Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Goodbye, Old Paint

Here at Let's Play Music, we use several traditional songs to help teach music. (Read our post on why we use folk music.

One of my favorites is Goodbye, Old Paint, and I've found lots of ways to have fun with it in all three years of the curriculum.  This song gives a perfect example of how we can layer levels of skill into an activity.

Say Will, why don't you pull out that thing and play us a tune?
Goodbye Old Paint was a trail-drive song first notated around 1885. Cowboys spent long hours in the saddle, herding their cattle for days and weeks.  And what did they do for fun? They made up songs!  They couldn't bring pianos, just whatever small instruments they could carry.  Cowboy Jess Morris learned this song from another cowboy with a jew's harp, and decided to make his own arrangement for fiddle.  In a 1928 fiddle contest, Jess was singled out for his interesting arrangement of Goodbye, Old Paint and had his tune was recorded for the first time on vinyl.

We enjoy rockin' out in our car to this modern version of this song by Dan Zanes, on his album, Rocket Ship Beach.

*Goodbye, Old Paint, I'm leavin' Cheyenne.
Goodbye, Old Paint, I'm leavin' Cheyenne.

Old Paint's a good pony, he runs when he can.
Good morning, young lady, my pony won't stand. 


I'm ridin' Old Paint and I'm leading Old Tan
Good Morning Little Annie, I'm off for Montan'


Oh hitch up your horses, and feed them some hay,
Seat yourself by me as long as you stay,


My wagon is loaded and rollin' away,
My horses ain't hungry, they'll not eat your hay,


My Let's Play Music students always want to know: "what do those lyrics mean!?" So, here's one interpretation: This is a song about a cowboy (insert your favorite cowboy name... Winston), leaving Cheyenne and heading to Montana on his horse, Old Tan (insert a bold reason to be moving states... to meet his bride). He must leave behind his beloved childhood pet pony, Paint, because the pony's too old to make the journey. This song is almost 150 years old and they did not have horse trailers back then, you'll want to explain to your child.  And why was the horse named Paint? American Paint Horses are breeds that are beautifully mottled, so this pony must have been spotty. (Follow the link to learn more about horses with the various official patterns- pretty cool.)

Dan Zanes sings about Little Annie, the cowboy's younger sister who always wanted a pony, (why not?) and will take care of Paint while he's gone.  Annie says, "hitch up the horses and sit down and hang out," but our cowboy says, "My wagon is loaded and my horses are fed so I'm just gonna take off now. Bye!"

I often have some 4 or 5 year-old students who are so sad to consider leaving a beloved pet behind. Having a verse about sister, Annie, pet-sitting is a really happy twist.  Occasionally, we'll decide that Winston comes back to visit, so we sing:

Hello, Old Paint, I'm back in Cheyenne
Hello, Old Paint, I'm back in Cheyenne

I'm back in Cheyenne, yeah I came from Montan'
Hello, Old Paint, I'm back in Cheyenne

First Year: Harp and Bells
Students will meet Old Paint in the first year at lesson X.  We love that this song is harmonized with only one chord: red. At this point in the curriculum, it is important for the student to play independently on the harp while accompanying a group of singers.  To make this requirement a bit easier, we love using a song that has no chord changes.  Students just focus on correct strumming and timing to find the beat and play steadily.  Does your child strum too quickly, or play without coordinating with the singers!?  Practice at home using any of our practice-at-home harp tecniques (read our post).

Teacher Darlayne Coughlin (Middleton, WI) has first and second year students play Old Paint on a gathering drum. If you have a drum at home, get it out so your child can master matching the beat. This is critical before moving on to bells.

I like to prop the bells in the case like this. For the first try, I have my daughter just play the red C bell on the downbeats (all that drum practice will pay off). Only once that's mastered, I let her try adding in the E and G notes of the broken red chord (what is a broken chord?).  

I love to have a drum, harp, piano, or other bells continue playing the downbeats only, so my bell-player remembers to get back to the C for every downbeat. In the absence of a piano, I slap the floor as if I were playing a drum, and I say "you have to make sure to play red every time I slap the floor, so we can stay together." If you have younger or older children, pull them in to practice this song- the more the merrier! Everyone keeps the downbeat with their instrument and the bell-player plays a broken chord.

Students love melody, too, and are learning to read on the staff.  Teacher Genny Earl (Mesa, AZ) notated our melody. I love that it is NOT colored, because we want students to focus on baby steps and skips instead of matching bell colors. This is essential in how we teach students to read music (read our post). If you have a super-smarty first-year student, let her read and learn the melody. (Yes, we are missing a few bells)

Second Year: Keyboard

Old Paint comes back in second year to help students play the red chord on keyboards.  We play nice and slowly to give small hands the ability to keep up and gain strength. After all, Paint's an old horse and can't go very fast. It is most important that students use the correct fingering (1,3,5) so fingering and correct hand shape will be integrated through muscle memory.  I like to paint all of my students' 1,3, and 5 fingernails RED to help them match up those fingers to the red chord stickers on the keyboard.  When we practice this song over and over at home, we add in the extra verses from Dan Zanes, or I play a duet with the melody an octave higher while my daughter plays the chords. If your kiddo struggles to play the red chord due to weak fingers, keep practicing and also add in our non-piano finger-strengthing games.

If you have a super-smarty student (I call them Super Turtles), here are some additional ways to make a one-chord song like Old Paint exciting:
  • Take Paint for a walk. Play the lowest red chord you can find, then jump up an octave, then another. Be sure to sing the song as you help him walk along the keyboard from low to high.
  • Kick him into a canter (see photo below). Play bugs instead of slugs (quarter notes instead of whole notes) while you sing. Keep a steady rhythm.
  • Give Paint a friend. Play the left hand while you sing (as long as you use correct fingers: 5,3,1). Then, play both hands in steady red chords.
  • Go Marching. Have the left hand and right hand take turns playing the chords, nice and slowly.
  • Be a fancy circus horse! If your child has mastered everything so far and has strong hands, play the chord in a broken style (just like we played on bells last year). Be willing to go really slowly at first. It's not a race.
  • Play the melody. I recommend you get the bells out and practice reading/playing melody there for now, since playing on the keyboard will require stretching the hand into some handshakes we haven't practiced yet.
Old Paint loves to canter across the keys!
Having lots of fun with Paint? The iPhone app Horse Lovers Camera lets you superimpose horse images over other photos.  Now your Paint can play the piano, too! If you create a fun Old Paint photo, please share it with us on our Facebook page.

Third Year: Mixed Paint

Old Paint comes back again in third year when we work on chord inversions. When we sing the red chord, we sing Do-Mi-Sol.  BUT, we could also sing Mi-Sol-Do or Sol-Do-Mi and it would still be a red chord.  I take my red triangle from class and rotate it around, "Look! Old Paint is doing cartwheels!"  Students in every year can and should practice singing the chords in different inversions like this. Soon enough they'll be playing all the inversions on the keyboard, too. (Watch for our upcoming post on inversions.)

I hope you enjoy singing about our favorite horsey pal, no matter which year of the curriculum you are in!

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music Teacher

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