How to Play Silent Night on Guitar for Beginners

Published Categorized as Other How To/Tips, Other Lessons and Tips, Songs

There are scarcely more ubiquitous festive tunes out there, especially songs that straddle the line between the older meaning of Christmas as belonging to religion and the newer, more commercial meanings instilled by capitalism throughout the past couple of centuries. Many hymns and carols stay in the church and do their business there and never get the chance to leave, certainly not with the onward march of capital as that which governs all.

Silent Night, however, has stood this test and continues to find relevance in the hearts of even the most cynical. I for one am far from being even a polite advocate of christmas, and yet this tune still manages to resonate with me, with something primal deep within. Thus I hope it can strike such a ‘chord’ with you when you, too, decide to learn how to play Silent Night on guitar for beginners.

This is a relatively easy song, so I would encourage you to learn the melody on the guitar, but also to learn the chords, which are so simple as to be elementary, so that you might sing along with yourself, to accompany another or simply to serenade someone in need of some Christmas cheer, no matter the time of year.

Table of Contents

The Story of Silent Night

‘Stille Nacht’, the original title of the song as first composed in German, was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818 at St Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, a village in present day Austria. A young Catholic priest, Father Joseph Mohr, had come to Oberndorf the year previously and, in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, he had written the poem ‘Stille Nacht’ in 1816.

The melody was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, schoolmaster and organist in the nearby village of Arnsdorf. On Christmas Eve 1818, Mohr brought the words to Gruber and asked him to compose a melody and guitar accompaniment for that night’s mass, after river flooding had possibly damaged the church organ.

Funnily enough, this very church was eventually destroyed by repeated flooding and replaced with the Silent Night Chapel. It is unknown what inspired Mohr to write the lyrics, or what prompted him to create a new carol – the song is so ubiquitous throughout the western world it’s in fact quite bizarre to think of it as ever having been composed at all, instead of having always lurked in our collective subconscious.

According to composer Gruber, Karl Mauracher, an organ builder who serviced the instrument at the Oberndorf church, was enamoured of the song, and took the composition home with him to the Zillertal. From there, two travelling families of folk singers, the Strassers and the Rainers, included the tune in their shows.

The Rainers were already singing it around Christmas 1819, and once performed it for an audience that included Franz I of Austria and Alexander I of Russia, as well as making the first performance of the song in the U.S., in New York City in 1839. The rest sort of snowballed and was history, the song modifying itself subtly during this period, the melody ever so slightly changing to become the version that is commonly played today.

How To Play Silent Night On Guitar For Beginners

Musical Qualities and Translation

Since the song itself has been translated world wide into over 140 languages, it would be pertinent to explore this a little further, before we learn how to play Silent Night on guitar for beginners.

In 1859, priest John Freeman Young, then serving in New York City, wrote and published the English translation that is most frequently sung today, translated from only three of Mohr’s original six verses.

The version of the melody that is generally used today is a measured and gentle lullaby almost, differing slightly from Gruber’s original markings, which detailed the song as a ‘moderato’ tune in 6/8 time and siciliana rhythm. Today, these very same lyrics and melody are in the public domain, although newer translations usually are not.

In 1998 the Silent Night Museum in Salzburg commissioned a new English translation of Mohr’s German lyrics. Whenever possible, (and mostly), Klein leaves the Young translation unchanged, but occasionally Klein (and Mohr) vary markedly.

For example, Nur das traute hochheilige Paar, Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar is translated by Young: ‘Round yon Virgin mother and child, Holy infant so tender and mild’ whereas Klein rewords it: ‘Round yon godly tender pair, Holy infant with curly hair’, a translation deemed closer to the original.

The Melody Itself

In learning how to play Silent Night on guitar for beginners, and especially in tackling this initial melody, you will come to realise not only how simple the song itself really is, but also how far simplicity can go. It is my firm belief, and the belief of many others, that things needn’t be complex to be awe inspiring and to strike feelings in the soul.

The proof is in the pudding, and if we take Silent Night as a concrete example we see that despite being so simply composed and written, both lyrically and musically, it strikes chords in the hearts of millions year after year, breaching barriers of nationality, race, class and gender to bring people closer together beneath the polite pelting of snow on winter windows.

Simple messages have a way of doing that, of coming just that much closer to the collective subconscious than any florid display of poesy ever could:

Silent Night bars 1 – 4
Silent Night bars 5 – 8
Silent Night bars 9 – 12
Silent Night bars 13 – 16

As you’ll soon see when you pick up your guitar and try to play along to this guide on how to play Silent Night on guitar for beginners, this won’t demand very much of you at all, even if you are indeed a beginner guitarist who is aspiring to greater things but has yet relatively little experience with the instrument.

Chords and Lyrics to Silent Night

Given that the entirety of the song can be played with just three chords, it would be pertinent to explore the lyrics in more detail so that you might add this song to your repertoire of tunes to sing and play simultaneously, though before we go on these three chords will be detailed below:

How to Play Silent Night on Guitar for Beginners with just three chords: C – G – F

The Actual Lyrics to Sing Along to

In English

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia
Christ the Savior is born
Christ the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

Silent Night, Holy Night
Here at last, healing light
From the heavenly kingdom sent,
Abundant grace for our intent.
Jesus, salvation for all.
Jesus, salvation for all.

Silent Night! Holy Night”
Sleeps the world in peace tonight.
God sends his Son to earth below
A Child from whom all blessings flow
Jesus, embraces mankind.
Jesus, embraces mankind.

Silent Night, Holy Night
Mindful of mankind’s plight
The Lord in Heav’n on high decreed
From earthly woes we would be freed
Jesus, God’s promise for peace.
Jesus, God’s promise for peace.

In the Original German

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Hirten erst kundgemacht
Durch der Engel Halleluja,
Tönt es laut von fern und nah:
Christ, der Retter ist da!
Christ, der Retter ist da!

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Lange schon uns bedacht,
Als der Herr vom Grimme befreit
In der Väter urgrauer Zeit
Aller Welt Schonung verhieß!

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Die der Welt Heil gebracht,
Aus des Himmels goldenen Höhn,
Uns der Gnaden Fülle läßt sehn,
Jesum in Menschengestalt!

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Wo sich heut alle Macht
Väterlicher Liebe ergoß,
Und als Bruder huldvoll umschloß
Jesus die Völker der Welt!

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht,
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund, Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Christ, in deiner Geburt!
Christ, in deiner Geburt!

Final Tones

So, there you have it, the comprehensive guide to learning how to play Silent Night on guitar for beginners.

Though this indeed may be labelled as ‘for beginners’ and may have this demographic in mind initially, this song is so ubiquitous that anyone can come through to this resource and make use of it in a whole host of different contexts.

There is something unexplainable about songs like this, that are filled to the brim with a hallowed beauty that would crumble to pieces were it to be explained away. It’s almost as though the understanding of these things evades us on purpose so as to save us from what will likely disintegrate their tender and ambiguous beauty, because it knows what’s good for us better than we know ourselves…


Is Silent Night hard to play on guitar?

“Silent Night” is a classic Christmas carol, and it’s a great choice for beginners to play on the guitar. It’s typically played in 3/4 time and uses basic chords. The chords used in the song are often simple open chords like G, C, D, and Em.

By Nate Pallesen

Nate is just your average (above average) guitar player. He's no Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page - wait this site is about acoustic guitars (sorry) He's no Django Reinhardt, Chet Atkins, or Michael Hedges, wait? who!? He's no Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton or Ben Harper - more familiar? Anyway you get the point :-)

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *