Skip to main content

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen": Fingerstyle Guitar Tab, Notation and Audio

Chasmac is a semi-retired guitar teacher who has taught in various schools in London and elsewhere for over 30 years.


For anyone handy with a guitar and with a guitar handy, here's a (fairly) simple fingerstyle guitar arrangement I've made of that seasonal favourite, the Christmas carol: "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (also known as Comfort and Joy). In fact, it's more correctly titled "God Rest YOU merry Gentlemen" as "YE" was already long outdated when this song was written, but "YE" seems to be far more popular. The composer is unknown, but the song is English and believed to date from the mid 18th century. The arrangement shown here is just one of many ways that the song can be played.

There are some playing tips among the learners' notes section if you need them.

Playing Style

This arrangement of the song consists of the melody with arpeggiated chords underneath. The bass notes are, in most cases, the root of the chord too for a simple and stable bass. Notes with up-pointing stems in the notation staff are melody notes - all the rest are harmony and bass chord tones.

Play it in a consistent flowing style and bring out the melody so that it will be heard above the harmony and bass.

Listen to "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"

The video contains a software generated rendition (MIDI to audio) of the arrangement with the tab and notation staves progressing line by line as the song plays.

Read the score while listening to the audio recording. Alternatively, see the whole score in a single view in the image below the video while the song is playing in the video.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Tab and Notation

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Spinditty


Learners' Notes

The key chosen for this arrangement is A minor and the chosen metre is four beats to the bar throughout (Some arrangements have two beats per bar).

The key of A minor has no sharps or flats in its 'natural' form so it uses the 'null' key signature. In practice, however, the 7th note is often chromatically raised by a semitone. so you can see it here as G sharp appearing in the E and E7 chords. Without those sharps, the chord would be E minor, which doesn't have the same force as E major when progressing to the key chord of A minor (the tonic chord). That's why they're there.

The version I've made here is kept simple and straightforward, but this song lends itself really well to improvisation, You can use any ornamentation of any of the melody or chord tones. Use your artistic discretion. Feel free to improvise and make it your own.


Lyrics and Chords

Here are the lyrics and chords of the first five verses of the eight that make up the whole song. Some common variations in the first verse lyrics that you often hear are:

  • "God rest ye... " may be seen and heard as "God rest you..." In fact "you" is more correct than "ye" as that's what appears in the earliest known publications of the song. "Ye" is far more common, though.
  • "...born upon this day" is often heard as "...born on Christmas day"

The chord shapes chosen in the arrangement are simple nut position shapes that always include the first melody note of every bar as the highest chord tone. If you're strumming the chords, you can ignore the tab and standard notation and just follow the lyric sheet as you have much more freedom to choose which shapes you want without being restricted to chord shapes that contain the melody note as the highest chord tone. Chord shapes that include at least one or two open strings sound good for this type of song played with acoustic guitar as they provide a more resonant and sustained sound.

Some More Festive Guitar Arrangements

Click any of the links below if you're interested in trying some more Christmas/ New Year songs. They're fingerstyle arrangements not really suitable for playing with a pick. Each song consists of standard notation, guitar tablature and audio/ video recording.

© 2013 Chas Mac

Related Articles