Fifth Grade - Music - Lesson 17 - A Cowboy Song


Sing "Cowboy Lullaby" with two-part harmony.

Discuss text of the song.


Text for "Cowboy Lullaby" (attached)

Music for "Cowboy Lullaby" (attached)

Other songs from 19th-century American West, see Suggested Book

Suggested Book

Student Titles

Axelrod, Alan, commentary. Songs of the Wild West. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Among the many songs the students might enjoy singing in this excellent collection are "Cowboy Lullaby," "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie," "The Yellow Rose of Texas," "Cowboy Lullaby," "Home on the Range," "The Cowboy's Lament," and "Buffalo Gals." As we noted in the Visual Arts lessons, the book is also filled with reproductions of noted paintings and sculpture of the same subject and period.

Marrin, Albert. Cowboys, Indians, and Gunfighters: The Story of the Cattle Kingdom. New York: Atheneum, 1993.

A Remington painting, The Arizona cowboy faces p. 54, a sketch of a typical cowboy on p. 60, The Cowboy facing p. 70, and The Night Herder facing p. 86.


Begin the class by asking the students to describe the kinds of work cowboys of the Old West did. Review with them what went on at cattle drives (driving cattle to markets before the railroads took over that part of the job or driving them to other feeding plains, sometimes great distances away).

Set the scene for the students by describing what nighttime might be like on a cattle drive. Be sure they know the cowboys slept outside under the stars, meals were cooked (often by a cook hired specifically for the drive) over a fire, and the cattle could get very restless being in unknown places with strange sounds going on. The great fear was that the cattle might stampede and get lost or injured. Shifts were established to cover the night. Those cowboys assigned to the shift from 11 at night to 2 in the morning were in the most vulnerable position, since that is the time of night that cattle are most likely to get up and stretch, be startled by some occurrence, or wander off if they aren't herded.

Pass out copies of the text and also the music of "Cowboy Lullaby."Tell the students this song is written about that kind of cowboy experience you've just mentioned. If you have access to a reproduction of the Remington painting called The Night Rider (p. 68 in the Axelrod book; titled The Night Herder in the Marrin book, facing p. 86) show it to the class so they can see the kind of silvery blue light on the plains at night described in the text of the song. Then have students take turns reading the text from the copies provided.

Ask the students why they think the song is called a lullaby and whether it is a lullaby for the cowboys or the cattle. (Accept any thoughtful answers.) Tell the students to look at the music for the song and they will see lots of patterns of dotted rhythms followed by long, held notes. If they read the text in the rhythm written out in the music notation, they should be able to hear the gently rocking, soothing, "lullaby" quality of the song created by the combination of the descriptive words and the rhythms of the notes. Go over any words of the text they may not know such as milling (as in milling around, wandering aimlessly) and arroyo (a steep gully typical of some plains in the Southwest if seasonal rainstorms erode the land). Ask them if they can explain the last line of the text. (Accept any thoughtful answers--It is dark, gullies can be steep and unpredictable, cattle can fall, break legs, etc.)

Tell the students that this song is written down with two different voice parts--a soprano part that has the melody, and a lower, alto part that has the harmony. The people who sing the top part will sing the words of the melody; those who sing the harmony part will sing their part on a soft-sounding syllable (such as lah or mah). The alto part is very easy, simply moving in half notes at the interval of a 6th with the main notes of the melody. If you have a piano, this would be a time to give them the opening pitches, so they hear the harmony that carries through the piece. (The students will probably be able to do this by ear; when people improvise in harmony at a sing-along, they are harmonizing either at the 3rd, the 6th, or both, so it will be very familiar to the ear if not the eye.)

Teach everyone the melody with the words, line by line, so they understand how the text fits with the music. (Part I attached shows the text underlay for the melody.) Next, choose some people with good ears for harmony, and give them the music for Part II, which shows the lower part in relation to the melody. Have a few people sing the melody as you join the Part II group in singing the harmony. (Unlike a round, it is easier to learn the harmony in relation to the sound of the melody, rather than learning it separately.) Have the alto group stand in one group when everyone sings together. Congratulate them on singing real two-part harmony.

Cowboy Lullaby


Desert silver blue beneath the pale moonlight,
Coyote yappin' lazy on the hill,
Starlight streams above us in the old firelight,
Time for millin' cattle to be still.


So now the lightning's far away;
The coyote's nothin' skeery, just singin' to her dearie.
Yah ho, tomorr's another day,
So settle down, ye cattle, till the morning.

Nothin' here that seems to be what you folks need,
Nothin' there that seems to take your eye.
Still you got to watch them or they'll all stampede,
Plungin' down some 'rroyo bank to die.


Fifth Grade - Music - Lesson 18 - Ferde Grofé, Grand Canyon Suite


Listen to "On the Trail" from Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite.

Identify some of the unusual sounds that seem to describe the experience in the piece.


Classroom-size map of the United States

Photographs of the Grand Canyon from books or periodicals (optional)

Recording of Ferde Grofé, Grand Canyon Suite, see Suggested Recording

Suggested Recording

Ferde Grofé, Grand Canyon Suite, Delos CD: DE3104.

This recording, with the title "Tone Poems of the American West" has, in addition to the Grofé, Copland's ballet music, Billy the Kid and Rodeo. "On the Trail," the third section of the Grand Canyon Suite, takes anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes, depending on the particular performance.

Background for Teacher

Ferde Grofé was born in New York in 1892. The following year his family moved to Los Angeles, where his maternal grandfather served for twenty-five years as first 'cellist of the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra. Starting at age 5, Ferde began studying piano, violin, and harmony with his mother (an accomplished 'cellist). At the death of his father, he and his mother lived in Leipzig for three years while she studied music there, then returned to Los Angeles. In addition to the instruments he had begun as a child, Grofé then learned to play cornet, trumpet, trombone, alto horn, mellophone, drums and marimbaphone.

He played viola for ten years with the Los Angeles Symphony and composed his first commissioned work at 17; in 1920, Grofé began exploring dance music and jazz with Paul Whiteman's band as pianist and arranger. His arrangements were popular, and his name became well known when he orchestrated Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. His compositions combined symphonic and jazz elements. Other well known compositions include his Death Valley Suite and a Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Ferde Grofé died in 1972.

His Grand Canyon Suite was first played by Paul Whiteman and his orchestra in 1931. It has five sections: Sunrise, The Painted Desert, On the Trail (which the students will listen to for today's lesson), Sunset, and Cloudburst.


Tell the students that the music they are going to listen to today is part of an orchestral piece called Grand Canyon Suite. Have someone find Grand Canyon National Park on a map of the United States (northwest Arizona, follow Colorado River). If you have photographs of the Grand Canyon, show them to the class, so they have are reminded of the rugged terrain.

Tell the students the part of the Grand Canyon Suite they will hear is called "On the Trail." Say to them: "On the Trail" takes just a little over 5 minutes to play, but a lot of different things are going on in that time. Listen very carefully. When the piece is over, you should be able to tell me whether these visitors to the Grand Canyon are hiking on the trail, going by some vehicle, or riding particular animals. See what else you think happens on the trail, just by listening closely to what the sounds in the music suggest.

Play the piece for the students, then let them tell you what they heard. The very first thing in the piece is an extremely loud, raucous braying of instruments sounding just like donkeys. The students will tell you the visitors are traveling on donkeys (or burros). Write that on the board. Then ask: What other sounds were clear to you? (Accept any thoughtful, imaginative answers and write them on the board.) The most obvious things are

clip-clop of the animals' feet on the trail

clip-clops getting faster and faster, then slower again

lovely melody floats over the clip-clops

lots of braying from all different instruments, some solo, some by the whole orchestra

sounds of a waterfall made by instruments, maybe stopping for water

more clip-clopping, back on the trail

sounds of a music box, maybe stopping at a cabin by the side of the trail

big braying sounds and very abrupt ending

Tell the students that the piece was written by an American composer named Ferde Grofé, who first got the idea for the piece when he visited Arizona for a vacation. Tell them some information about Grofé's life, when and where he lived, and you might talk with the students about the influence on his composition of his long experience with a swing orchestra (rhythms, wide variety of percussion used, lots of solo horns and clarinets, strings very much in the background). Ask them whether they like the combination of classical and jazz sounds and orchestration that American composers like Ferde Grofé and George Gershwin began using in the 1920s. Finally, ask them how they would describe the difference between the sound of Grofé's music with what they can recall of Haydn or Mozart. Accept any responses that have to do with the sound of the music.


Ardley, Neil. Music. Eyewitness Books. New York: Knopf, 1989. (0-394-92259-X)

Axelrod, Alan, commentary. Songs of the Wild West. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991. (0-671-74775-4)

Barber, Nicola and Mary Mure. The World of Music. Parsippany, NJ: Silver Burdett, 1995. (0-382-39117-9)

Bishop, Claire Huchel. Johann Sebastian Bach: Music Giant. Champagne, IL: Garrard Publish- ing Company, 1972. (8116-4513-4)

Cornell, Jean Gay. Louis Armstrong: Ambassador Satchmo. Champaign, IL: Garrard, 1972. (8116-4576-2)

Danes, Emma. The Usborne First Book of Music. London: Usborne, 1993. (0-7460-1329-9)

Doney, Meryl. Musical Instruments. New York: Franklin Watts, 1995. (0-53114398-8)

Hirsch, E. D., Jr. ed. What Your 4th Grader Needs to Know. New York: Doubleday Dell, 1992. (0-385-31260-1)

________ What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know. New York: Delta, 1993. (0-385-31464-7)

Jones, Hetti. Big Star Fallin' Mama: Five Women in Black Music. New York: Viking, 1995. (0-670-85621-5)

Krull, Kathleen. Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (And What the Neighbors Thought). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993. (0-15-248010-2)

Macdonald, Fiona and Gerald Wood. Exploring the World. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1996. (0-87226-487-4)

McKissack, Patricia and Fredrick. Louis Armstrong: Jazz Musician. Hillside, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1991. (0-89490-307-1)

Marrin, Albert. Cowboys, Indians, and Gunfighters: The Story of the Cattle Kingdom. New York: Atheneum, 1993. (0-689-31774-3)

Medearis, Angela Shelf and Michael R. Music. New York: Holt, 1997. (0-8050-4482-5)

Medearis, Angela Shelf. Treemonisha. New York: Henry Holt, 1995. (0-8050-1748-8)

Millender, Dharathula H. Louis Armstrong: young music maker. New York: Alladin Paperbacks, 1997. (0-689-80881-X) Originally published in 1972 by Bobbs-Merrill.

Mitchell, Barbara. Raggin': A Story about Scott Joplin. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 1987. (0-87614-810-9)

Schroeder, Allan. Ragtime Tumpie. New York: Little, Brown, 1989. (0-316-77497-9)

Sharma, Elizabeth. Percussion. New York: Thomson Learning, 1993. (1-56847-113-0)

Siegen-Smith, Nikki, compiled by. Songs For Survival: Songs and Chants From Tribal Peoples Around the World. New York: Dutton Children's Books, 1995. (0-525-45564-7)

Silverman, Jerry. Ballads & Songs of the Civil War. Pacific, MO: Mel Bay Publications, 1993. (1-56222-581-2)

________. Folk Blues. New York: Macmillan, 1958.

________. Just Listen to the Song I'm Singing. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1996. (1-56294-673-0)

Venezia, Mike. Duke Ellington: Chicago: Childrens Press, 1995. (0-516-04540-7)

Weik, Mary Hays. The Jazz Man. New York: Atheneum, 1967.


Bach's Fight For Freedom, Sony Classical Film & Video, SHV 66715, 1995, 53 min.