Frère Jacques – Chords, Tabs and Sheet Music

frere jacques brother john guitar

Frère Jacques, also called “Brother John” or “Are you Sleeping” in English, is a French nursery rhyme. It’s known in nearly all countries over the world because it has been translated in so many languages, such as German, Polish, Chinese, Hebrew, Afrikaans, Latin and so many more! Children love this song because it’s super simple and a lot of fun to sing. Thanks to the simplicity Frère Jacques is also often the first song learnt on a musical instrument. We want to learn this song on guitar! But first let’s get to know the origin and history of the song and then how to play it on guitar. There are a few ways to play this song and we will start with a very easy version that requires only one string of your guitar! But we will also show you how to play the song with some basic guitar chords and offer you some free PDF worksheets that you can use for your practicing or lessons!

History and Origin of Frère Jacques

Frère Jacques (Brother John/ Are you Sleeping) has its origins in 18th century France. The melody is often associated with the Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. However, the lyrics and the specific context of the nursery rhyme’s creation remain uncertain. Since then it has been translated in many different languages and it made it way into the world. In most languages they have also changed the name. For example in German he is called Jakob, in Spanish Santiago or in Italian Martino.

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Tabs for Frère Jacques

We will explore the song by fingerpicking the strings and strumming with chords. You can choose which way you prefer but it’s definitely worth trying both. Especially beginners find it easier to pick strings instead of strumming. That’s we start with the tabs first for Frère Jacques.

1. Level: Playing only on One Guitar String

guitar playing on 1 string

For the first version we only need one string because we find all necessary notes on that string! This is a pretty good exercise for students since they need to focus only on picking one string and moving only one finger of the left hand up and down on this string. At the same time they get more familiar with the notes of the string. So, let’s push down the string with our index or middle finger of the left hand. Let’s pluck the string with the thumb of our right hand.

Here are the tabs for Frère Jacques on one string:

Brother John - Tabs One String Guitar

Below is a recording of how it should sound. You can play along and if it’s too fast, just slow it down.

You can actually play the same pattern on any other guitar string as well. Try for example the 6th string (low E string) to have a pretty low version of this song.

2. Level: Playing on several Guitar Strings

guitar 4 strings

The next level is to play the nursery rhyme on several string of the guitar. Don’t worry, we won’t use all the strings but only three of them! This will make it a bit more challenging but it’s actually much more common and efficient to play a song on more than just one string. The advantage is that you don’t need to move your left hand too much along the neck of the guitar. Of course, you now have to use several fingers and pluck different strings, but this is an excellent exercise.

Here are the tabs for playing the nursery rhyme on the first four strings:

Brother John - Guitar Tabs

Again, you can listen to the recording to check your playing and see how it should sound.

Chords for Frère Jacques

Fingerpicking is a pretty good exercise on the guitar and it’s beginner-friendly way to get familiar with the melody of a song. But if you want to sing and play at the same time the song then you should try playing it with guitar chords. You can play Frère Jacques with only one chord! Which chord? Any chord you like! Depending on the chord you choose you need to sing the song higher or lower. A common way to play Frère Jacques is by using the C, G or D chord. I find it particularly easy to sing it in the key of C.

C Chord Guitar

In French: Frère Jacques

CFrère Jacques, Frère Jacques
Dormez-vous ?, Dormez-vous ?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!
Ding, dang, dong! Ding, dang, dong

In English: Brother John

DAre you sleeping, Are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John.
Morning bells are ringing! Morning bells are ringing!
Ding, ding, dong! Ding, ding, dong!

Sheet Music with Tabs for Frere Jacques

If you are not a beginner and you know how to play the guitar and understand music theory, then you probably know how to read sheet music as well! It provides you the most important of a musical piece, the pitches, rhythms and music notes. Even if you don’t know how to read sheet music or you want to teach it during your classes then easy nursery rhymes like Frère Jacques are the perfect start for it.

Brother John - Guitar Sheet Music

Free PDF Printables For Brother John

Do you prefer printing out the lyrics with the chords, the tabs or sheet music for practicing? Feel free to download the free PDF!

Brother John - Guitar Free Download

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