Forehead, Elbows, Thighs And Feet

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (MS) and I (ZM).

ZM: Do you remember when you first learned the head, shoulders…

MS: (interrupts) Middle school.

ZM: Middle school?

MS: Mhmm.

ZM: When did you make this version?

MS: Middle school. Wait what? We made up the middle school thing. We made up the new one in middle school.

ZM: Do you know when you learned the like…

MS: (interrupts) Learned “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes?”

ZM: Yeah.

MS: (long pause) Preschool.

ZM: Okay and…

MS: We did it as a joke.

Main Piece:

The following is a transcription of the performance given by MS.

Foreheead, elbows, thighs, and feet. Thighs and feet. Foreheead, elbows, thighs, and feet. Thighs and feet. Pupils, and nostrils, and (pauses to remember the rest) lobes, and teeth. Foreheead, elbows, thighs, and feet. Thighs and feet.

Context: For my short paper topic, I chose an authored song that utilized the common children’s folk song of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, Toes.” When researching the song, I found many variants that differed from the way I learned the song. A little frustrated and confused as to how no one had recorded the version I was familiar with, I went into the common area of my apartment and asked if my roommate knew the song. I then asked her to perform it for me and she was not able to complete the full song in what she called the “normal” way that she learned in preschool. What she was able to perform, however, was a rendition she made with her friend in middle school to mock the standard song. Although her version had the same general format and melody of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” she sang different body parts then typically featured. While singing a particular body part she would touch it just like in the popularized version, with the exception of her pupils.

Background: The performer is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Marin County, California and attended preschool and a private middle school there.

Analysis: I thought this was interesting because while we often discuss natural variation from trying to remember the words, this was a conscious alteration of the song. At a young age, MS and her female friend made a parody to mock the song and express their individuality.

For another version of this folk song see…

“The Children – Head, Shoulders, Knees And Toes.” Genius, 2018 Genius Media Group Inc.,