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Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

Merry Christmas!

Here's another one of my favorite Christmas Carols. Enjoy!

The music:

This is not a difficult song, but it needs a bit of explanation. As published in Hymns, it is written in the key of F, which is nearly impossible for most guitarists. I have transposed it up two frets, to the key of G. Other than that, the first verse is taken exactly from the soprano and alto lines in Hymns. The song is in the public domain, so that’s okay. For those who just want to accompany singers, I have included the rhythm guitar chords, in lightface type. They won’t help you with the tab, though. So if you’re trying to play the tab as written, just ignore the lightface chords in the first verse. (The second verse is different. More on that later.)

The first verse does not need chord symbols, as there are NO CHORDS in this verse, just two-finger pinches. For those who are not classically trained, I have included notations about which left-hand finger to use to fret the notes. Normally, in classical guitar notation, such abbreviations are given in Spanish: p - i - m - a, for the Spanish words, pulgar, indicio, medio, & anulario. Since the song is written in English, and few of my followers are classically trained, I decided to use the English abbreviations: t - i - m - r (for thumb, index, middle, & ring) instead. If you are a classical guitarist, please just deal with it.

There are a couple of places where it’s easier to just slide the left hand up or down the neck, rather than switching fingers. You’ll find them as you play through the song. I tried to specify the fingering that I think will be easiest for a beginner. If you think a different fingering would be better, please yourself. This is just my arrangement; it wasn’t handed down by Mendelssohn!

The second verse is a different story.

First, the lyrics: I couldn’t keep the song on three pages and use the real lyrics for the second verse. They just take up more room, and are not as easy to follow. Since I only include lyrics to aid in following the rhythm, I re-used the lyrics from the first verse. This is supposed to be a guitar solo, anyway.

Second, the arrangement: This is one of my easier guitar arrangements. Half the notes are played on open strings! All the chords are easy to play, and most are well-known to every guitarist. The only exceptions are GaddD and CaddD, which are both slight variations of the basic G-shape. There are no difficult chord changes, and NO BARRE CHORDS!

I have included chord symbols where they would be helpful in knowing where to place the fingers of the left hand. I have left them out, where they are not needed. For example, where all the strings are played open, it is not necessary to hold a G chord, even though that is what you would do if you were playing accompaniment or rhythm guitar. In other places, only a single note of a chord is called for. In such places, I have left out the unnecessary chord changes, for clarity. If you wish to play rhythm, use the chords from the first verse.


This is one of eight thousand hymn lyrics written by Charles Wesley, younger brother of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church. During his life, Charles published over six thousand of his hymns, many of which are found in the LDS hymnal.

The tune he had in mind is not the one usually associated with this carol. Wesley envisioned it being sung to the tune of Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, which he also wrote. The tune we now use was part of a secular cantata, written a hundred years later by Felix Mendelssohn, to commemorate the invention of the printing press. Fifteen years after that, English musician William H. Cummings adapted Mendelssohn’s tune to Wesley’s lyrics, creating the sprightly Christmas carol we now know.

There have been many other tweaks since Wesley’s day. Even the first line (and hence, the title) of the song has changed. Originally, it began, “Hark! how all the welkin rings / Glory to the King of Kings”. Wesley’s co-worker, George Whitefield, persuaded him to change it. Thank you, George!

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