Winter scene - Holiday classic

Can You Write a Holiday Classic? Start With a Family Classic

It seems that the songs that everyone really wants to hear during the Christmas season are the classics — the ones that have been around for the past 7 or 8 decades, or even longer.

It begs the question: Can anyone write a new holiday tune that has a hope of taking its place along with the other greats like “White Christmas”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, and Mel Tormé’s “The Christmas Song”?

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It’s hard to write something that can become a classic, because nostalgia is such an important part of why we love those songs. And nostalgia, by definition, takes time to develop.

So rather than becoming frustrated over why your song doesn’t rate up there with “O Holy Night” to the rest of the world, aim lower: why not write a song that will become a Christmas classic for your family.

I can guarantee you that if you create something that’s easy to sing, uses good Christmas imagery, and has a catchy melody, your family will get that warm fuzzy feeling every time they sing it, for years to come.

In writing something that’s got that kind of ability to become a family classic, keep the following tips in mind:

  1. Write a melody that’s easy to sing. Some classics have challenging moments, like the big upward leap near the end of “O Holy Night”, but most holiday songs keep the range within an octave. For sing-along ability, keep your highest note around a high D (e.g., the highest note of “Joy to the World”), and your lowest notes around a D or so an octave lower.
  2. A well-placed upward leap makes a song fun, and gives the melody a distinctive moment. For “The Christmas Song”, there’s a lovely, easily-singable octave leap right at the beginning (“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”). Other well-known classics have that all-important leap as well: “Jingle Bells” (“Dashing through the snow…”), “Silent Night” (“Sleep in heavenly peace…“) and some just have a distinctive high point even without a leap (“You’ll be doing all right in your Christmas of white…” from “Blue Christmas”).
  3. Remember imagery. Imagery means being able to describe a full scene or notion with a minimum of words. Even simple word choices can bring out the holiday spirit. “Dashing through the snow” could have been anything: “galloping”, “trotting”, “jumping”… somehow, the word “dashing” conjures up something exciting. Give your own lyrics that same kind of careful scrutiny.
  4. Avoid strong judgmental messages. You may find that you wish more people remembered “the reason for the season,” but be careful that you don’t turn your song into a judgmental preach. Everyone has their own reason for celebrating Christmas, or any other season, so keep your song’s message positive and non-judgmental.
  5. Allow chords to support the mood of your song. For Christmas ballads, and nice mix of major and minor chords will work well (C  Dm  G  C |Em  Am  F  G… etc). For generally happy “Christmas is for kids” kinds of songs, mostly major will work quite well, as we hear with “Jingle Bells”.

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Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle includes a FREE COPY of “Use Yours Words! Developing a Lyrics-First Songwriting Process.”

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