Thursday, May 28, 2009

Musical Literacy

Have you ever noticed that the melody for "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" shows up for a variety of favorite childhood lyrics?

Maybe I'm the only adult who didn't know this, but on a recent visit to New York, Suzie Chase Brown, my sister-in-law, pointed this out to me as we skipped down the street with her son (my nephew), Tiger, between us.

"Have you ever noticed that the ABC song is set to the melody of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'?" she asked. We enlisted Tiger's help (he is six now, and very comfortable with his ABCs). We asked him to sing the ABC song while his mother and I sang "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Sure enough, Tiger confirmed, after merrily trumpeting, "A B C D E F G,..." the songs shared the same melody.

"And," Suzie added, " 'Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,' too." This time Tiger wanted to sing about the sheep: "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep,/ Have you any wool?/ Yes sir, Yes sir/ Three bags full." Well! I thought, is there no other melody under the sun? Maybe not, but what a fun idea to share with a child! They can test each song against the melody of "Twinkle, Twinkle..." in order to prove or disprove this theory themselves. Look how well they've done their research, and they realize that they can master all these different songs!

Voila! Not only do your youngsters discover that they have a fine repertoire, but they now have a way to talk about melody using songs they know well. They have acquired musical literacy.


  1. Before I became a teen librarian I was a storyteller for the library, and I used to love doing that little song trick with the kids. I would segue from one song to the next.
    Another personal favorite of mine is the traditional song Jenny Jenkins. I would get the kids to give me a color, and then I would have to find a rhyme for the color. The kids came up with some great colors and the adults always got in on the action to try and stump me too.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Matt! I don't know the song "Jenny Jenkins," but you can bet I'm going to find it now (not just because of the game but for the catchy title, too!).