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the score of waltzing matilda

The song you are now hearing is Waltzing Matilda, called by some the second or unofficial national anthem of Australia. The version you're hearing is performed by Slim Dusty, a singer of Australian songs and himself a tradition in Australia. In this rendition, Slim is accompanied by his Bushlanders.

Most people credit Banjo Peterson with composing Waltzing Matilda, which has proved to be a very popular song and a great success all over the world. Although there is little doubt that Peterson write the original lyrics, as we shall see, the identity of the originator of the melody is obscure. As with other successful music, it has inspired many variations, most of which are based on Banjo Peterson's lyrics; other versions of the song based on the melody have alternative lyrics with very different objectives and stories to tell.

Below is a copy of the composer's entire original score, just as he set it down with pencil and paper; it's an almost-life-sized reproduction designed to make it legible and easy to read. It contains all four of the song's verses and its refrain. Click the score at any time to hear the song again.

At the left, Christina Macpherson, credited with hearing the melody to Waltzing Matilda and recognizing its full potential. At the right, Andrew Barton Paterson, known as Banjo Paterson, a popular nationalist Australian poet of the time and the person who wrote the lyrics.



Here's the story of how the song was born. Read it as you listen.

Christina Macpherson was the daughter of an Australian squatter, a relationship that put her in an excellent position to appreciate the subject matter and the sentiments expressed by the lyrics of the song as we know today. However, at the time she first heard it, the lyrics we know today did not exist and the song was nothing like the song that eventuated.

Details of how the song came to be are murky. One theory is that Waltzing Matilda started life as a Scots folk tune which was transformed into a popular Scots song called Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielee. Barr composed the music in 1818 and Tannahill wrote the words in 1805; the tune was transcribed for brass band by Thomas Bulch in 1893.

At this point, Waltzing Matilda had yet to be born.

When Christina heard Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielee at a public event she was instantly enthralled by its melody. Not a professional musician herself, she did her best to commit the tune to memory and to transcribe it so as to preserve it for conversion into something else.

In one version of the story, Christina's brother Bob, an acquaintance of Peterson, is thought to have told him about an Australian sheep sheerer who, being pursued by authorities after participating in a violent 1894 Queensland sheep herder's strike, shot himself at an outback waterhole rather than allow himself to be captured. This event inspired Paterson to write Waltzing Matilda and use it as a socialist anthem in 1895, one year after the strike. In another version of the story, Paterson penned the song to please Ms. Macpherson, with whom he was enamored.

  • For more about Waltzing Matilda's possible origins and history, visit the Waltzing Matilda page at the Wikipedia web site: click here.

the score—words & music together

To gain insight into what a score is for and what it is like, The Muse Of Music suggests that you start by playing the song again. To do this, click the picture of Banjo's score, below. This time, follow along by reading the score as the song plays. Read Banjo's lyrics as Slim and his Bushlanders sing.

The Muse realizes that Banjo's handwriting is not the best, and that the image of his score is blurred. So, The Muse has provided a printed an extra-large copy of Banjo's lyrics to help you decipher what you read in case you run into trouble (see below, under the score). Although Banjo's original version and Slim's version are similar, don't expect Slim's version to exactly match the original one. Slight variations among Waltzing Matilda renditions are common.

In popular or classical music, variations are common. Variations are permitted—even relished—as a consequence of musical creativity and artistic freedom; that's one of the wonderful aspects of art.


viewing & Listening options

As you read about the score and listen to the music, you may find it difficult to make comparisons between what you read, the score, and the lyrics because you can't see all of them on your computer monitor at the same time; or they may be too small to see clearly. You may find it necessary to scroll up and down between them repeatedly.

If you are reading this on a computer equipped with a large monitor or more than one monitor, you have the option to reduce or eliminate these difficulties by opening the score and lyrics in new windows and arranging them on your monitor(s) before you continue.

  • Arrange the Waltzing Matilda score in a new window: click here.

  • Arrange the Waltzing Matilda lyric in a new window: click here.

It may help to minimize your media player so it doesn't block your view.

Do you speak or read Australian? If not, here's a translation of the lyrics into ordinary English:

Lyrics Translation
Oh there once was a swagman camped in the billabong,
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree.
And he sang as he looked at the old billy boiling,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?
Who'll come a waltzin' Matilda my darling,
Who'll come a waltzin' Matilda with me?
Waltzing Matilda and leading a water bag,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?
Down came a jumbuck to drink at the waterhole
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he said as he put him away in the tuckerbag
"You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me"!
Who'll come a waltzin' Matilda my darling,
Who'll come a waltzin' Matilda with me?
Waltzing Matilda and leading a water bag,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?

Down came the squatter a' riding his thoroughbred.
Up came policemen, one, two, and three.
Whose is the jumbuck you've got in the tuckerbag?
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.

Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda my darling
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda and leading a waterbag
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me

But the swagman he up and he jumped in the water-hole,
Drowning himself by the coolibah tree.
And his ghost may be heard as it sings by the billabong,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda my darling,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me.
Waltzing Matilda and leading a water bag,
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me?
Billabonga bow-shaped lake formed in the channel of a dried up river bed.
Billy—a can for boiling water.
Coolibah tree—a kind of eucalyptus tree which grows near billabongs.
Jumbuck—a large, untamed wild sheep that might belong to a squatter. Taking it might be stealing.
Matilda—a romantic term for a swagman's bundle.
Squatter—In the past, Australian farmers who raised livestock on land they did not legally have a right to use. Some became wealthy when the land they squatted on was ceded to them.
Swag—a bed roll, blanket, cloth, or bundle in which a swagman carries all his belongings strapped to his back.
Swagman—a man who wanders through the country looking for work carrying a swag on his back.
Tucker baga bag for carrying food.
Waltzing Matilda—to waltz matilda is to look for work with a swag on one's back.


about banjo's score

Notice that Banjo has used paper on which staves have been preprinted. In his own hand, he has added or omitted these items:

  • Song title.
  • The key signature, which directly follows the clef. The three flat symbols signify that score is in the key of E-flat Major.
  • Notes that specify what notes to play on a musical instrument and the order in which to play them.
  • A clef symbol that indicates the range of the notes on the stave. It could be a bass clef, but here Banjo is indicating a treble clef.
  • Vertical bars that indicate the start and end of measures.
  • A time signature, which specifies how many beats are in a measure and which kind of note receives one beat. With these two factors in mind, a reader can deduce how long to hold each note and which note or notes to emphasize.
    • The time signature is missing from this score. When present, a reader will find it at the start of a stave directly following the key signature.
    • When a time signature is missing, as it is here, the time signature is assumed it to be 4/4 time. This music is to be played in 4/4 time.
  • Lyrics that match up with notes so that a reader knows what words go with what sounds.
  • Four verses. The first verse begins the piece and the last verse ends it.
  • Verse titles.  Each of the verses other than the first verse begins with a title so a reader can tell where it begins.
  • A refrain. The first verse contains the refrain, as explained below.
  • Chorus notations. Each of the last three verses ends with the notation, Chorus: You'll come, etc.

Banjo did not put a marker on the page to show readers where the refrain begins because he expects a reader to figure that out for himself. Here's how:

  • A chorus is the part of a song that's repeated, usually after each verse; it's another word for a refrain.
  • Banjo added a notation that reads Chorus: You'll come, etc. at the end of each of the last three verses.
  • Chorus: You'll come, etc. is Banjo's direction to readers and musicians telling them to finish a verse by singing the refrain.
  • Where is the refrain located in the score? The song beings with the first verse. Since a refrain usually follows every verse, it's a safe bet that the refrain is embedded in the first verse.
  • A reader can tell where the refrain begins by looking in the first verse for the lyric, You'll come.
  • Look for the words You'll come in the first verse and you'll find them in the middle of the third stave. The chorus runs from there to the end of the first verse.

Why ask a reader to look for a refrain instead of marking it on a score? This method for indicting a refrain is an economical shorthand that saves composers the trouble of writing a refrain over and over after every verse. It saves paper, too, and cleans up the score so that it's less messy.



take it easy

Rome wasn't built in a day, as the saying goes. As you read about the score of Waltzing Matilda, you may encounter some musical facts you don't have the background or musical training to understand. If that turns out to be the case, don't let that discourage you. The Muse hopes you'll stick to your guns and keep trying; you'll probably walk away understanding more than you realize and you'll lay a foundation for future progress.


Now that you've got the words alined with the music, try playing the song again. This time, follow the score while you sing the lyrics along with Slim Dusty and his boys and girls. Sing the lyrics to yourself if you're shy about your voice.

Notice how the song springs to life when you know the story behind it, understand the words, and think about the story they are telling while you are hearing the melody. The Waltzing Matilda melody is great by itself but the words, melody, and meaning together are much more powerful. Reading a score while listening to music is a way to facilitate this integration process.

By now you can see why there's a lot to gain by following along—by reading a score while you listen to the music.

Banjo Peterson's score for Waltzing Matilda illustrates many of the characteristics shared by scores everywhere. Now that you've explored Peterson's work, you're ready to move on to other scores.

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