Jackaroe for the Middle School Music Classroom

Jackaroe is a story song about a captivating heroine who poses as a man in order to follow her love into war. Unlike most of the folk songs that I come across, it portrays a strong female character who isn’t thwarted by a male relative to live her own life (despite any attempts). Frankly, give me a strong female character in any type of media, and I’m here for it! You can view some of the oldest versions of this ballad HERE. Some include a verse in which her father tries to imprison her, but she escapes.

Many artists have recorded this traditional ballad, but my absolute favorite is from Joan Baez. It’s hard to believe that this recording is from a live concert; it’s just so good.

Notation & Lyrics

Like most folk songs, Jackaroe has many versions floating around, but I’ve chosen to stick with my personal favorite. I’ve included ukulele chords, but in my guitar-and-ukulele-playing opinion, it’s MUCH easier to play on the guitar.


Jackaroe is a fantastic example of strophic form, and one I believe that would resonate with middle school students. It’s chock-full of discussion potential. Here are a few questions to pose to students. They could discuss these with partners, in small groups, or as a whole class.

  • Why do you think songs exist in strophic form? What is their main purpose?
  • Can you think of any other songs in strophic form?
  • How is strophic form different from other musical forms?
  • Do all genres of music contain strophic form? Do some genres use it more than others?

Here are some questions that are more specific to Jackaroe

  • Why does the story point out how wealthy the daughter’s father was? Why did that matter?
  • Why did the heroine have to go to a tailor’s shop? What does this tell us about the time period in which the story is set?
  • Why do you think she called herself “Jackaroe”
  • What did she mean when she said, “But it would not make me tremble to see ten thousand fall.” Why did she say this?

Project Ideas

Giving students choice is always beneficial, but especially in middle school, when students experience so much change that’s against their will (puberty comes to mind…) So here are some ideas for projects, which could be fleshed out and offered to your students as options:

  • They are responsible for turning Jackaroe into a high-budget film. They must make all the choices for this imaginary film; including actors, setting, screenplay, and music. They have to pitch their ideas to executives by describing (or filming) one verse from the song, which will feature some of their ideas for the movie.
  • They will record themselves performing Jackaroe on their instrument of choice and/or arrange the song for another instrument(s).
  • They will find another song in strophic form and give a written analysis of its lyrics and chord progression (or other concept you want them to write about).
  • They will use the lyrics of Jackaroe to hypothesize when the ballad was composed. They will have to provide historical evidence such as societal norms of the time period, types of clothing, etc.
  • They will create their own playlist of songs in strophic form, choosing their favorite to present to the class.