Does this musical figure have a name?
April 2, 2024 5:29 AM   Subscribe

Most people would recognize it as the musical figure played by the piano in "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" at 00:06 in its use as the Looney Tunes theme. And I thought that's where it originated.

Then I watched this British Pathé video of Roy Fox's band playing "It Ain't No Fault of Mine." The short was made in 1932, five years before "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" was written. And it opens with the same piano figure at 00:17.

Is the Roy Fox song the original use of that piano figure, or was there an even-earlier song that used it? Wikipedia, in the article on "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down," points to the tune "Chinese Breakdown," which I've only found as a fiddle tune in a bluegrass setting. Its melody is definitely similar to the piano figure in question, but on the piano, it seems to have settled into a set form and style that people reproduce when playing it.

posted by the sobsister to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't have an answer, but just a data point: my grandmother had a few piano lessons in her youth, the mid 1930s, and that figure was one of the first things she taught me to play on piano when I was 5 or 6. It was very likely part of early piano instruction at the time, since it's a figure that combines very simple left-hand movement alternating with simple chords in the right hand.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:49 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I think the good uncle has it. It totally sounds like something that a beginning piano student would learn and then would spread kid to kid like chopsticks or heart and soul. It sounds like it could be the chords under the ‘teasing rhyme’ hello operator , being used here to signal looney tunes as a kids’s space.
posted by umbú at 7:12 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

Oh that’s a version of something we called Chopsticks! i.e., there are many things called Chopsticks, and this is one of them. It’s a little piano vamp, really. Related to all sorts of Cockney/pub/music-hall piano practices.
posted by lokta at 8:03 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]

Isnt this the Flea Waltz?
posted by vacapinta at 8:46 AM on April 2

Response by poster: Thank you. I'd had a few piano lessons myself when I was a kid and learned something that wasn't quite this but close, so it may have started life as part of a beginner's piano piece.
posted by the sobsister at 7:50 PM on April 2

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