Call & Response (Day Thirteen of Homemade Music)

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Welcome to 31 Days of Homemade Music! This month we are exploring how and why everyone can benefit from being an active participant in music making. To see more posts in this series, click here.

Call and response is an old- yet still common- form of singing pervasive in gospel, blues, and folk music. What is it? Exactly what it sounds like- one group of singers (or a leader) “calls” out a phrase, and a second group of singers (or an individual) responds with another phrase. Classical music uses “antiphony”- the same idea, where two group sing alternating phrases.Sometimes the two phrases are exactly the same, and sometimes they are different. It can be quite simple or more complex. Let’s listen to some examples.

Here’s a simple call and response children’s song that you may recognize from your childhood- The Littlest Worm. It starts with a phrase sung by the leader (call), then repeated exactly by all the children (response). The chorus is always sung all together. Sorry for the silliness. 😉

Here’s an example from the famous movie Casablanca.
Call: “Who’s got trouble?”
Response: “We’ve got trouble!”
Call: “How much trouble?”
Response: “Too much trouble!”

Here’s another famous movie example- Oh Happy Day from Sister Act (wait for the introduction to pass):

You get the idea, though there are lots more examples to be had.

What do I like about call and response songs? It’s a great musical teaching tool for kids and newbies alike. Think of the simplest call and responses that are essentially echos. When we hear a phrase and try to copy it exactly, it makes a song easy to learn. It gives the responder a chance to practice his rhythm and pitch accuracy. It helps him to develop his ear and skill.

Try a simple call and response song with your child! Don’t know one? Make one up, or have them echo you on a simple song you already know. (Try “Row, row, row your boat” from yesterday!) If you’re already an old pro, try using call and response to practice your improvisation skills (more on improvisation later in the series).

What’s your favorite call-and response song?



4 thoughts on “Call & Response (Day Thirteen of Homemade Music)

  1. Lisa/SyncopatedMama

    I like “You remind me of a man – what man? – the man with the power – what power? – the power of voodoo – who do? – you do – do what? – you remind me of a man…” I first discovered this ditty in an old Cary Grant movie, but have since discovered several songs made out of it.


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