top of page

Learn to Play "Cockles and Mussels"

In Dublin's Fair City

Our 3rd year students are learning to play the traditional Irish tune, Cockles and Mussels. My all-time favorite version is sung by Maxine Sullivan. (If you can get your hands on Maxine Sullivan sings 1955-56, it's my favorite Lindy Hop dancing album of all time! The piano riffs with Fats Waller are inspirational, too.)

Cockles, And Mussels. Alive, Alive-O!

In Dublin's fair city, where girls are so pretty,

That's where he first met her, sweet Molly Malone.

She wheeled a wheelbarrow, through streets wide and narrow.

Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o.

She was a fishmonger, and sure it's no wonder.

For her father and mother were fishmongers too.

They wheeled a wheelbarrow, through streets wide and narrow.

Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o.

He asked her to marry, she said 'twould be grand.

But to leave her dear Dublin, she'd not give her hand!

So they both wheel a barrow, through streets wide and narrow,

Crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o!

This is a story very old of a girl who was his all alone,

She was the one he would not forget and her name was sweet Molly,

sweet Molly Malone...

Maxine recorded Cockles and Mussels in 1937, but it was first published in 1884 as Molly Malone, and became the folksong of Dublin, Ireland. Although we don't know if there really was a Molly Malone, there is a bronze statue of her and her wheelbarrow on Grafton Street!

Learning the Right Hand

The biggest challenge for the right hand is to recognize the dotted quarter note followed by an eighth note rhythm (Shoot-the-bug!). In this video, I help a student correct her rhythm.

Near the end of the song, the word "crying" has eighth notes. Many students miss this quicker rhythm. Have your child play just that measure several times to master the rhythm of "crying". Using our new counting, say "one, two, three-and" for that measure.

Learning the Left Hand

This song is a very important one to add to our repertoire, helping your child internalize how easy it is for ANY chord to be played in root position. Do not try to put hands together until your child is confident with either hand alone. In this video, I help a student learn the left hand by playing a duet with her (you could also sing while playing LH only.)

The last two measures are VERY tricky for the left hand. Watch carefully to see if the correct notes are being played. Help your child slowly discover which fingers to use (you can write a reminder in the book), and then practice playing JUST THOSE TWO MEASURES over and over until they are solid. Go slow and get the notes correct. With practice, bring it up the speed of the rest of the song. In this video, I show how you might help a student learn the fingering for these two measures.

Focus on the Tricky Bits

By focusing on just the measure (or two) that is trickiest, you can help your child master the entire song. Spend several minutes practicing just the hard bits, and ONLY THEN, go try the entire song from the beginning. Soon your child will be able to cruise through the entire song without slowing down during the tricky spots. This is true whenever working on a song: look for spots with tricky fingering or rhythm and give them extra, isolated attention until they are mastered.

For the Advanced Student

Perhaps one of every twenty students shows mastery of this song after one week. Wowza! To add some complexity while still practicing the root-position-chords, I suggest that they play the LH with broken chords. With the LH playing nice even quarter notes, the RH dotted rhythm will produce some lovely (and tricky) interplay. Playing two hands with different rhythms is a challenging feat, so if your advanced student gives this a try, be sure to praise efforts! I have had a few students master it. Like I said, wowza! Enjoy playing this song for all of your friends and family!

4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Educating the Complete Musician

Now that you've begun Let's Play Music class, you might be wondering, why aren't we on the keyboards yet!? Why isn't my child doing drills and building up a big repertoire of performance pieces alrea

Intervals By Ear: Fun with Turtle Tom and Tim

I love how the ear training components of Let's Play Music lessons train students to hear more in the music they are listening to and understand what they are hearing. With the better understanding o

bottom of page