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Bluegrass Banjo Classics, Holiday Edition: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

Posted by Josh Turknett on Monday, December 4, 2017

Fingerstyle Banjo Core Repertoire Series - "Bluegrass Banjo Classics," Holiday Edition

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

by Josh Turknett,

Get the free "12 Days of Banjo" Holiday Tabs

In the spirit of the season here's a free gift from Brainjo, the "12 Days of Banjo" book of holiday tabs. 13 songs in all, with 2 arrangements for each song, so that you can choose the arrangements that's right for your level. Click on the button below to grab your copy. 



"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" has always been one of my favorite songs of the season. 

With its darker, eerier minor sounding mood, it always offers a nice contrast to the brighter and cheerier stuff that dominates the airwaves this time of year (not that there's anything wrong with bright and cheerier).
And speaking of minor and eerie, this song also offers us an opportunity to bring out some new sounds from the banjo. And a new tuning.
Though all we're doing here is tuning the 2nd string one tiny half step, I think you'll find after plucking your first note that the banjo takes on an entirely new character. 
And I think you'll also find that you needn't do anything too fancy to make this classic sound fantastic. 


RELATED: Still fairly new to banjo? Click here to learn more about Breakthrough Banjo, a step-by-step course for banjo designed for the adult learner.

STEP 1: Know Thy Melody

One of the great things about the songs of the season is that these are melodies with which you're likely very familiar. 

This makes them easier to learn, and it makes them great material for learning earlier in your banjo playing journey.

But before we go any further, let's make sure we have that melody firmly in mind. Here's what the melody by itself sounds like on the banjo.


"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" - melody only.mp3

STEP 2: Find the Melody Notes

As I mentioned above, we'll be using an "alternate" tuning - specifically, G minor tuning - to play this one: gDGBbD

To get there from gDGBD, all you need do is tune your 2nd string down one step from a B to a B flat (so your 2nd string played open should now match your 3rd string played at the 2nd fret).

Once you're tuned up, see if you can find the melody notes played in Step 1 on your banjo. Then you can check your answer below:

God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman

Basic Melody, gDGBbD tuning

STEP 3: Decorate Thy Melody

Now let's take that skeleton of a melody and make it sound like a banjo tune!

To do so, will fill in the available spaces between the notes, and add some fretting hand hammer ons and pull offs. Something like this: 


God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

gDGBbD tuning, Brainjo level 2


And here's what that sounds like: 


STEP 4: Embellish further as desired

Our initial version above is pretty straightforward. The melody notes essentially fall where we expect them to. 

One of the ways we can some interest, and take advantage of some of the unique characteristics of the banjo, is to add some syncopation to our arrangement, by shifting some of those melody notes a bit from where we expect them to fall. 

Here's what a more syncopated arrangement looks like:


God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

gDGBbD tuning, Brainjo level 3

And here's what that sounds like:


Now go forth and spread some holiday banjo cheer!

Once again, to get the entire "12 Days of Banjo" collection (13 songs, 26 arrangements), just click on the button below: 



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