December/January 2018

by Kevin Downing

Guitar Cool: Grooving Away This Christmas

by Kevin Downing

Guitar Cool: Grooving Away This Christmas

Many guitar players haven’t got a wide-ranging repertoire in their favourite genre let alone even a few favourite Christmas standards. I suggest you at least learn a few Christmas songs that you can play at parties, work and social events, or even around the Christmas tree on the day.

In a previous Guitar Cool article I wrote Jingle Bells as a chord melody arrangement – so this year I have done Away In A Manger in a totally different style.

I have arranged it in a traditional manner without any syncopation or sophisticated harmony and using 6th intervals which sound great over the chords, and a bit more elaborate than just using single notes.

However, they can be a bit tricky to play if you are not used to them, so if you are just starting out on guitar or finding this arrangement a bit difficult try just playing the top notes only in single note fashion.


One of the benefits of learning this arrangement in 6ths is that you can use this technique in your favourite songs. Yes, this technique is used in all genres of music and if you keep your ears open you will hear it in rock, blues, jazz, country, metal, etc.

If you look at the music you can see that all the top notes are on the first string, while all the lower ones are all on the third string. The best fingering to play this tune is to use your second finger on the third string at all times while the notes on the first string are played with either the first or third fingers. So make sure your second finger stays on the third string at all times.

There are a few ways you can pick these notes:

  1. You can pick the notes using hybrid picking, which is a pick and finger approach.
  2. Or use a strumming approach with the pick while muting the second string with the fretting hand.
  3. Or take a more advanced approach using a thumb strumming style like Wes Montgomery. All these methods give a different sound to the tune, so try them all out if you can.

Another feature of this tune is that it is in triple time or 3 / 4, which is a time signature not that many guitar players are familiar with – but should be. If you are not familiar with 3 / 4 it would pay to count 1, 2, 3, to each bar with an emphasis on beat one when playing this.

Also, it has a pickup bar at the beginning or in theory terms an anacrusis. That means you play the first note on beat 3 and continue playing and counting 1, 2, 3 after that. When you repeat the tune there is only two beats at the end, while the first beat at the beginning makes up the three beat bar.

Take it slowly to begin and be sure to get the fingering correct before moving the tempo up a bit.
I hope you have enjoyed my articles this year and wish you a happy Christmas and New Year.

Kevin Downing is a professional guitarist, teacher and author. His contact details, along with many other articles and freebies, are on his website at