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"John Henry," Lyrics, Text Format

Syncopated rhythm variations for verse syllables, lowered/flat leading
tone (7, Ta), and two descending tonic arpeggios with a sixth (I6, C6).



  • Grade: Fifth
  • Origin: USA – Traditional Southern Folk Song
    circa: 1870’s
  • Key: C Major
  • Time: 4/4
  • Form: ABbCc
  • Rhythm: intermediate: | ti ta ti ti ti ti ti | syncopation, | ti ti ta/ (ti) ti ti | syncopation,
    | ta ta ti ta/ | syncopation, | ta/a (ta) ti ti |
    | ta ta ta ti ti | ta ta ti ti ti ti |
  • Pitches: intermediate: Do Re Mi So La Ta Do – lowered leading tone (7, Te) – blue note
  • Intervals: intermediate: La/Do8 (m3), Do8\La (m3), La\Mi (P4), Do/So (P5), Do8\So (P4), So/Te(m3), Te\La (m2), La\So\Mi\Do descending tonic arpeggio with added sixth (I6, C6), Mi/La (P4)
  • Musical Elements: notes: half, dotted quarter, quarter, eighth; rests: quarter, eighth; pickup beat, repeat signs, first and second endings, tonic arpeggio (I6, C6), blue note, vocal slur, ballad; rhythm variations to match verse syllables, note:more commonly preformed with a fast tempo, originally sung slowly to pace the hard labor and save lives
  • Key Words: USA history, pre-industrial laborer’s “hammer song,” prison convict labor system, railroad steam drill, railroad steam powered hammer, folk lore, legends, man against machine, ballad, sad, lonesome, death of me, Lord, captain, steam drill, contractions: gonna (going to), I’ll (I will), ain’t (is not); abbreviations: sittin’ (sitting), hammerin’ (hammering), steel-drivin’ (steel-driving) ’round (around), nothin’ (nothing), lightnin’ (lightning) ; possessive: daddy’s,
  • Recorder: intermediate: introducing the B flat (blue note, lowered seventh)

“John Henry”

also known as
“The Ballad of John Henry”

When John Henry was just a little baby,
Sittin’ on his daddy’s knee,
He gave one long sad and lonesome cry,
Said, “A hammer be the death of me, Lord, Lord.”
Said, “A hammer be the death of me.”
Well, the captain said to John Henry,
“Gonna bring that steam drill ’round,
Gonna take that steam drill out on the job,
Gonna whop that steel on down, Lord, Lord.
Gonna whop that steel on down.”
3. John Henry told his captain,
“Well, a man ain’t nothin’ but a man,
But before I let your steam drill beat me down,
I’ll die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord.
I’ll die with a hammer in my hand.”
4. Oh, the man that invented the steam drill,
He thought that he was mighty fine,
But John Henry drove his steel fifteen feet,
And the steam drill drove only nine, Lord, Lord.
Gonna whop that steel on down.”
5. John Henry kept hammerin’ on the mountain,
There was lightnin’ in his eye.
He drove so hard that he broke his heart,
And he laid down his hammer and he died, Lord, Lord.
And he laid down his hammer and he died.
6. They carried him off to the graveyard,
They buried him in the sand.
And people came from near and far,
To praise that steel-drivin’ man, Lord, Lord.
To praise that steel-drivin’ man.
Additional Formats (click to enlarge)
"John Henry," Music Format
Click to enlarge: "John Henry," Beats Format
Click to Enlarge: "John Henry," Rhythm Format
pitch numbers
Click to Enlarge: "John Henry," Pitch Number Format
Click to Enlarge: "John Henry," Solfeggio Format
letter names
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