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If you’re a musician, your family is going to ask you to play a Christmas song for them. They’re expecting you to sit down on the couch by the tree and play something on that new guitar they bought you. They don’t realize that you loathe being paraded out in front of the family for every holiday get-together.

So Perform we Must 

But it is our sworn duty as musicians to perform, and so perform we must. So what do we play? Of all the songs of Yuletide, none can equal We Three Kings in terms of melody and mood. This is a dark song, almost foreboding, with a beautiful melody and relatively simple chords that most beginners should put on their hit list to learn.

But before you go running off looking up the tab to We Three Kings, let’s go over the song itself and explore a few different ways to approach learning it and adapting it to fit any style you want.

But First… 

First thing’s first, this song is in the key of G with a dominant third and it makes use of almost all of the chords in that key. So before doing anything else make sure to learn all the chords in the key of G. In case you don’t remember they are (in ascending order): 

G major 

A minor  

B minor  (for this song we’ll play a B7)

C major 

D major 

E minor 

Gb minor7 b5

You won’t need to use that final chord and REMEMBER: the B minor (the third chord) is dominant in this song, so it’s a B7.

If you can internalize all that, you’ve just learned a very important lesson in music theory and now you know all the chords for We Three Kings! Now let’s examine the structure. 

The song is a simple verse-chorus repeated ad infinitum. For beginners, the structure of the verse and chorus might be a bit complicated to take in all at once. Here’s what I do whenever I want to learn a song that is complicated to me.

Learn How To Sing It First

Learning and internalizing a melody to where you can sing it on a whim is the single most effective step when learning a new song. It means you’ll know how it goes before you know how to play it and generally it’s very easy to accomplish. Just practice singing along to a recording of the song while you’re in the car or doing chores or at the DMV and you’ll get it stuck in your head in no time.

Work Small

Unless you’re an advanced player, I’d advise against trying to learn this song all at once. Instead break it up into easily manageable pieces that you can learn and internalize gradually. This approach might take you twenty minutes, it might take you twenty days, but the point is you will inevitably learn the song.

Understand The Structure

We know all the chords that are in this song so let’s review how these chords are ordered to make the melody.

Okay, so the first verse of this song is typically played:

E minor /// /// B7 /// Eminor ///

Those little dashes represent beats, and as you can see they’re grouped in beats of 3 which means this song is in ¾, like a waltz.

Practice getting the feel of that chord progression under your fingers by playing along to a recording. Then move on to the next bit which goes like this:


That’s the whole song!

Take all those parts and practice them on their own, then slowly add them together till you can play without needing the recording as accompaniment. When you’re ready to add your doubtlessly perfect, beautiful singing voice into the mix just follow the same sequence of steps you used to learn to play the song in the first place: piece by piece. 

If this is your first time singing while playing then you’ll probably find it incredibly difficult, as it is for everyone their first time. Typically people will complain that they can’t keep their voice independent from their hands and that’s exactly the wrong attitude to have. There is no independence between your hands and your voice, they work together and share the rhythm and the melody. 

Think of your voice as part of the rhythm
Pay attention to where the words land in relation to your strumming hand and your fretting hand and think of them as all working together! That’s the best advice I can give you, learning to sing and play simultaneously is all about your mindset.

From Christmas Song to Rock Song
If you’re feeling mischievous, this song can easily be translated out of its Christmas hymn style into a more… interesting genre. If you want to take this in a rock direction, change the time from ¾ to 4/4 but keep the chord progression the same. 

If you want to go even farther down the rock spectrum, just play all the chords as muted power chords, speed up the tempo, and throw some E minor pentatonic solos over the chord progression. 

There’s nothing more fun than taking a known song and twisting and mutating it into a monster of your own creation. If you have any effects pedals, go crazy with those and try to take the song into a new direction. Try changing the chords around and inventing new melodies. It might sound childish but this is how new songs are created and you might just find you’ll like your version better than the original! So listen to it, learn it, and then go beyond it, all by Christmas Day.

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