Frere Jacques Nursery Rhyme-Lyrics, History, Video, Lesson Plans & More

Frere Jacques is a nursery rhyme of French origin that talks about waking up someone that’s overslept. You might know the song under a different name Brother John, which is the English version. It is typically sung as a round song like you would Row Row Row Your Boat.

How did the song become popular and even have a famous English translation?

animation picture of a man rousing from sleep with a thought bubble of a church bell

Read on to find out more about the song below.


Frere Jacques is a simple song with only one verse comprising four lines sung repeatedly.

Lyrics for Frere Jacques As Sung Today

Since the rhyme was written by a French man the lyrics are initially in French. See them below with a video and then with the English translation for each of the lines.

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!

Din, dan, don. Din, dan, don.

Brother Jacques, Brother Jacques,
Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Morning bells are ringing, Morning bells are ringing
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

Full Original Lyrics for Frere Jacques

The lyrics to Frere Jacques have remained the same since it first appeared. The fact it’s only one verse might have something to do with that. Most people don’t want to mess with the song’s simplicity by changing or adding new lines.

However, if you feel the name needs changes, you can always add yours.


Who Wrote the Nursery Rhyme Frere Jacques?

Though there are conflicting accounts about the song, the song is widely thought to have been written by French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau.

That’s because of a manuscript found by French Musicologist Sylvie Bouissou at the French National Library that has 86 canons, including the Frere Jacques song. The author of Frere Jacques in the manuscript is listed as Jean-Philippe Rameau.

The earliest version of the song was in a French manuscript circa 1780. The manuscript, Recueil de Timbres de Vaudevilles, was written between 1777 and 1785, making it difficult to determine the exact year the song first appeared. In the manuscript, Frere Jacques was known as Frère Blaise.

However, according to James Fuld, a sheet music collector, the song’s tune was first published in 1811.

The words to Frere Jacques also appeared in an 1860 book by Rouart, Lerolle & Cie. There is no evidence that the words appeared as the song, but the book did go on to become very popular in Paris. It has spanned many published editions ever since.

Judging by the above information, the song has quite a sketchy past. It is impossible to tell if the person attributed to writing the music is the one who wrote it. However, the Frere Jacques is another triumph for the power of oral transfer of information from generation to generation.


What Does the Nursery Rhyme Frere Jacques Mean?

The song was set in the context of a monastery where a monk, brother Jacques, seemingly overslept and delayed ringing the bell for prayers.

The song is therefore waking up the brother to go and ring the prayer bells.

In most YouTube videos, you will see the above scenario played out. The song has no deeper meaning than the above.

What Does Frere Mean?

Frere is French for brother, meaning the literal English name of the song is Brother Jacques.

Is Jacques The Same As John?

Jacques and John aren’t the same. Jacques is the French name for the English name James. John is usually Jean in French.

What is a Matin?

Matin in French means morning, however ‘les matines’ refers to the Christian hour of morning prayer.


Does The Frere Jacques Song Refer to Any Historical Persons or Events?

Frere Jacques is unlikely to be based on historical individuals or events. However, there are specific theories that the song is about a 17th-century French lithotomist Frère Jacques Beaulieu who although not ordained wore a monks habit.

Some people say the song was coined to taunt people of other denominations, especially Jews and protestants. That is according to Francesca Draughon and Raymond Knapp. However, they, too, found little to support their theory.

According to Martine David and A. Marie Delrieu Frere Jacques is a song coined to mock Dominican friars for their laziness and overly comfortable lifestyles. That, again, has little in the way of proof.

Most theories to explain where and how the song appeared are merely speculations. Most likely, they happened after the song was widespread, which means it’s impossible to prove their integrity.

Why Is the English Version Not a Literal Translation of the Original?

French LyricsEnglish Literal Translation
Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!

Din, dan, don. Din, dan, don.
Brother Jacques, Brother Jacques,
Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Ring [the bells for] matins! Ring [the bells for] matins!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong

The main difference is in the words and meanings of the line:

Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!

Matine in French means morning however ‘les matines’ refers to the Christian morning hour set aside for prayer. This makes the nursery rhyme make much more sense, wake up Brother John, you need to ring the bells for morning prayer.

In the English version the morning bells are already ringing so how can Brother Jacque go and ring them himself?

How Do You Sing Frere Jacques As a Round?

Frere Jacques is a chant that is sung in a round. That means that groups of singers start singing the song at different times. The first group begins the first line and the second start the first line, when the first group get the second line and so on.

Is Frere Jacques A Public Domain Song?

Frere Jacques is a public-domain song. That means that no one has the copyright to it and that if you want to use the music in your work, you can. Anything published or copyrighted before 1925 is considered public domain today.

(Disclaimer: This is a general–not a legally confirmed fact, and you need to do more research into the laws in your jurisdiction/country to ensure you may use this song)

Frere Jacques was first published around 1780, decades before 1925. That makes it a public-domain song.

But this does not apply to other people’s versions of it—for example, if you made a CD of you singing Frere Jacques, your version is not public domain. Therefore, I cannot resell it without your permission.

How to Sing Frere Jacques Nursery Rhyme in Sign Language

You can sing Frere Jacques in sign language. I found a resource on YouTube that can help you with that.


The following is a selection of Lesson Plans based on Frere Jacques. You need to click on the images to go to the websites to learn more and download the resources.


Frere Jacques is regularly sung as a round. I have included the sheet music for how to sing it as a round song.

What Is the Time Signature of Frere Jacques?

Frere Jacques has four beats a bar making the time signature 4/4.

How to Play Frere Jacques On an Instrument

You can play Frere Jacques on an instrument with any of the below YouTube resources.


Samantha Bellerose has a Bachelor of Education as well as a Diploma in Performing Arts. She is a mom to four children and is passionate about education and learning. Samantha created Nursery Rhyme Central as the go to place for parents, teachers and carers about all things to do with Nursery Rhymes. She is also the Main Author and creator for websites Dance Parent 101 and Move Dance Learn, where she shares her knowledge and expertise for dance and learning through movement.

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