1939), a composer and conductor who arranged the tune for his group of madrigal singers at Bristol University. It got a first public performance during a concert back in December 1935.
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The good news here is that 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas' is nice and easy to learn on the piano, with its simple verse-chorus structure. You'll find various easy tutorials on YouTube. Meanwhile, elsewhere on our site you'll find the lyrics to 'We Wish You a Merry Christmas'.
3. '(I'm Dreaming of a) White Christmas'
Written by Irving Berlin for the 1942 musical film Holiday Inn, 'White Christmas' is full of nostalgia for the Christmases we all feel we remember from childhood – snowclad, jolly, echoing with the sound of sleigh bells ringing and children singing.
The fact that it also holds the Guinness World Record for the best-selling single of all time is a surefire marker of the song's eternal popularity.
The lyrics are a wonderful feast of warm nostalgia: but the music plays its part too, oscillating as it does between major and minor keys.
4. 'The 12 Days of Christmas'
With its many memory-testing rounds and its charming imagery of French hens, calling birds, geese a-laying and more, 'The 12 Days of Christmas' is a perennial Christmas classic. It may have started out as a children's memory game - and indeed, it takes some concentration to sing your way accurately through the 12 rounds. Easy on the Christmas punch while you sing this one!
'The 12 Days Of Christmas' was first published in England in 1780, although it wasn't paired with the tune we know so well today until 1909. That was when English composer Frederic Austin co-opted a traditional folk tune to serve as the musical accompaniment to those delightful lyrics.
Yes, it does have a lot of verses - but what fun they are! And actually, the melody itself is fairly simple, with just three main chords. Here's a link to an easy piano tutorial on YouTube - you can find harder ones on there too, if you want to take things up a level.
In case you need reminding of the lyrics to 'The 12 Days of Christmas', we have of course got you covered.
5. 'Silent Night'
Some 40 years later, 'Silent Night' was translated into English, courtesy of a Miss Emily Elliott. It then grew rapidly in popularity in both Britain and Austria/Germany. So much so, in fact, that in Christmas 1914, in the first months of World War I, both the German and British armies sang it in the trenches.
We'd recommend Kyle Coughlin’s arrangement of 'Silent Night', with just the three chords of C Major, F Major and G Major.
6. 'O Christmas Tree'
The fir tree has come to be the archetypal Christmas tree - and this ancient German Christmas song has played a key role in this association. The German original is known as 'O Tannenbaum' - a word that means 'fir tree' as well as, for many centuries now, 'Christmas tree'.
The first known version of the lyrics to 'O Christmas Tree' dates right back to 1550. The form in which we know it now, however, originated in 1824. The composer was one Ernst Anschütz, an organist and teacher based in Leipzig, the city where Bach had lived and worked centuries before.
Fun fact: 'O Christmas Tree' is the official State Hymn of the American state of Maryland.
Here are the lyrics to 'O Christmas Tree'.
7. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy
This is a unique entry into our best Christmas piano music survey, as it is not a stand-alone piece of music but is taken from a ballet.
That ballet, of course, is Tchaikovsky’s much-loved Christmas ballet The Nutcracker. This is probably the best-loved of the Russian composer's various ballets (an impressive body of work that also includes Romeo & Juliet and Sleeping Beauty). In the United States in particular, The Nutcracker is an absolute festive fixture, and the 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' is a required element of any winter piano performance.
To properly render the original's unforgettable 'musical box' quality, you should play this one quietly. Slow and graceful, like a ballerina, is also the way to go.
8. 'Away in a Manger'
A perennial children's favourite, this much-loved Christmas carol is very easy to play on the piano. Just eight notes are involved, and they can all played on the right hand.
Here are the lyrics to 'Away in a Manger', to pass around among your young choir!
9. 'Hark! the Herald Angels Sing'
A surefire entry into our list of the 25 best Christmas carols of all time, 'Hark! the Herald Angels Sing' features an uplifting musical setting by none other than Felix Mendelssohn. The lyrics themselves are older: they date from 1739, in fact, when the famous Methodist preacher Charles Wesley wrote a Christmas hymn that began ‘Hark! how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings’. That was the first form of what is now Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.
And what an uplifting piece of music it is too, whether sung to the heavens in a cathedral on Christmas Eve or around a piano with friends and family. Here are the lyrics to 'Hark! the Herald Angels Sing' for you to sing along with.
10. 'Walking in the Air'
And let's end with something truly special.
It was a large part of what made the animated film The Snowman so unforgettable. Yes, the magical 'Walking in the Air', composed by Howard Blake, rarely fails to hold listeners spellbound. You can almost feel the frosty moonlit air around you as you listen.
The film version has a beautiful piano arrangement, with vocals from choir boy Peter Auty. Later, the song was released as a hit single by Aled Jones.
The good news is that 'Walking in the Air' is as easy to play as it is magical.
Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.