Do you know the nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep? If you don’t, then you’re in for a treat! This popular rhyme has been passed down from generation to generation, and it’s a great one to teach your kids.
Did you know that this famous rhyme has a shared history with another equally famous rhyme, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?
In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the meaning behind this rhyme and its history. I’ll also share some fun activities that you can do with your little ones based on the song. So sit back, relax, and enjoy learning about Baa Baa Black Sheep!
Did you know that the lyrics we know so well today are not the original words? They are similar however they have changed over time!
Lyrics for Baa Baa Black Sheep As Sung Today
The modern lyrics are simpler and have settled on several simple lines
Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full
One for the master and one for the dame
One for the little boy who lives down the lane
Although that’s the core of the modern lyrics, today you might come across several versions that replace the black sheep with different colors or even the master, dame, and little boy with various characters.
Although the modern lyrics have maintained the core of the original lyrics, there have been different versions over several years. Below is the version from the oldest collection of English nursery rhyme songs from 1744, Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book.
Bah, Bah, a Black Sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, old mate, I have,
Three Bags full,
Two for my master’s,
One for my Dame,
None for the Little Boy
That cries in the lane.
Variations Of the Original Lyrics for Baa Baa Black Sheep
1. Lyrics from The Only True Mother Goose Melodies by Munroe and Francis (1833)
Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes, marry have I, three bags full,
One for my master, and one for my dame,
And one for the little boy that lives in the lane.
2. Lyrics Version from the Real Mother Goose (1916)
Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, marry, have I,
Three bags full;
One for my master,
One for my dame,
But none for the little boy
Who cries in the lane.
THE HISTORY BEHIND BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP
Like most nursery rhymes, Baa Baa black sheep is a very old rhyme, however, the original version only first appeared in print in 1744 in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book.
The original rhyme is thought to have originated in the United Kingdom and was created in reference to taxes (the wool tax), which were collected by the government from farmers and paid into the King’s coffers. The phrase “Baa Baa Black Sheep” may have been used as a way of disguising the identity of those who were protesting against high taxes.
Wool was very important in the production of cloth in medieval England and anyone who could own and raise one did. The wealth of a person could be counted by how many sheep they had, and inevitably the Monarchs starting with King Edward I imposed a tax on the wool trade. That was all the way back in 1275 and various taxes were placed on wool for many years and so it is safe to say the rhyme or poem was possibly around well before either the melody had been created in the 1700s.
Who Came Up with Baa Baa Black Sheep?
Although the first version of the song appears in the book I have mentioned above, it is unclear who came up with the famous song. That isn’t surprising since the piece appeared so long ago when documenting things wasn’t that easy.
Who Came Up with The Melody for Baa Baa Black Sheep?
Baa Baa black sheep uses the same melody as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. The tune used in the two songs is credited to Mozart, although he isn’t the one that came up with it.
The melody for the rhyme comes from a French song published in 1761 called “Ah, cous dirai-je, Maman” attributed to a man named Bouin – although there is no proof he actually wrote the music.
In English “Ah, cous dirai-je, Maman” can be translated to mean – Ah, if I could tell you, mother.
Many people believed that Mozart wrote the tune but he merely made 12 variations of the original French song when he was around 25 years old (1781 or 1782).
What Songs Sound the Same as Baa Baa Black Sheep?
Baa Baa black sheep has the same melody and tune as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and The Alphabet Song.
All three use the French tune “Ah, cous dirai-je, Maman” – Ah, if I could tell you, mother. However, the three songs don’t have any resemblance in lyrics.
The subject and the characters are also different from each other.
So is the purpose of the songs.
Baa Baa Black Sheep talks of a sheep and wool, Twinkle refers to a star, and The Alphabet song teaches the letters of the alphabet.
WHAT DO THE WORDS IN BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP MEAN? DEFINITIONS
Baa Baa Black sheep was written a long time ago, so some of the words are not used in our regular vernacular or language today, so let’s go over the meanings of some of them
What is does Baa Baa mean?
The word “baa” is the sound a sheep makes. The nursery rhyme is using baa baa to imitate the bleating noise of a sheep.
What is a Sheep?
A sheep is a typical farm animal known for its wool and curved horns. Sheep are mainly kept in flocks for their meat and wool.
The word also has a proverbial meaning of following a group blindly. That’s derived from the behavior of the sheep to move and act like other members of their flock.
What is Wool?
Wool is the soft and curly hair on the coat of sheep. Wool is an essential material in the clothing industry thanks to its use in making yarn and clothes.
What is a lane?
The word “lane” in the nursery rhyme means “path.” A lane is a narrow path, often between fields or gardens. The rhyme is probably referring to the fact that sheep were once commonly pastured on the outskirts of towns and villages.
Who Is the Master?
The word “master” in the nursery rhyme baa baa black sheep refers to the owner of the flock of sheep. In many societies, the term “master” was used to refer to someone who owned a lot of property or had a lot of money. Today, we use the word “master” to refer to someone who is skilled at something. For example, you might say that your teacher is a master of mathematics.
Who Is a Dame?
A dame is a woman, especially an older woman. The term is often used to refer to a woman of high social standing, particularly in the United Kingdom.
The origins of the term are unclear, but it is thought to have originated in the Late Middle Ages or early Renaissance. It may be derived from the Latin domina (lady), a title used for the mistress of a household. Alternatively, it may be derived from dam (female deer) or dameul (young lady).
The nursery rhyme baa baa black sheep is about a flock of sheep being fleeced by their shepherd. The dame in the rhyme may represent the shepherd’s wife.
INTERESTING FACTS AND QUESTIONS ANSWERED
What Was the Idea Behind Baa Baa Black Sheep?
It is very possible that Baa Baa Black Sheep was a rhyme created many many years before it was recorded and written as wool was a very profitable trade in the UK having been taxed heavily since the reign of King Edward I in 1275.
For many years people counted their wealth according to how many sheep they had and so the song could have been in reference to this societal norm of the time, which some people now attribute to the divide between the working and middle class in England.
The wool tax decreed that the price of a bag of wool was to be split three ways, one for the king, one for the church, and one for the farmer. The last line, ‘and one for the little boy who lives down the lane’, is more modern than the original ‘and none for the little boy who lives down the lane’, meaning that sheep farmers had nothing left for themselves after paying the tax. Perhaps the king and church took more than they were supposed to.
The rhyme is often denoted as the black sheep being interrogated probably by the tax collector – thus ‘have you any wool’?
The song not being from the US is not related to the slave trade there nor does it seem to have been created to have underlying racial connotations.
Why is it a black sheep and not a white sheep?
No one knows for sure why the rhyme is about a black sheep but the following reasons about why the song is about a black sheep rather than a white sheep have been suggested by researchers and historians as well as by the general public who have an affinity and opinion on the song.
- For Alliteration – Where the same first letter is used for the words in a sentence, Baa, baa and black which makes the sentence phrase much more elegantly than if you were to saa Baa Baa white.
- Because Black sheep are rarer than white sheep and in the past wanted for their multicolor wools as color dying was not as common. They were more valuable hence why someone such as the tax man would want to try to get payment from the wool of a black sheep. However this was not always the case as when it became more common to be able to dye the wool, black wool lost its value. And since we do not know exactly when the rhyme was created this is just a theory.
- Because it was a code for those who were protesting against the king’s taxes on wool.
Which Song Came First, Baa Baa Black Sheep or The ABC song?
The two songs have the same melody, and someone might think they were written at or around the same time. But that couldn’t be any wider off the mark. Although both songs are old, they have appeared at significantly different times.
Baa Baa Black sheep had its first appearance in print in 1744. On the other hand, the ABC song first appeared in print in 1834 in a book called the School Master. That’s almost a century after the first appearance of Baa Baa Black Sheep!
The School Master was written by Charles Bradlee, credited as the author of the Alphabet song, otherwise known as the ABC song.
Did The Same Person Write Twinkle Twinkle and Baa Baa Black Sheep?
Besides The Alphabet song, Twinkle Twinkle also has the same melody and tune as Baa Baa Black Sheep. It has raised questions with some people wondering if one person could have written both song’s lyrics.
But although these songs have a similar melody, they weren’t written by the same person. Twinkle Twinkle is an 1806 poem by English author Jane Taylor, and the author of Baa Baa Black Sheep is unknown and was first seen in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book.
Is Baa Baa Black Sheep in the Public Domain?
Having been written well before 1925, Baa Baa Black Sheep is available in the public domain. According to international copyright laws, anything published before 1925 is now in the public domain, and anyone can use it as they wish.
But then different countries and territories may abide by different copyright rules, so you should always check the laws in your area before using a song. The availability in the public domain only covers the lyrics and melody.
If you use any other person’s variation of the song, then you’ll be violating copyright laws.
How do You Sing Baa Baa Black Sheep in Sign Language?
You can sing Baa Baa Black sheep in sign language. Below is a helpful resource I found on YouTube.
BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP INSPIRED LESSON PLANS
Below is a selection of Lesson Plans. You need to click on the images to go to the websites to learn more and download the resources.
SHEET MUSIC FOR BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP
What’s the Time Signature of Baa Baa Black Sheep?
Baa Baa Black Sheep was originally played with a time signature of 2/4. Although you will find many versions of the song also measured in 4/4 time – as you can see in the selection of sheet music above.
HOW TO PLAY BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP ON AN INSTRUMENT
You can play Baa Baa Black Sheep with different instruments. Look through the below resources to practice with the device of your choice.