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Lesson 2: Learning “In the Pines”

Aim: What gives music its expressive qualities?
Summary: Students learn “In the Pines” and explore expressive qualities in music.
Materials: Musical Explorers digital resources, Musical Explorers Student Guide
Standards: National 6, 7, 8, 10, 11
Vocabulary: emotions, mood, opposites, strong beats, waltz, weak beats

Michael Teaches “In the Pines”

“In the Pines” Demonstration

Bluegrass artist Michael teaches “In the Pines.”

Sing “In the Pines”

  • Listen to “In the Pines,” Track 42.
  • Learn to sing the chorus, using Track 43.

“In the Pines”

The longest train I ever saw
Was 19 coaches long
The only girl I ever loved
Is on that train and gone

In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun never shines
And you shiver when the cold wind blows

Little girl, little girl, what have I done
That makes you treat me so?
You caused me to weep, you caused me to mourn
You caused me to leave my home


I asked my captain for the time of day
He said he throwed his watch away
A long steel rail and a short cross tie
I’m on my way back home


Discover the High Lonesome in “In the Pines”

  • “In the Pines” uses an important bluegrass vocal technique called the “high lonesome.” It can be described as a holler or a wail and often has a plaintive and haunting quality.
  • Listen again to “In the Pines,” Track 42, asking students to listen carefully and try to identify the high lonesome.
    • What part of the song sounds like the high lonesome?
    • What does it make you feel? Why do you think there are no words in this section?
    • Can you think of other “high lonesome” sounds?
  • Using the “Hoot Owl” warm-up in Core Activities, have students create their own high lonesome sounds.

Explore Expressive Qualities in “Uncle Pen” and “In the Pines”

  • Listen to “In the Pines,” Track 42.
    • What is the mood of this song?
    • How does the music tell us what the mood is? Is it fast or slow? Loud or soft? Bouncy or smooth?
  • Listen to “Uncle Pen,” Track 35.
    • What is the mood of this song? Is it the same or different than “In the Pines”?
    • How does the music tell us what the mood is? Is it fast or slow? Loud or soft? Bouncy or smooth?
  • Have students choose a different mood for “In the Pines” or “Uncle Pen” and sing the chorus in a way that reflects this mood.
    • What did you do to create the new mood?
    • Was it faster or slower? Louder or softer?
    • What else did you change?
    • Why did you choose those expressive qualities to show that emotion?

Waltz to “In the Pines”

  • Explain that “In the Pines” is a waltz, a style of music and dance that is counted in three: Beat 1 is strong, and beats 2 and 3 are weak. In this simplified version of the waltz, the students step down on the strong beat and up on the weak beats (DOWN-up-up).
  • Ask students to line up in single file in a circle:
    • Beat 1 (DOWN): Step forward on your right foot and bend your knee as you plant your foot down.
    • Beat 2 (up): Bring your left foot to meet your right, stepping on your tiptoes.
    • Beat 3 (up): Step on tiptoes in place on your right foot.
    • Repeat the three steps, beginning on your left foot.
  • Once students are comfortable with the movement and can do it up to speed, play “In the Pines,” Track 42, again and have them waltz in a circle to the music.
  • If they master the waltz moving in a circle, try it paired up.
Creative Extension

Explore Emotions and Opposites Through “In the Pines”

  • Read the lyrics of “In the Pines” with the students. Discuss the story and how they might feel when someone in their lives goes away.
    • What feelings or emotions would you have if someone important to you left for a long time?
  • Write down these emotions on chart paper or on the board (this will be the beginning of he “Emotional Opposites” list).
  • Brainstorm opposites for each emotion (e.g., sad/happy, gloomy/funny, serious/silly).
  • Have students demonstrate facial expressions to go with each emotion. They can then draw these facial expressions in Emotional Opposites (PDF).
Literacy Extension

Barn Dance! and Passing the Music Down

In Barn Dance! by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, a boy hears a voice outside his bedroom window, sneaks outside, and follows the voice to the barn. There he finds a barn dance in session! And who do you think is dancing?

In Passing the Music Down by Sarah Sullivan, a boy goes to Appalachia to meet an old-time fiddler whose music he loves. There he becomes a fiddler himself and carries on the tradition.

Cover art for "Barn Dance!" depicting a scarecrow with a crow on its head entering a barn

Cover art for "Passing It Down" depicting an older man and a young boy playing fiddle together in the countryside

Musical Word Wall

Review the words strong beats and weak beats, and add the words emotions, mood, opposites, and waltz to the Musical Word Wall.

Don't Forget

Image Credits

“Mountains” by Travis is licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0.

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