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Music Enjoyed by Our Colonial Ancestors

Music NotesEveryone today has some collection of their favorite music whether it is on CDs, vinyl records, IPod, MP3 player or even the vintage 45 rpm records, to listen and get pleasure from anytime. For our ancestors they also enjoyed music to listen, sing or dance to, but they did not have the technology of the last one hundred years to listen to pieces of music whenever they desired.

If an individual in the 18th century did not play a musical instrument themselves they depended on others to perform. Musicians then played the hammered dulcimer, a recorder or fife, a harpsichord, a fiddle, a violin, flutes, drum, English guitar, harp, violas da gamba or a tabor pipe. The use of organs was primarily in churches.

Much of the America’s early music originated in some form in the European homelands of the American colonists. As the people in the colonies merged and blended together, so they created they own style of music.

The type of music liked by our early ancestors would have been folk songs, minuets, dance music, military music, ballads and sonatas. The main music enjoyed had pleasing melodies and offered a story in the form of a song.

Dancing was a favorite method of participating with the music created mostly from the violins or fiddles. Another popular form was the military music. This music generally had a group of musicians playing clarinets, bassoons, oboes, drums, fifes and horns. It would be played during a parade and community event or gatherings and of course during the movement of soldiers going into battle.

One of the earliest and most popular songs enjoyed by our early ancestors was Father and I Went Down to Camp, done in the 1770s. It later becomes known as ‘Yankee Doodle’ and the lyrics have been changed over the decades.

Father and I went down to camp, Along with Captain Gooding, And there we see the men and boys, As thick as hasty pudding.


Yankee doodle keep it up,

Yankee doodle dandy,

Mind the music and the step,

And with the girls be handy.

And there we see a thousand men, As rich as squire David, And what they wasted every day, I wish it had been saved.

Chorus: Yankee doodle etc.

The ‘lasses they eat every day, Would keep an house a winter; They have as much as I’ll be bound, They eat it when they mind to.

Chorus: Yankee doodle etc.

And there we see a swamping gun, Large as a log of maple, Upon a deuced little cart, A load for father’s cattle.

Chorus: Yankee doodle etc.

And every time they shoot it off, It takes a horn of powder, And makes a noise like father’s gun, Only a nation louder.

Examples of some of our ancestors’ music and songs is available online to hear at Early America Music and Popular Songs in American History.

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