Are you wondering what AB form is and how to teach it to your students?
Do you want to teach more about form, but you need more songs in binary form?
It can be difficult to sort through the literally thousands of songs you could teach to find some good examples of AB form. That’s why we made this list of songs in AB form.
AB form, or binary form, is a song with two distinct phrases of contrasting material. They’re usually shorter songs and were the foundation for verse-chorus songs. Examples of songs in AB form include:
- Engine Engine Number 9
- Froggy In The Meadow
- Draw A Bucket Of Water (King Variation)
- Wake Up You Lazy Bones!
- Around The Green Gravel
- Rocky Mountain
Read on for the notation, game directions, and ideas for how to teach AB form.
What Is AB Form In Music? (Binary Form)
In music, AB form (also known as binary form) is a song or piece of music written with contrasting phrases. The A can alternate with B and is sometimes referred to as verse-chorus form.
In elementary music, the two phrases don’t always repeat, but they are great ways of introducing students to the idea of form and different sections.
One common example (also mentioned below) is the song, Rocky Mountain. The song is broken into two distinct parts, an A and a B.
“Rocky mountain, rocky mountain,
Rocky mountain high!
When you’re on that rocky mountain
Hang your head and cry!”
“Do, do, do, do
Do remember me.
Do, do, do, do
Do remember me.”
Form is commonly shown with capital letters beginning with A for large sections. These sections can be broken down further into phrases which are usually shown with lowercase letters.
As a visual representation, many teachers also use shapes for showing different sections.
6 Simple Songs In AB Form
In this section, I’ll go over some of my personal favorite songs in AB form (check out these additive form songs) (check out these additive form songs). These songs are fun to sing and play with kids.
Some will have links to notation while others will include the notation here. I’ll also briefly break down which grades you can do these with and what other concepts may be taught.
Hey, if you need some affordable printable or digital resources, I recommend checking out Teaching Children Music. It’s a great supplement to your normal curriculum that saves you some serious headaches.
Engine Engine Number 9
Engine engine number 9 is a fun chant which I like to use in kindergarten through second grade. This can also be used to teach tempo or form a basis for an ostinato activity.
If you do this with older kids, you can even label this an example of binary form.
Rhythm Concepts: Quarter rest, eighth notes, quarter notes
Melodic Concepts: N/A
- Students follow you while moving in a train to the steady beat during the A section.
- During the B phrase, jump up and down to the rhythm.
- Repeat and gradually speed up.
Froggy In The Meadow
Most places don’t have the B section with this song, but I had heard it from two different people in this same variant. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down their source.
The game’s pretty simple, but you can extend learning by adding instruments and goofy activities.
Rhythm Concepts: Either half note, swung eighth notes, quarter notes OR dotted half, quarter-eighth, dotted quarter in triple
Melodic Concepts: la, sol, mi
Stir the Froggy
- During the A, students do different beat motions to stir the froggy.
- At the B, put up your binoculars and look around for the froggy.
Draw A Bucket Of Water (King Variation)
Finding AB songs that work with older kids can be a little trickier but not impossible. The game is simple but fun, and the concepts work well with the older kids as an example of binary form.
Rhythm Concepts: triplet eighth notes, quarter-eighth, dotted quarter notes
Melodic Concepts: low sol, do re mi fa sol la
Game notation found at the American Folk Song Collection
Wake Up You Lazy Bones!
I adore this game with kids. The A and B are completely contrasting and the surprise by switching back to the louder, faster A makes them laugh and smile every time.
Though you can use this song to teach advanced rhythm and melody, I usually just leave it for younger kids and use it to teach tempo, form, and dynamics.
Rhythm Concepts: dotted half notes, quarter rest, eighth notes, quarter notes
Melodic Concepts: low ti do re mi fa sol
- During the A, students pat the beat and sing the song.
- For the B, students do these moves. One every two measures.
- Go down on one knee
- Go down on both knees
- Put one elbow down
- Put both elbows down and curl up
- Keep silent for a time. Then pop up and do the A again!
Around The Green Gravel
This song is a beautifully catchy one for older kids in AB form. The game is simple but works well with kids.
Rhythm Concepts: 3 meter, pickup, dotted quarter-eighth, dotted half notes, half notes, eighth notes, quarter notes
Melodic Concepts: do re mi fa sol la
Notation and game at the American Folk Song Collection.
I love playing Rocky Mountain with my students. The game is fun and challenging, and it also naturally reinforces the form.
Rhythm Concepts: half note, eighth notes, quarter notes
Melodic Concepts: do re mi sol la
- Students should be in a double circle formation with partners facing each other.
- During the A section, students turn to the right and march in their circle. At the words, “hang your head and cry” they should be back at their partners putting their heads down and pretending to cry.
- The B section has two similar phrases each with their own moves matching the rhythms.
- Pat pat clap clap both both both both both
- Pat pat clap clap right clap left clap both both both
3 Ways To Reinforce AB Form
There are a lot of different ways to practice form, but here are my favorite 3 ways you can use in your classroom right away.
Contrasting Moves – Students work in small groups of 3-5 to create two sets of moves that follow the form. They then take turns sharing with each other.
Arrange Form Shapes – Students are given shape cards to represent the A and B forms. In small groups, the students decide the order and number of As and Bs to perform.
Students then share their arrangement of the song. This would be a great time to discuss what versions of the song sound good.
Small Group Split – Split the class into two and have one group sing each section. You can also have these groups play instruments along with each section.
Other Favorite Folk Song Resources
If you liked these folk songs, there are literally hundreds more out there to check out.
Here are three of my favorites. Click the link to check out current pricing on Amazon.
Note: These are affiliate links which means we earn a small commission if you click and buy something at no extra cost to you. Win-win! Thanks!
Sail Away – 155 classic folk songs. It doesn’t get more legendary and useful than this folk song collection.
American Ballads and Folk Songs – Lomax traveled the U.S. to record the music of its people, and this collection is the result. It doesn’t more authentic than this.
World Music Pedagogy Volume II. – The second volume focuses on elementary grades. I love including the music of all cultures, and personally, I know I need to do this so much more.
I hope you found these 6 fun songs in AB form helpful. Binary form is one of the gateway concepts to better understanding more complicated music like popular songs and art music such as Carmina Burana.