Ever notice that the ABC Song and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star have the same tune?
This fairly obvious fact didn’t occur to me until this morning, I was mulling over the origin of the “ABC Song,” and found numerous articles pointing out that the melody is the same! In the Telegraph, writer Sebastian Doggart reports that “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and “What A Wonderful World” follow the same pattern, and that he annoyed his three-year-old son by singing them all back to back: “They’re the same, Daddy. Sing me a diffewent song.”
This familiar melody is thought to have originated as a folk song in France, with the melody first published in 1761 and lyrics published in 1774 (nothing like the ones we’re familiar with). Mozart arranged the tune into 12 variations in the 1780s:
…and British poet Jane Taylor wrote the familiar “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” version in 1806. The version of the song used to teach the alphabet was first copyrighted by Boston music publisher Charles Bradlee (although Doggett correctly points out the absurdity of copyrighting the alphabet!).
Doggett’s friend, composer David Wolfert, explained the universal appeal of the ABC Song / Twinkle, Twinkle as follows:
“Our enjoyment of music is based on a combination of the tune going where we are culturally conditioned to expect it to go, and how it surprises us from time to time by not doing what we expect. Children like the more expected musical path. This tune, which starts on the first degree of the scale, or tonic – C in the key of C – then comes to rest on the fifth step of the scale on the word ‘star’. The fifth step – G in the key of C – is known to be the second strongest step to our Western ears. The tune then returns to the tonic again on the word ‘are’, which satisfies our expectation of completion.”
Since the melody is so simple, appealing, and easy to learn (especially since at least two songs your child will hear on a regular basis use it), of course the ABC Song is an excellent tool in teaching and memorizing the alphabet. This article includes some tips on how to use it to teach your child her letters. Just don’t bore her by singing all the songs with the same melody all at the same time, though!
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