The ABC Song

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Music for the alphabet song including some common variations on the lyrics

"The ABC Song"[a] is the best-known song used to recite the English alphabet in alphabetical order. It is commonly used to teach the alphabet to children in English-speaking countries. "The ABC Song" was first copyrighted in 1835 by Boston music publisher Charles Bradlee. The melody is from a 1761 French music book and is also used in other nursery rhymes like "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star". It is not known who first set the alphabet to this tune. Songs set to the same melody are also used to teach the alphabets of other languages.

History[edit]

The melody of "The ABC Song" was first published in the French book of music Les Amusements d’une Heure et Demy (transl. Amusements of an Hour and a Half) (1761) without lyrics. It was adapted in Mozart's Twelve Variations and used in many nursery rhymes around the world, including "Ah! vous dirai-je, maman", "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and later "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep", before being used in this song.[1] It is unknown who set the alphabet to this tune.[2]

"The ABC Song" was first copyrighted in 1835 by Boston music publisher Charles Bradlee under the title "The A.B.C., a German air with variations for the flute with an easy accompaniment for the piano forte."[3][b] The melody was attributed to 18th-century composer Louis Le Maire.[4]

"The ABC Song" is commonly used in preschools across English-speaking countries. Due to the speed at which 'L, M, N, O, P' is spoken it is a common misconception among children still learning the alphabet to believe that it is in fact its own letter called "elemenopee". Some have proposed teaching slower versions of the song to avoid this issue, but attempts to do so have been criticized for lacking the end rhymes and the 'L, M, N, O, P" part being an essential part of the song.[5][6] The television series Sesame Street has covered the song many times, collaborating with popular artists such as Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, Nina Simone and Usher.[7]

Composition and variations[edit]

Lyrics: (each line represents two measures, or eight beats)

A, B, C, D, E, F, G... (/ b s d ɛf /)
H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P... (/ k ɛlɛmɛn p/; "L, M, N, O" spoken twice as quickly as rest of rhyme)
Q, R, S.../ T, U, V... (/kjuː ɑːr ɛs | t juː v/; pause between S and T, though in some variants, "and" is inserted)
W... X.../ Y and(/&) Z. (/ˈdʌbəl.juː ɛks | w ænd z/; pause between X and Y, and W and X last for two beats)
Now I know my ABCs.
Next time, won't you sing with me?[8]

  \relative c' {
    \key c \major \time 4/4
    c4 c4 g'4 g4 \bar "|" a4 a4 g2 \bar "|"
    f4 f4 e4 e4 \bar "|" d8 d8 d8 d8 c2 \bar "|" \break

    g'4 g4 f2 \bar "|" e4 e4 d2 \bar "|"
    g8 g8 g4 f2 \bar "|" e4 e4 d2 \bar "|" \break

    c4 c4 g'4 g4 \bar "|" a4 a4 g2 \bar "|"
    f4 f4 e4 e4 \bar "|" d4 d4 c2 \bar "|."
   }
   \addlyrics {
     A B C D E F G,
     H I J K L M N O P,
     Q R S, T U V,
     W     X, Y and Z.
     Now I know my A B Cs.
     Next time, won't you sing with me?
   }

Lyrics for the alternate Zed version: (each line represents two measures, or eight beats)

A, B, C, D, E, F, G... (/ b s d ɛf /)
H, I, J, K, L, M, N... (/ k ɛl ɛm ɛn/)
O, P, Q, R, S, T, U (/ p kjuː ɑːr ɛs t juː/)
V, W... X, Y and(/&) Z. (/v ˈdʌbəl.juː ɛks w ænd zɛd/; W lasts for two beats)
Now I know my ABCs.
Next time, won't you sing with me?[9]

  \relative c' {
    \key c \major \time 4/4
    c4 c4 g'4 g4 \bar "|" a4 a4 g2 \bar "|"
    f4 f4 e4 e4 \bar "|" d4 d4 c2 \bar "|" \break

    g'4 g4 f4 f4 \bar "|" e4 e4 d2 \bar "|"
    g4 g8 g8 f4 f4 \bar "|" e4 e4 d2 \bar "|" \break

    c4 c4 g'4 g4 \bar "|" a4 a4 g2 \bar "|"
    f4 f4 e4 e4 \bar "|" d4 d4 c2 \bar "|."
   }
   \addlyrics {
     A B C D E F G,
     H I J K L M N,
     O P Q R S T U,
     V W     X Y and Z.
     Now I know my A B Cs.
     Next time, won't you sing with me?
   }

Pronunciation of "Z"[edit]

In the dialects spoken in most English-speaking countries, including the United Kingdom, the letter name for Z is pronounced /zɛd/ (Zed); although in American English, the dialect in mind by the composer, the letter is more commonly pronounced /ziː/ (Zee). In dialects which use the Zed pronunciation, the absent Zee-rhyme is generally not missed, although whilst singing the song, some children may accommodate for Zee which they would otherwise not use on a regular basis. Variants of the song exist to accommodate the Zed pronunciation. One such variation is shown below:[10][11]

{ \time 4/4 c'4 c' g' g' | a' a' g'2 | f'4 f' e' e' | d' d' c'2 | g'4 g' f' f' | e' e' d'2 | g'4 \times 2/3 { f'8 f' f' } e'4 d' | c' r r2 | \bar "|." } \addlyrics { A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V dub- a- U X Y "Z(ed)" }
a-b-c-d-e-f-g
h-i-j-k-l-m-n
o-p-q-r-s-t-u
v-w-x-y-z(ed)

This version has no closing line and the tune is modified accordingly. There is no lengthening of the W in this version.

Backwards alphabet[edit]

Several versions exist covering the alphabet backwards, i.e. Z to A. One version is shown below.

z-y-x and(/&) w
v-u-t, s-r-q
p-o-n-m-l-k-j
i-h-g-f-e-d-c-b-a
Now you know your ZYXs
I bet that's not what you expected![12]

The e-d-c-b part is as fast as the l-m-n-o part in the normal alphabet song.

Versions for other languages[edit]

The same melody used for "The ABC Song" has also been used for the German, French, and Arabic alphabets.[13] A French-language version of the song is also taught in Canada, with generally no alterations to the melody except in the final line that requires adjustment to accommodate the two-syllable pronunciation of the French y.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Traditional alphabet songs in other languages[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "The ABC Song" is also referred to as "Now I Know My ABCs", "The ABC", "ABC Song", "ABCs" /ˌ.bˈsz/ or "ABC" /ˌ.bˈs/, as well as "The Alphabet Song", "The Alphabet", "Alphabet Song" or "Alphabet".
  2. ^ The alphabet song is sometimes said to come from another of Bradlee's publications, The Schoolmaster, but the first line of that song is given as "Come, come my children, I must see", in Yale University's library catalog. It is described as "a favorite glee for three voices, as sung at the Salem glee club."

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fuld, James J. (2000) [1966]. The Book of World-famous Music: Classical, Popular, and Folk (5th ed.). Dover Publications. pp. 593–594. ISBN 9780486414751.
  2. ^ Dwyer, Rachael (14 June 2017). "Curious Kids: Who made the alphabet song?". The Conversation. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  3. ^ Uitti, Jacob (15 June 2023). "The Meaning Behind the ABCs of "The Alphabet Song"". American Songwriter. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  4. ^ Lynch, Jack (2016). You Could Look It Up. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 50. ISBN 9780802777942.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  5. ^ Fortin, Jacey (30 October 2019). "How Do We Sing Our ABC's? L-M-N-O-Please Not Like That". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  6. ^ Bruner, Raisa (29 October 2019). "The People Have Spoken and They Don't Want This Updated Alphabet Song Remix". Time. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  7. ^ Ryzik, Melena (27 September 2019). "How 'Sesame Street' Keeps the ABCs Fresh, Every Single Time". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  8. ^ "Listen to the song sung". Archived from the original (RealPlayer) on 28 September 2007.
  9. ^ "Listen to the song sung". Archived from the original (RealPlayer) on 28 September 2007.
  10. ^ "Definition of ZED". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  11. ^ "Zed | Definition of Zed by Oxford Dictionary on Lexico.com also meaning of Zed". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Archived from the original on 7 August 2020. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  12. ^ Schiller, Pamela Byrne; Willis, Clarissa (2006). School Days: 28 Songs and Over 300 Activities for Young Children. Gryphon House. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-87659-019-5.
  13. ^ "Who Wrote The Alphabet Song?". Dictionary.com. 2 October 2018. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
  14. ^ Children sing the ADLaM alphabet, as obtained from Bach, Deborah; Lerner, Sara (29 July 2019). "Adlam Comes Online". Microsoft. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  15. ^ Dene Syllabics Alphabet, Indigenous Languages of Manitoba Inc., 4 May 2018, archived from the original on 23 November 2021, retrieved 27 October 2021 – via YouTube