Music Teacher's Helper Blog

For Thanksgiving: About Turkey In the Straw

There isn’t much written about the tune “Turkey in the Straw” but in honor of Thanksgiving, here’s my take on it, and a version you might enjoy using for students at various levels. They can use it to learn a simple tune, learn about variations and improvisation, and about phrasing and structure. Below I’ll give a little history and here’s a thumbnail of the music stripped to its basics, with phrasing and variations shown — you can click on it to enlarge it:


Although I’ve worked with many styles of music, one style I have specialized in is Scottish music, and having played and studied many of these tunes in historical context, I’m convinced that “Turkey In the Straw” originated as a type of tune called the Scots Measure.

This makes more sense when you realize how many American fiddle tunes came over from Scotland with the massive exodus of Highlanders after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Many traveled to Philadelphia, and from there into the Appalachians and beyond, both north and south. Many Scottish tunes can be found in American old-time tunes, country songs, pioneer tunes (see tune titles in Little Home On The Prairie), cowboy songs. Dvorak used a Scots Gaelic song for the first theme of his New World Symphony, a melody he learned in America.

The Scots Measure was probably a type of dance; there are many old tunes of that type but the form is no longer in use, having been folded into other forms such as hornpipes and reels. Here’s a typical example of a Scots Measure, with the repeated pattern of two eighth-note pickup notes leading to three strong quarter notes — this one is called The White Cockade:

There are many tunes of this type and it is easy to see how the basic tune of Turkey in the Straw fits into this pattern, with a little decoration, which I wrote in as “variations” on the basic tune. Give it a try, and enjoy!

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]

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