The Holly and the Ivy: Mastering Christmas Carols on the Piano and Keyboard


Check out our complete series on mastering Christmas Carols on Piano and Keyboard.

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As part of our mastering Christmas carols on piano and keyboard series, here’s our guide to playing The Holly and the Ivy.

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The Holly and the Ivy: Introduction

Like Silent Night, Away in a Manger and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, The Holly and the Ivy is in 3/4 (Waltz) time.

It’s written here in G major, which is a comfortable key for most people to sing it in.

The Holly and the Ivy: Main Melody

The main melody repeats, as the chorus keeps the same tune as the verse. Bar 1 to the beginning of bar 9 is the verse, with bar 9 to bar 17 the repeat.

Here’s the complete melody written out on the treble clef stave, as you’d play it with the right hand:

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Listen to the melody (MIDI file, should play directly in your browser. Alternatively, iTunes or Quicktime will play it).

Those notes are:

G | G G G E | D B G | G G G E | D D C | B A G B B |
E E D G A | B C B A | G G | G G G E | D B G | G G G E |
D D C | B A G B B | E E D G A | B C B A | G

The Holly and the Ivy: Single Note Bass Line

Here’s how to add a single bass note to each bar to add a little harmony. In fact, it only uses three different notes — G (predominantly), C and D.

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Listen to the MIDI file

The Holly and the Ivy: Walking Bass

This extends the above theme with a slightly more complex bass line. Instead of one bass note per bar, I’ve introduced a ‘walking’ bass line feel comprised primarily of crotchets (quarter notes).

Continued below...

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Listen to MIDI file

The Holly and the Ivy: Melody with Chords and Octave Bass

The final version features the playing of chords in the right hand, with the melody as the highest note, plus two bass notes an octave apart in the left hand, plus occasional fill-in notes.

This version will cause the right hand to hop around a little, as you move from chord to chord, although if you look at each chord progression, many keep one or more of the same notes and similar shape. For example, at the start of bar 3, the chord changes from a G major in root position to a G major in 2nd inversion (D in the bass), and then to a perfect fourth interval with that same D as the root.

In other places, it’s a case of moving some of your fingers by one note. The last two chords in bar 8 move from a G major in 2nd inversion to a D major root chord. All this requires is to move the top note down from B to A and the middle note down from G to F sharp, which is quite an easy finger move.

The only places you’ll really need to watch your jump is accurate are places like in bar 2, moving from the first inversion G major chord to the major 3rd interval on the higher C.

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Listen to MIDI file

The Holly and the Ivy: Lyrics

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Saviour
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

The holly and the ivy
Now both are full well grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.
O the rising of the sun
And the running of the deer
The playing of the merry organ
Sweet singing of the choir

I hope you find this guide useful for helping you to play The Holly and the Ivy.

View a range of Christmas Carols Music Books at Amazon.

Series Index: Mastering Christmas Carols on the Piano and Keyboard