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What Child Is This / Child Of The Poor Sheet Music What Child Is This / Child Of The Poor Sheet Music

Sheet Music

What Child Is This / Child Of The Poor Sheet Music

Written by: Krissie Donley

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Welcome to the world of sheet music, where the beauty and complexity of music is captured in written form. In this article, we will explore the sheet music for the timeless Christmas carol “What Child Is This” (also known as “Child of the Poor”). This beloved song has been passed down through generations and has become a staple in holiday celebrations around the world.

Sheet music is a valuable tool for musicians, providing them with a roadmap to perform a piece accurately. It consists of musical notation, which represents the pitch, rhythm, and expression of each musical element. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned musician, understanding sheet music is essential for effectively interpreting and performing a song.

“What Child Is This” is a traditional English folk song that was first published in 1865. The lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix, while the melody is a variation of the popular English tune “Greensleeves.” This combination of heartfelt lyrics and a beautiful melody has made the song a beloved Christmas classic for over a century.

As we delve into the sheet music for “What Child Is This,” we will explore the musical analysis, notation, key, instrumentation, performance notes, and interpretation of this iconic carol. Whether you’re a pianist, guitarist, singer, or any other musician, this article will provide valuable insights to help you bring this beautiful carol to life.

So, let’s grab our instruments, open the sheet music, and embark on a musical journey as we uncover the magic and artistry behind “What Child Is This.”


Background Information

“What Child Is This” is a Christmas carol that has a rich history and cultural significance. The song’s lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix, an English writer and hymnologist, in the year 1865. This was a time when Christmas carols were gaining popularity, and Dix sought to contribute to the holiday repertoire with his own composition.

The melody of “What Child Is This” is based on the ancient English tune of “Greensleeves.” This folk song, characterized by its distinctive melody and hauntingly beautiful chord progression, adds a touch of nostalgia and familiarity to the carol. The combination of traditional lyrics and the timeless tune of “Greensleeves” has proven to be a winning formula, captivating generations of listeners.

The song’s lyrical content focuses on the birth of Jesus Christ and the events surrounding the Nativity story. It explores the emotions and wonderment of the shepherds and the Magi as they encounter the baby Jesus, who is described as the “Child of the Poor.” The lyrics evoke a sense of awe and reverence for the divine in a humble and relatable way, making the carol resonate with audiences of all backgrounds.

Over the years, “What Child Is This” has been recorded and performed by numerous artists, showcasing its enduring popularity and ability to transcend musical genres. From traditional choral arrangements to contemporary adaptations, the carol continues to be a staple in Christmas concerts, church services, and holiday gatherings.

Furthermore, “What Child Is This” has been featured in various films, television shows, and commercials, solidifying its place in popular culture. Its recognition and widespread appeal have contributed to its enduring status as one of the most beloved Christmas carols of all time.

So, as we explore the sheet music for “What Child Is This,” let us keep in mind the rich history and cultural significance behind this cherished Christmas carol. It’s a song that has stood the test of time and continues to inspire and uplift audiences around the world during the holiday season.


Musical Analysis

“What Child Is This” is a beautifully composed Christmas carol that showcases the craftsmanship of both the lyrics and the melody. Let’s dive into the musical analysis of this iconic piece.

The carol is written in a 3/4 time signature, also known as waltz time. This time signature gives the song a graceful and flowing rhythm, perfectly suited for the introspective and contemplative nature of the lyrics.

The melody of “What Child Is This” is based on the ancient English tune “Greensleeves.” The melody is characterized by its soothing and melancholic qualities, often invoking a sense of longing and beauty. The verses typically exhibit a descending melodic line, which adds to the emotional depth of the carol.

Harmonically, “What Child Is This” employs simple yet effective chord progressions that support the melodic line. The use of traditional chords such as I, IV, V, and vi creates a sense of familiarity and stability throughout the song. However, the occasional use of unexpected chords adds subtle surprises and moments of interest.

Dynamics play a crucial role in shaping the overall expression and impact of the song. The carol starts softly and gradually builds in intensity and volume, reaching a climactic point in the chorus. This dynamic progression helps convey the sense of awe and wonderment described in the lyrics.

The arrangement of “What Child Is This” varies depending on the musical interpretation and performance. It can be performed as a solo piece, in a choral arrangement, or even with a full orchestra. The different arrangements offer unique instrumental combinations and textures that add depth and richness to the song.

Overall, the musical analysis reveals the careful craftsmanship and artistry behind “What Child Is This.” The melody, harmonies, dynamics, and arrangements all contribute to the emotional impact and timeless appeal of this beloved Christmas carol.

So, as you explore the sheet music for “What Child Is This,” keep in mind the rich musical elements that make this carol so special. Let the melody and harmonies guide you as you bring this beautiful composition to life through your own musical interpretation.


Notation and Key

The sheet music for “What Child Is This” is typically notated in standard musical notation. This system uses a series of symbols and marks to represent the pitch, duration, and expression of each note.

The key signature of “What Child Is This” is typically in E minor. This key gives the carol its melancholic and introspective character. However, it’s worth noting that the song can also be performed in other keys, depending on the vocalist or instrumentalist’s preference and range.

The song begins with an introductory motif consisting of a descending arpeggio pattern on the chords of E minor and B7. This motif sets the tone and establishes the key of the carol.

The main melody of “What Child Is This” is notated with a combination of notes on the staff, including whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and eighth notes. The rhythm of the melody varies throughout the song, creating a sense of movement and momentum.

Chords are represented by stacked symbols above the staff. These symbols indicate the harmony and provide a guide for accompaniment. In “What Child Is This,” you will typically see chords such as E minor, G major, D major, C major, and B7, among others.

In addition to the melody and chords, the sheet music may include markings for dynamics, tempo, and expression. These markings help guide the performer in shaping the musical interpretation of the song. For example, you may see symbols such as crescendo (gradually getting louder), decrescendo (gradually getting softer), and fermata (pause or hold a note longer than its written value).

It’s important to remember that sheet music is a guide, but it also allows for personal interpretation and expression. As you read and perform the sheet music for “What Child Is This,” feel free to infuse your own artistic flair into the music, while staying true to the overall character and mood of the carol.

So, whether you’re reading sheet music for the first time or you’re a seasoned musician, the notation and key of “What Child Is This” will guide you in bringing this enchanting Christmas carol to life.



“What Child Is This” is a versatile carol that can be performed with a variety of instruments, allowing for different interpretations and arrangements. The instrumentation chosen for a particular performance can greatly influence the overall sound and character of the song.

One of the most common arrangements of “What Child Is This” is for voice and piano. The piano provides a rich and full accompaniment, supporting the melody and harmonies of the song. The pianist can add depth and expression through dynamics, chord inversions, and delicate arpeggios.

An alternative arrangement could feature a solo instrument, such as flute, violin, or guitar, playing the main melody. This creates a more intimate and delicate rendition, showcasing the beauty of the instrument and allowing for subtle nuances in the interpretation.

In a choral setting, “What Child Is This” can be performed by a mixed choir, children’s choir, or a cappella group. The use of multiple voices adds depth and complexity to the harmonies, creating a rich and powerful sound. Choirs can also incorporate additional vocal harmonies and descants to enhance the overall texture of the carol.

For larger ensembles, such as orchestras or concert bands, “What Child Is This” can be performed with a full arrangement of instruments. The strings provide a warm and lush foundation, while the woodwinds, brass, and percussion add color and dynamics to the piece. This arrangement allows for more intricate musical interplay and can create a grand and majestic rendition of the carol.

It is important to note that the choice of instruments ultimately depends on the preferences and resources of the performers. The versatility of “What Child Is This” allows for creative adaptations and unique instrumental combinations.

Regardless of the chosen instrumentation, the focus should always be on capturing the emotional depth and beauty of the carol. The instruments should work together harmoniously to convey the sense of wonder, joy, and reverence that “What Child Is This” evokes.

So, whether you’re a pianist, vocalist, instrumentalist, or part of an ensemble, consider the instrumentation carefully as you prepare to perform “What Child Is This.” Let the chosen instruments enhance the timeless beauty of the carol and bring out its unique qualities in your interpretation.


Performance Notes

When preparing to perform “What Child Is This,” there are a few important performance notes to keep in mind. These notes will help enhance your interpretation and ensure a captivating and seamless performance of this beloved Christmas carol.

1. Pay attention to dynamics: Dynamics play a crucial role in conveying the emotional journey of “What Child Is This.” Be mindful of the dynamic markings indicated in the sheet music, such as piano (soft), forte (loud), crescendo (gradually getting louder), and decrescendo (gradually getting softer). Use these dynamics to shape the phrases and evoke the desired emotional impact of each section.

2. Observe the tempo: The tempo of “What Child Is This” should be performed with a gentle and flowing quality, reflecting the introspective nature of the piece. Pay attention to the indicated tempo marking, such as Adagio or Moderato, and maintain a steady, relaxed tempo throughout the carol.

3. Expressive phrasing: Use phrasing to bring out the lyrical qualities of “What Child Is This.” Pay attention to the natural breathing points and the connection between the melody and the lyrics. This will allow you to create a seamless and expressive line, bringing the words to life through your music.

4. Articulation and ornamentation: Explore various articulation techniques to add nuance and expression to the melody. Experiment with legato (smooth and connected), staccato (short and detached), and accents to highlight specific notes within the phrases. Additionally, consider adding tasteful ornamentation, such as trills or grace notes, to enhance the beauty and ornamented nature of the carol.

5. Personal interpretation: While it’s important to respect the composer’s intentions, feel free to add your own interpretation and personal touch to the performance. Consider utilizing expressive rubato, subtle dynamic variations, and emotional nuances to make the carol uniquely yours.

6. Collaborate with accompanists or ensemble members: When performing “What Child Is This” with an accompanist or an ensemble, communicate and collaborate with them to achieve a cohesive and unified performance. Pay attention to the balance, blend, and coordination between the different instruments and/or voices to create a harmonious and captivating rendition.

7. Connect with the meaning of the carol: As you perform “What Child Is This,” immerse yourself in the meaning of the lyrics and the spiritual message they convey. This connection will allow you to deliver a heartfelt and authentic performance, truly capturing the essence and significance of the carol.

By keeping these performance notes in mind and incorporating them into your practice and rehearsals, you will be able to deliver a moving and memorable performance of “What Child Is This.” Embrace the beauty of the carol and allow its timeless message to resonate with both you and your audience.



The lyrics of “What Child Is This” tell the story of the birth of Jesus Christ and evoke a sense of awe and wonderment at the divine arrival. The combination of heartfelt words and the beautiful melody of “Greensleeves” has made this carol a beloved Christmas classic for centuries. Let’s take a closer look at the lyrics:

Verse 1:

What child is this who, laid to rest

On Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,

While shepherds watch are keeping?


This, this is Christ the King,

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;

Haste, haste to bring Him laud,

The babe, the son of Mary.

Verse 2:



“What Child Is This” is a Christmas carol that allows for a wide range of interpretations, both musically and lyrically. The lyrical content and the melody provide artists with the opportunity to convey a sense of wonder, reverence, and joy surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ. Let’s explore some common interpretations of this beloved carol.

1. Reflective and Contemplative: Many interpretations of “What Child Is This” tend to emphasize the introspective nature of the carol. The melancholic melody and the profound lyrics invite performers and listeners alike to contemplate the significance of the Nativity story. This interpretation often emphasizes the emotional depth and spiritual journey portrayed in the song.

2. Joyful and Celebratory: Another interpretation of “What Child Is This” focuses on the joy and celebration associated with the birth of Jesus. This rendition may emphasize the chorus with a more lively tempo and dynamic performance. The joyous interpretation can convey a sense of exuberance and excitement, showcasing the anticipation and happiness felt by shepherds and angels alike.

3. Peaceful and Serene: The gentle melody and profound lyrics of “What Child Is This” lend themselves to a peaceful and serene interpretation. By emphasizing the calming qualities of the carol, performers can create a tranquil and soothing atmosphere. This rendition often focuses on the beauty and tranquility of the scene, emphasizing the gentle grace of the newborn King.

4. Multi-Vocal Harmonies: “What Child Is This” lends itself to rich harmonic interpretations when performed by choirs or ensemble groups. By adding additional vocal parts and harmonies, performers can create a lush and layered sound, enhancing the sense of awe and wonder in the carol. This interpretation allows for a beautiful interplay between voices, adding complexity and depth to the overall performance.

5. Instrumental Solos: “What Child Is This” can also be interpreted as a stunning instrumental solo piece. Whether performed on the piano, flute, violin, or any other instrument, solo renditions of the carol allow for expressive and virtuosic interpretations. This can be particularly effective in showcasing the depth and beauty of the melody, with instrumental embellishments enhancing the emotional impact of the piece.

Overall, the interpretation of “What Child Is This” is a personal and artistic choice for performers. The carol offers a range of possibilities to capture the essence and meaning of the Nativity story, allowing each musician to bring their own unique expression to the performance.

So, as you explore “What Child Is This,” consider the various interpretations and find the one that resonates with you. Whether reflective, joyful, peaceful, or harmonious, allow your interpretation to honor the profound message and timeless beauty of this beloved Christmas carol.



“What Child Is This” is a cherished Christmas carol that continues to captivate audiences around the world. The combination of its heartfelt lyrics and the hauntingly beautiful melody of “Greensleeves” has made it a timeless classic in the holiday music repertoire.

Through this article, we have explored the sheet music, background information, musical analysis, notation, instrumentation, performance notes, lyrics, and interpretations of “What Child Is This.” We have delved into the craftsmanship and artistic choices that make this carol so powerful.

Whether you are a pianist, singer, guitarist, or any other musician, the sheet music for “What Child Is This” provides a roadmap to bring this enchanting carol to life. The notation and key guide us in playing the right notes and understanding the harmonies, while the performance notes and interpretation allow us to add our personal touch and emotion to the music.

As we perform and listen to “What Child Is This,” it is important to remember the deeper meaning of the carol. It reminds us to reflect on the wonder and significance of the Nativity story, connecting us to the awe and joy that the shepherds and angels felt on that holy night.

So, whether you are performing this carol in a concert hall, a church service, or simply singing it around the Christmas tree, let the beauty of “What Child Is This” fill your heart and inspire your music-making. May the timeless message of this carol touch the lives of all who hear it, reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas.

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