It was not until 1872 that the poem is known to have been set to music. The English organist, John Baptiste Calkin, used the poem in a processional accompanied with a melody he previously used as early as 1848. The Calkin version of the carol was long the standard. Steven Curtis Chapman, Johnny Cash, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Jimmie Rodgers have recorded this version. Less commonly, the poem has also been set to Joseph Mainzer's composition "Mainzer" (1845).
Since at least the middle of the 20th century, the poem has been set to other musical arrangements:
- Johnny Marks, known for his song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", set Longfellow's poem to music in 1956. Marks' version has been recorded by Bing Crosby, Ed Ames, Harry Belafonte, The Carpenters, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Burl Ives, Sarah McLachlan, Frank Sinatra, Kate Smith and other artists listed below. Marks' composition is now commonly used for modern recordings of the carol, though Calkin's version is still heard as well.
- In 1956, Bing Crosby's version (released as a single) reached No. 55 in the Music Vendor survey. The record was praised by both Billboard and Variety. "Bing Crosby's workover of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" looks like a big one for the '56 Yule and a hit potential of enduring value." "At deadline time, not many of this year's Christmas issues had shown much action. This new Crosby record, however, was off to a promising start. As fast as it is catching on early in the month, it is easy to project the impressive volume it will rack up the last half of December."
- On June 16, 1964, Frank Sinatra recorded the song for inclusion in the album "12 Songs of Christmas".
- In 1990, John Gorka recorded his arrangement, titled "Christmas Bells", which uses stanzas 1, 2, 6, and 7 of the poem
- Bryan Duncan recorded "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" on his album Christmas is Jesus (Myrrh Records)
- In 1999, MU330 recorded a ska-punk version for their Christmas album, Winter Wonderland (Asian Man Records)
- In 2000, the vocal group Rockapella began their album Christmas with an arrangement of the classic carol edition
- In 2002, choral composer Greg Gilpin set the words to the tune "Waly, Waly", an 18th Century English Folk Song, in a sheet-music arrangement that is interesting because of its use of hand bells to illustrate the words; it omitted the last verse
- In 2004, Pedro the Lion recorded a version for the Maybe this Christmas compilation
- In 2005, MercyMe included a version of the song on their Christmas album The Christmas Sessions
- In 2006, Bette Midler recorded the song for her album Cool Yule
- In 2006, Hawk Nelson released an arrangement called "I Heard the Bells" on their Gloria EP, which also uses stanzas 1, 2, 6, and 7 of the poem
- In 2007, Contemporary Christian music artists, Jars of Clay, included a version of the song on Christmas Songs
- In 2008, Mark Hall, lead vocalist of Casting Crowns, recorded his own arrangement, which was released on Peace on Earth
- In 2011, Richard Marx recorded his version of the song for his The Christmas EP and later released it on Christmas Spirit
- In 2011, Jack Gibbons, the British pianist and composer, set Longfellow's poem to music in his role as artist-in-residence at Davis & Elkins College, and the first performance was given by the Davis & Elkins College choir on 4 December 2011
- In 2012, The Civil Wars recorded their version of the song for a collaborative Christmas album entitled Holidays Rule
- In 2013, Echosmith recorded their version of the song and made it available to download for free on their website through the month of December