Christmas Riffs: Your Festive Favourites on Guitar


Christmas Riffs 128x71 1Christmas Riffs: Your Festive Favourites on Guitar

Christmas Riffs

It’s the time of year again to whip out some Christmas riffs! After you step into this rundown of riffs, you’ll be rockin’ around the Christmas tree! 

Christmas Riffs: Your Festive Favourites on Guitar 

Whether you love or loathe them, Christmas music is guaranteed to come around at least once a year! Aside from your traditional carols and hymns, there are actually some cool rock riffs that make an appearance every December. 

Here, we will explore five instantly recognisable Christmas riffs, and look at what makes them so wonderful to play. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone if you practise them outside of the holiday season. 

Happy Xmas (War Is Over) – John Lennon

Kicking us off is this timeless festive favourite. Former Beatle, John Lennon, was never short of hits, but this one keeps returning for more and more. 

Now, just be careful of the time signature. We’re in 6/8, whereby we have six eighth notes per bar. The main riff works around the chord progression in the verse. For this Christmas riff, you’ll be going over some barre chords and some finger gymnastics. 

The Chords in question are A major, B minor and E major. Respectively, they’re played for two bars each. Check out the TAB below to see what happens as we play each chord. 

Christmas Riffs - Merry Xmas (War Is Over)

Christmas Riffs – Merry Xmas (War Is Over)

Step Into Christmas – Elton John 

Next up, we’ve got this great 12-string intro from Elton John. Another slice of 1970s festive magic, that isn’t from Slade

Although with this Christmas riff, there’s a 12-string guitar, but you can still use any old 6-string axe that you’ve got lying around. Preferably, an acoustic guitar. This Christmas riff opens the song and is repeated throughout, so you get your money’s worth with this one. 

The riff is based around an open D major chord, which is also the key of the song. It’s a bit fiddly, but after a few rehearsals, I am sure you’ll get this one nailed

Christmas Riffs - Step Into Christmas

Christmas Riffs – Step Into Christmas

2000 Miles – The Pretenders 

Thirdly, we’re jumping forward to the next decade with another 12-string delight from The Pretenders

Aside from being a fantastic Christmas riff, this one just hits differently. The way the guitar part fades in, repeats with so much resonance and then concludes with a sixteenth-note phrase is simply unmatched. 

Again, we’re in 6/8, however, there are some simple chords followed by that beautiful linking riff. 

2000 Miles

Christmas Riffs – 2000 Miles

Throughout this record, you can hear a high-pitched guitar riff. This is thanks to an Eventide Harmoniser, which allowed the guitar part to be played two octaves higher. Why not check out this plug-in? You won’t even have to wait for delivery! Moreover, there’s a healthy discount until the end of this month too. 

Eventide H949 Download
Eventide H949 Download

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Christmas Riffs: Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee

Arguably the OG of Christmas riffs? At the time of writing, amazingly, this is No.14 on YouTube‘s trending list. Quite impressive to say that this iconic number dates back to 1958

Prime Rockabilly over here. There’s enough reverb and double stops for anyone. All we need for this is a good understanding of TAB, along with some basic techniques.

There are plenty of little gems throughout this piece, for now, we’re just focusing on that all-important intro. A series of 1/4 and 1/8th note rests break this one up nicely.

Christmas Riffs - Merry Xmas (War Is Over)

Christmas Riffs – Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree

Don’t Let The Bells End – The Darkness 

Concluding our look at festive favourites that you can play on guitar, is this heavy, early 2000s, entry from The Darkness

A Christmas song in Drop D? Yes, please! Along with a charismatic harmonised intro riff, this is up there with one of the best rock riffs of the decade. 

Just like with Hotel California, by The Eagles, or most Iron Maiden riffs, you’ll only be able to play one-half of the guitar parts on your own. Take a look at this video tutorial on the riff, and the chord section. 

There’s still time to write your Christmas list. For a classic Justin Hawkins look and sound, you could look towards a white Gibson Les Paul Custom. 

Christmas Riffs: Happy Holidays! 

So, there we are! A quick look at some of the most characterful festive riffs on guitar. What are you hoping for this year? And, do you have any other go-to songs that you like to play at this time of year? 

Besides these five, there are plenty of other holiday tunes that you can have a go at!


Further Information:

  • What to Buy a Guitarist for Christmas 
  • Practise Techniques 
  • Which Guitar Tuner to Buy?

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