10 Easy Christmas Songs To Play On The Saxophone

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

There’s nothing better to get you in the Christmas spirit than a good old Christmas song. They are great for building excitement, getting everybody feeling Christmassy, and of course, getting friends and family singing along!

Whether you are looking to play Christmas songs on the saxophone for your own enjoyment or to perform for others, they are fun to play and can help you learn and improve your sax skills at the same time.

In this article, we are going to look at ten easy Christmas songs to play on the saxophone. We will also explain what you can learn by playing them. Read on!

1. “Jingle Bells”

The first song on the list is undoubtedly a famous Christmas song. “Jingle Bells” is certainly one that you will be asked to play. It was written by James Lord Pierpont and published in 1857.

According to legend, it was written as a drinking song and had no Christmas link initially. However, it was associated with the winter and gradually became known as a Christmas song.

“Jingle Bells” has a simple ABAB structure consisting of a verse and chorus. The verse “Dashing through the snow…” uses a repeated rhythmic pattern and a sequential melodic line revolving around the major scale.

The chorus includes many repetitive notes, helping to practice tonguing, as well as leaps across the register break. All the notes are kept within one octave.

2. “Silent Night”

The famous Christmas carol “Silent Night” was first written in German (“Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht”) by Franz Xaver Gruber (with the lyrics written by Joseph Mohr) in 1818.

Its lilting expressiveness lends itself perfectly to being played on the saxophone. “Silent Night” has been used throughout the years to signify Christmas in films and TV, as well as being “quoted” in other pieces of music.

The carol is in a 3/4 time signature and uses a combination of straight and dotted rhythms. It has a simple questioning-and-answering structure. The melody mainly moves in steps or thirds, and the fact that it is a slower and lyrical song enables the player to practice their tone and breath control.

3. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”

Another Christmas favorite that you definitely need to have under your fingers is “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” It is a song that you will always be asked to play around the holiday season.

The song has roots in England, but its actual history is not clear. It is thought to have come from the greeting “We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year,” which became popular near the beginning of the 18th century, along with the emergence of “figgy pudding” as a popular Christmas dish.

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is another piece set in 3/4, giving the song its happy, lilting melody. It uses mainly a quarter note and eighth note rhythm, using rhythmic repetition whilst having melodic patterns at different pitches.

The song is set in an AAB structure, and its melody moves mainly in steps, helping to practice major scales.

4. “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen”

Also known as “Tidings of Comfort and Joy,” “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” is a traditional English carol and folk song.

It is believed that the earliest versions of the song originated from the 1650s (or perhaps earlier) and that the term “God rest you merry gentlemen” translates in modern-day language to “May God grant you peace and happiness.”

“God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” is one of the simplest Christmas carols to play on the saxophone, especially rhythmically. It mainly consists of quarter notes throughout (reminiscent of much music from this time) and is set in the common 4/4 key signature.

The carol’s melody is in E minor, which, although sounds complicated, actually has the same key signature as G major (just an F♯). It is a great introduction to playing in minor keys, and the melody is simple and does not involve great leaps.

5. “Little Drummer Boy”

The song “Little Drummer Boy” was originally known as “Carol of the Drum” and was written in 1941 by Katherine Kennicott Davis. It tells the tale of a drummer boy who was summoned by the Three Wise Men to meet the baby Jesus, but he had no gift for him and so played his drum for him instead.

Versions of the song have been recorded by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, Boney M, Ringo Starr, Justin Bieber, and a duet between Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

“Little Drummer Boy” is set in 4/4 time, with a simple melody on mainly quarter notes and eighth notes. It can be used as a good method to practice tonguing on each note and is a great option for beginners.

6. “Good King Wenceslas”

The lyrics to “Good King Wenceslas” were translated in Victorian times by John Mason Neale from a poem by the Czech poet Václav Alois Svoboda. It tells the story of St Wenceslas, the Duke of Bohemia.

The lyrics in English were then set to the melody of a European spring carol, “Tempus adest floridum” (Eastertime Is Come) from the 13th century. “Good King Wenceslas” has since been recorded by the likes of Bing Crosby, the Beatles, Rob Halford (singer from Judas Priest), and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The carol uses a simple quarter note and half note rhythm moving on the beat of a 4/4 time signature. It is a great piece to introduce the use of tonguing every note. This version is in D major, introducing F♯ and C♯ in an easy way.

7. “Feliz Navidad”

The title of the song “Feliz Navidad” translates to “Happy Christmas” and has a simple message of wishing people a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

The song begins in Spanish and then is sung in English. It was first recorded by Puerta Rican José Feliciano in 1970 and has since received a bit of a revival, charting at Christmas as recently as 2020. This is a song that everyone knows and sends out a beautiful message during the festive season.

The most complicated aspect of “Feliz Navidad” is its rhythm. It has a Latin influence, and the melody continually starts on the upbeat, although it is in 4/4.

“Feliz Navidad” is a great song to practice different rhythmic techniques that, although relatively repetitive, include upbeats, syncopation, dotted notes, and tied notes, as well as articulation, such as tonguing.

The melody, in this instance, is in C major, with no accidentals, and uses many melodic phrases repeated at different pitches.

8. “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane wrote “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in 1943. It was, however, made famous by versions recorded by Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra.

The song ranked, in 2007, as the third most performed Christmas song and has a cozy, homely Christmassy feel reminiscent of log fires and an abundance of food.

The rhythm is simple, mainly consisting of quarter notes and eighth notes within a 4/4 time signature. Despite its simple melody, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” has a distinctly jazzy feel, mainly due to the fact that the harmony can be embellished.

The melody mainly works around a mixture of the major key arpeggio and the major scale but does incorporate an accidental. The song is normally performed at a slow tempo, allowing for rubato and expression, as well as tone quality.

9. “White Christmas”

The iconic Christmas song “White Christmas” is ideal for creating that cozy, festive feel. It was written by Irving Berling for the film Holiday Inn in 1942.

Although the song has been performed by hundreds of artists, the version by Bing Crosby is the world’s best-selling physical single and is one of the world’s best-loved secular festive period songs.

“White Christmas” has a very simple rhythm—it is all about emotion, expression, and rubato. Most of the rhythm consists of quarter notes and half notes.

The song’s melody uses a good amount of chromaticism, which is excellent for practicing half steps and accidentals. Having said that, much of it moves in step, although there are some larger leaps—a great workout for the fingers!

10. “The Holly And The Ivy”

Another British folk song, “The Holly and the Ivy,” has unknown origins and can only officially be traced back to the 19th century.

However, there have been registered links between holly and Christmas dating as far back as medieval times, so one version or another may have been written as early as those years. The version that is most known today was collected in 1909 by Cecil Sharp from a lady called Mary Clayton.

“The Holly and the Ivy” is set in a solid 3/4 time signature but employs the use of a variety of rhythmic techniques, including quarter notes and eighth notes, upbeats, and repetitive phrases.

The melody, in this version in G major, uses leaps of different intervals (often over the register break) as well as moves in step and thirds. Some aspects of the melody are also repeated throughout.

Summing Up Our List Of Easy Christmas Songs For The Saxophone

Christmas songs are fun to play. They help get people in the mood for the holiday season and will get everyone singing along.

The songs we’ve listed all have simple melodies, so they’re quick and easy to learn, even for beginners. They’re also packed full of useful techniques to help you improve your sax playing.

Don’t wait until Christmastime to learn, though! Practice these songs so you’ll be ready when the season is in full swing.

Photo of author
Written by Laura Macmillan
Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.