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An alphabet song is any of various songs used to teach children the alphabet. Alphabet songs typically follow the alphabetic principle (though the phonics method offers variants). In languages such as English with morphophonemic variation (e.g. "cake" is //, not [ˈkaːkɛ]), an alphabet song usually chooses a particular pronunciation for each letter in the alphabet and also typically for some words in the song.
The A.B.C. (Verse 1)
Tune for Alphabet song
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The song was first copyrighted in 1835 by the Boston-based music publisher Charles Bradlee, and given the title "The A.B.C., a German air with variations for the flute with an easy accompaniment for the piano forte". The musical arrangement was attributed to Louis Le Maire (sometimes Lemaire), an 18th-century composer. This was "Entered according to act of Congress, in the year 1835, by C. Bradlee, in the clerk's office of the District Court of Massachusetts", according to the Newberry Library, which also says, "The theme is that used by Mozart for his piano variations, Ah, vous dirai-je, maman." This tune is the same as the tune for "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep".
Lyrics: (each line represents two measures, or eight beats)
- A, B, C, D, E, F, G... (/eɪ biː siː diː iː ɛf dʒiː,/)
- H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P... (/(h)eɪtʃ aɪ dʒeɪ keɪ ɛlɛmɛnoʊ piː,/ "l, m, n, o," spoken twice as quickly as rest of rhyme)
- Q, R, S.../ T, U, V... (/kjuː ɑr ɛs, tiː juː viː,/ pause between s and t)
- W... X.../ Y /& Z. (/dʌbəljuː, ɛks, waɪ ænd ziː,/ pause between x y, w and x last for two beats)
- Now, I know my ABCs. (/naʊ aɪ noʊ maɪ eɪ biː siːz,/)
- Next time, won't you sing with me? (/nɛkst taɪm, woʊnt juː sɪŋ wɪθ miː/).
Zed for Zee
In the United States, Z is pronounced zee; in most other English-speaking countries (such as Canada, the UK and Australia) it is pronounced zed. Generally, the absent zee-rhyme is not missed, although some children use a zee pronunciation in the rhyme which they would not use elsewhere. Variants of the song exist to accommodate the zed pronunciation. One variation shortens the second line and lengthens the last, to form a near-rhyme between N and zed:
Alternate Zed Version:
Another alternate Zed version:
- a-b-c, d-e-f
- n-o-p, q-r-s
Note that the third line is lengthened and the fourth line is shortened, to compensate for the Dutch pronunciations.
French Canadian version
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.
Because the English language has 40 sounds and only 26 letters, children and beginning readers also need to learn the different sounds (phonemes) associated with each letter. Many songs have been written to teach phonemic awareness and they are usually referred to as alphabet songs.
There are also songs that go through the alphabet, making some of the letters stand for something in the process. An example was recorded in 1948, by Buddy Kaye, Fred Wise, Sidney Lippman, and later Perry Como, called A, You're Adorable (also known as "The Alphabet Love Song"):
- A, you're adorable
- B, you're so beautiful
- C, you're a cutie full of charms
- D, you're a darling
- And E, you're exciting
- And F, you're a feather in my arms
- G, you look good to me
- H, you're so heavenly
- I, you're the one I idolize
- J, we're like Jack and Jill
- K, you're so kissable
- L, is the love light in your eyes
- M, N, O, P
- I could go on all day
- Q, R, S, T
- Alphabetically speaking: "You're OK"
- U, made my life complete
- V, means you're very sweet
- W, X, Y, Z
- It's fun to wander through the alphabet with you to tell you what you mean to me
A newer example of this is from the award winning musical, Matilda. 'School Song' is an acrostic that spells out the alphabet phonetically, which is made more abundantly clear on the second pass through the chorus as the letters are more emphasized.
Backwards song (Verse 2)
- I-H-G-F-EDCBA-- (EDCBA said like LMNOP in original alphabet song)
- Now I know my CBAs;
- Next time, won't you lead the way?
Another version ends with "Now I know my ZYXs, let's all go and walk to Texas."
Comedian Soupy Sales released a song in 1966 called "Backwards Alphabet" which contained the reverse alphabet in lyrical style. The original version of the song was performed by actress Judi Rolin with The Smothers Brothers in the 1966 teleplay adaptation of Alice Through the Looking Glass.
In the opening scene of the 1992 episode of Martin, Martin sings the song in the dark radio station in season 1's "Dead Men Don't Flush".
Related English language songs
- "ABC–DEF–GHI", an alphabet song sung by Big Bird of Sesame Street
- "Al'z A-B-Cee'z", an alphabet song by hip hop group 3rd Bass, on their album Derelicts of Dialect (1991)
- "Do-Re-Mi", a show tune from The Sound of Music (1959), used to teach the order of the notes in the Solfege scale
- "Swinging the Alphabet", a phonetically based novelty song popularized by The Three Stooges
- "The Elements" (song) by Tom Lehrer, a mnemonic song of the periodic table
Traditional alphabet songs in other languages
- "Ahaka mana", Māori
- "Alef-Bet" by Debbie Friedman, a song commonly used in American Hebrew school classrooms to teach the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet
- "Iroha", Japanese
- "Shiva Sutra", Sanskrit
- "Thousand Character Classic", Chinese and Korean
- "Zengő ABC" by Ferenc Móra, Hungarian
- Newberry Library catalog
- 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."
- "Listen to the song sung". Archived from the original (RealPlayer) on 2007-09-28.