4. Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie , Part I

Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie is a great song to learn with its beautiful melody and its interactive body percussion rhythm.  Colburn teaching artist Leeav and assistant Emily take you through the song step by step in these two-part lessons.

About the Song
Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie

The earliest known performance of Bring Me Little Water, Sylvie dates back to 1936, and was popularized by American folk musician Huddie Ledbetter, known as Lead Belly.  Lead Belly was a great musician of the 20th century for the songs that he wrote, discovered, and shared, and for his skills on the guitar (which gave him the nickname “King of the 12-String Guitar”).  His music influenced many famous musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, The Beatles, Bob Dylan.

It’s possible that Lead Belly may have based Bring Me Little Water, Sylvieon a traditional American song, or it’s possible that he may have written the song himself.  When performing this song, Lead Belly would often tell his audiences that the song was about his uncle Bob Ledbetter, who worked out on the fields plowing the soil.  When he got thirsty, he would call for his wife, Sylvie, to bring him some water.


Instructional Videos and Vocabulary

A capella
Music performed just by singers and without any other instruments
Percussion: Percussion instruments are a type of musical instrument that make sounds by tapping, slapping, scraping or shaking.

Rhythm is the particular pattern of notes in a song. To find the rhythm of a song, hum the song silently in your head while you clap your hands for every note. In the song Bring Me Little Water Sylvie, there are two different rhythms to follow: there is the rhythm of the words that you sing, and the rhythm that you create using body percussion. Can you clap out both rhythms?

Body Percussion
Body Percussion describes music that is created by using your hands, feet and body to tap, slap, and scrape.



1.0 Artistic Perception
Listen to, Analyze, and Describe Music
1.4 Describe music according to its elements, using terminology of music.

2.0 Creative Expression
Apply Vocal and Instrumental Skills
2.1 Sing a varied repertoire of music from diverse cultures, including rounds, descants, and songs with ostinatos, alone and with others.

3.0 Historical and Cultural Context
Diversity of Music
3.3 Sing and play music from diverse cultures and time periods.​​

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
Analyze and Critically Assess
4.1 Use specific criteria when judging the relative quality of musical performances.
Derive Meaning
4.2 Describe the characteristics that make a performance a work of art.

5.0 Connections, Relationships, and Applications
Connections and Applications
5.1 Identify and interpret expressive characteristics in works of art and music.
5.2 Integrate several art disciplines (dance, music, theatre, or the visual arts) into a well-organized presentation or performance.
5.3 Relate dance movements to express musical elements or represent musical intent in specific music.
Careers and Career-Related Skills
5.4 Evaluate improvement in personal musical performances after practice or rehearsal.


  • MU.PR.4.4d. Demonstrate an understanding of musical concepts (e.g. physical, verbal, or written response–understanding of musical concepts and how creators use them to convey expressive intent).
    MU.PR.5.4b. With an appropriate level of independence rehearse to refine technique, expression, and identified performance challenges.
    MU.PR.6.4a. Perform music with appropriate expression, technique, and interpretation.
    MU.PR.6.4b. Demonstrate performance and audience decorum appropriate for the occasion.


  • MU.RE.7.4a. Explain how music listening is influenced by personal interest, knowledge, purpose, and context.
  • MU.RE.7.4b. Demonstrate and explain how musical concepts and contexts affect responses to music.
  • MU.RE.8.4a. Demonstrate and describe expressive attributes and how they support creators’/ performers’ expressive intent.
  • MU.RE.9.4a. Apply teacher-provided and collaboratively-developed criteria to evaluate musical works and performances.


  • MU.CN.10.4b. Describe the roles and impact various musics plays in one’s life and the lives of others.
  • MU.CN.11.4a. Explore and describe relationships between musics and other content areas (e.g. dance, visual art, dramatic arts, literature, science, math, social studies, and language arts).
  • MU.CN.11.4b. Describe how context (e.g. social, cultural, and historical) can inform a performance.

Creativity and Innovation

  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts.
  • Develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others effectively.
  • Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives; incorporate group input and feedback into the work.
  • View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

  • Use Systems Thinking: Analyze how parts of a whole interact with each other to produce overall outcomes in complex systems.
  • Make Judgements and Decisions: Reflect critically on learning experiences and processes.

Communication and Collaboration

  • Articulate thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts.
  • Listen effectively to decipher meaning, including knowledge, values, attitudes and intentions.
  • Use communication for a range of purposes (e.g. to inform, instruct, motivate and persuade).
  • Demonstrate ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams.
  • Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal.
  • Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member

Flexibility and Adaptability

  • Incorporate feedback effectively.
  • Deal positively with praise, setbacks and criticism.
  • Understand, negotiate and balance diverse views and beliefs to reach workable solutions, particularly in multi-cultural environments.

Initiative and Self Direction

  • Set goals with tangible and intangible success criteria.
  • Balance tactical (short-term) and strategic (long-term) goals.
  • Be Self-directed learners: Go beyond basic mastery of skills and/or curriculum to explore and expand one’s own learning and opportunities to gain expertise.
  • Reflect critically on past experiences in order to inform future progress.

Leadership and Responsibility

  • Guide and Lead Others: use interpersonal and problem-solving skills to influence and guide others toward a goal.
  • Leverage strengths of others to accomplish a common goal.
  • Inspire others to reach their very best via example and selflessnes.
  • Be Responsible to Others: act responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind

Social and Cross-Cultural Skills

  • Interact Effectively with Others: know when it is appropriate to listen and when to speak.
  • Work Effectively in Diverse Teams: respond with an open mind to different ideas and values.
    Productivity and Accountability

Productivity and Accountability

  • Manage Projects: set and meet goals, even in the face of obstacles and competing pressure.
  • Produce Results: Demonstrate additional attributes associated with producing high quality products including the abilities to: work positively, manage time and projects effectively, multi-task, participate actively, collaborate and cooperate effectively with teams, respect and appreciate team diversity, be accountable for results.