Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Yankee Doodle Comes to LPM Class!

History of Yankee Doodle

"Yankee Doodle" was first sung as a ditty used by the British to mock the rag-tag, disheveled American soldiers.  Yankee began as a negative term to identify Americans.  The word itself might possibly have begun as a Native American mispronunciation of "English," resulting in "Yengeesh."  Doodle is an old word for a fool or simpleton.  Macaroni  was not pasta but a term for a man dressed in a ridiculous style.  So, this is a song about a rag-tag simpleton who thinks he is fancy even when he is ridiculous!

Ironically, this song was adopted and adored by early Americans proud to be identified as Yankees.  It has even become the official state song of Connecticut! Just as Yankees took control of the British during the Revolution, they also took command of this song and sang it proudly as an anthem to tease their foes.  

Lyrics and Tune

Lyrics were written in 1755 by an English doctor, Dr. Shackburg during the French and Indian War to describe those ramshackle colonists fighting alongside the well-dressed British soldiers.  Because the tune was popular and easy to remember (it's a turn on the nursery rhyme tune Lucy Locket), new versions of lyrics were written during the American Revolution and the Civil War. Of course the South sang lyrics mocking the North, and the vice versa. The song has over 190 versions from different dates.

The song was revived in 1904 by George M. Cohan with "Yankee Doodle Boy", providing the verses most of us are familiar with. You can hear them here.  John Philip Sousa was so fond of the tune that he used it in many of his works.

Since the lyrics to this melody have been written and rewritten many times for inumerable uses, let's write some Yankee Doodle verses  just for Let's Play Music! If you and your child come up with additional LPM verses, please add them in the comments!

Yankee Doodle went to class
Singin' a soprano
He played the harp, he played the bells
And then he played piano.

*Chorus* Yankee Doodle Do Mi Re,
Yankee Here We Go Now
Mind the solfeg and the chords
and sing Sol La Ti Do, Oh!

A Red Balloon went up up up
as Yankee Doodle watched it.
When it came down the Major scale
He reached right up and caught it!

Yankee Doodle sang on pitch
He knew that 'Do is  Ho-ome'
He always followed Echo Ed
and never sang alo-ne.

Bill Grogan's goat was eating shirts
All down his throat they'd go-
He coughed one up and stopped a train
With just Sol La Ti Do-o!

Yankee Doodle had two pets
in little turtle she-lls,
seconds, thirds, and fourths and fifths,
he learned them very we-ll!

Yankee Doodle found the root
Of each and every chord
He harmonized I, IV, and V
And rarely needed more!

Why Use Folk Music?

True folk tunes withstand the test of time.  If Yankee Doodle had poor melodic or rhythmic qualities, it would not have been recreated over 190 times and passed down through generations of oral history.  These simple tunes have excellent, simple structure for students to study when developing an understanding of musical composition and theory or experimenting with playing styles as we do in Orange semester. Even the greatest composers began with a foundation in folk music.

And in terms of your musical foundation, hold on to your Orange book because there are many ways to progress as a musician as you play with Yankee Doodle.  Here are some ideas to help you progress, especially if you'd like to keep practicing into summer to complete them all:

Easy: Play block chords as written and sing the melody.

Nice: Play 2-handed marching style chords and sing the meldoy.

Double Nice: Play 2-handed marching style while your friend plays the RH melody an octave above, then switch roles.
 Fantastic: Play the melody with RH and block chords with LH.

Superstar: Play the melody with RH and play marching LH chords. 

Tricky: In some of my lyrics above I refer to Ti Sol La Ti Do Do as the last two measures of the song, which is a very common ending for this tune. In your Orange songbook, another common variation (Ti Ti La Ti Do Do) is written; it's easier for you to play since you won't have to move your RH in a great jump to get down to Sol.  If you would like to play the Sol La Ti Do ending, give it a try!

Brilliant: Now that you know how to examine a song, figure out the chords, and play them in 2-handed marching style, try it with the song Hurry Hurry Drive the Firetruck from your Green songbook. You still have your Green book, right!? First use careful listening to decide which chords are needed for each measure.  Use half notes, just like we did in Yankee Doodle. (Here's a hint: you will only need red and yellow chords.)  Then proceed through all the levels of mastery as listed above. Tip: when playing measure 4 RH, use fingering 1 2 1 'pop'2.  You'll have to really reach that 2 finger over to the G.  If you have a younger sibling in Let's Play Music, s/he is really going to love playing a duet with you on this song.

Have fun and post your additional lyrics to share in the comments!
- Gina Weibel, M.S.

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