Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier

Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier is the kind of song young girls love to sing. Haunting, plaintive, and beautiful, it has a strong melody with a melancholy story which seems to take you back to earlier times, the sad days of the Civil War, or "The War Between the States". Here is a beautiful arrangement in 4 keys: Am, Gm, Fm, and Em.

Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier sheet music

The song actually dates from the American Revolution, with possible roots in Ireland (it is similar to a tune called "Shule Aroon"). Because it is such an old song, you'll find lots of different versions of the tune and the lyrics.

Years ago film-maker Ken Burns produced a moving documentary about the Civil War. Prominent among the music in the background was this song, Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier. Again and again this theme came back, growing in poignancy with each repetition. I loved the arrangement used in the movie so much that I tried to duplicate it, and this was the result. 



free vocal sheet music for Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier


Download free vocal sheet music Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier in Am 

Watch for where the music changes

Please notice that verses 1 and 3 are not exactly the same tune as verses 2 and 4. Only one measure is different (the 3rd measure of each verse), by only a couple of notes, but it is enough to throw singers off if they are not prepared well.

Not just a pretty face - there's lots of substance here

This song has lots of opportunities for beginners to improve basic technique. Even the very first word, "Here," presents difficulties for many singers. I love to use this piece to encourage long vowels..."hih" for "here," and "ah(ee)" for "I".

Watch out for "Ho-ho's"

Another challenge in Johnny is keeping the "h's" out of the syllables with two or more notes. You know what I mean: instead of "tu-urn a-a mill," students want to sing "tu-hurn a-ha mill." There are lots of those spots in this song!

How do you climb higher without tightening the throat?

The ascending phrase toward the end of each verse feels higher than it really is, and students may start to tighten their throats. Help them relax their throats on that phrase by singing such syllables as "Yah-yah-yah-yah-yah," "Lah-gah, lah-gah, lah" without moving their jaw, sirens on those notes, and other such singing warm ups.  You need to help them open up expressively and make a slight crescendo as they ascend.

Vowels are much easier than words

I like to take the words out temporarily, so students sing the melody on "ah", "oh", "ee", "oo", "lah," etc. When the notes come easily, we put the words back in. 

Civil War song Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier


Shule Aroon melody in Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier


Printable free vocal sheet music in Gm 

Printable music Fm version 

Here is "Johnny" in the key of Em 

Breathing for singing - it's not the same as speaking!

This free vocal sheet music also helps teach good breathing for young singers. 

The difference in regular breathing, and breathing for singing makes itself plain in Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier. I remind students that they wouldn't take a breath in the middle of a sentence if they were speaking the words to another person, and so, to make themselves understood, their goal in singing a phrase -- ideally -- is to sing the whole thing with no breaths chopping it up. But singing takes so much more breath than just talking, and careful, measured release. Students will learn a lot as they make phrases long and smooth in Johnny.

Sometimes you want to emphasize a word

I make an exception to singing the whole phrase in verse one after the word "drop." I want the word "drop" to sound like a drop, with an audible "p" sound ...perhaps this could be seen as an affectation, but making singing expressive involves making personal choices such as this.

Help us understand you

Singers must remember that they are telling a story. Making pretty sounds is not enough. When I listen to people singing, I want to know what they are saying!

Enjoy this beautiful piece of history, Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier. 

More Folk & Traditional Songs

Ae Fond Kiss - not strictly a folk melody, but it is old - and very lovely!

Ash Grove - an elegant melody that sounds more classical than folk, the lyrics are old-fashioned and poignant

Cat Came Back (for early singers) - a fun and silly song that can be pared down to JUST 5 NOTES for kids who have trouble matching pitch, there is much repetition in the melody (good for finding pitches)

Colorado Trail - a genuine cowboy song, just one verse, surprisingly lovely

Down by the Salley Gardens - this pretty song from England is a setting for a poem by William Butler Yeats about trying to hurry love

Erie Canal - a vigorous minor melody that kids like, with lots of repeating phrases

Green Bushes - a fast, light, pretty melody that speaks of false-hearted love, and feels very "English" in both lyrics and chord progressions

Grenadier and the Lady - Number One with me!  So beautiful, somewhat sad. Lots of opportunities for expressive singing.

Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier - Lovely.  Important for breath control and learning to mold a phrase.

Lavender's Blue, a pretty song that is VERY simple to sing!  Perfect for young girls.

Loch Lomond, the most famous song of all from Scotland.  Still beautiful.

Mari's Wedding - lots of energy in this Scottish tune, which sounds great with guitar and fiddle backup

The Minstrel Boy - though rather difficult with its long phrases, this Irish song about the love for one's country is very moving and beautiful

Molly Bawn - So sad, but so IRRESISTIBLE.  Lovely and evocative, and requiring good air support, it is educational as well as being satisfying to the musical soul.

Muss i denn or Abschied (Wooden Heart) - from Germany by way of Elvis, an adorable folk tune!

Once I Had a Sweetheart - another sad, pretty, and image-arousing song, once sung by Joan Baez

Parting Glass - There are many versions of this GREAT Irish melody.  Download mine free, then check out others!

Scarborough Fair - an old favorite from England, still lovely

She Moved Through the Fair - a strange, shifting melody, with almost creepy lyrics that will haunt you

Shenandoah - So pretty, and genuinely American.  Long phrases, good breath control practice.

Skye Boat Song - a singable old Scottish song with a great tune about the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden

Spanish Ladies - a minor key sea chanty that swings energetically along - boys like singing it too!

The Spanish Lady - Upbeat and energetic, this song is fun to perform with a group.

Star of the County Down - LOTS of fun to sing and play!  An excellent ensemble piece.

Waltzing Matilda - an unusually pretty melody from Australia; you know this one!  Very popular with kids.

The Water is Wide - a very pretty song about disappointed love.  You might have sung this one in high school!

White, Orange and Green - though not widely known, this charming melody about fighting for the right to carry the flag of Ireland has stirring lyrics and soaring phrases. A favorite of my vocal & guitar students.




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