If I Had A Hammer

Posted: March 8, 2011 in Techniques

I’m finding that one of the most versatile songs in my current repertoire is If I Had A Hammer.  It may not be the most familiar song to the younger generations, but there are a ton of uses for it.  It has a structure that makes it very easy to learn – four verses, with just a few words changed each time.

If I had a hammer
I’d hammer in the morning
I’d hammer in the evening
All over this land
I’d hammer out danger
I’d hammer out justice
I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land

Second verse – use bell/ring instead of hammer.  Third verse – use song/sing.  Fourth verse – all three together (a hammer of justice, a bell of freedom, a song about love).  Not complicated at all.

With lower functioning clients, I tend to use the song while changing one of the verses to reflect the instrument they are currently playing.  So, if they’re playing a drum, it’s “If I had a drum, I’d beat it in the morning…”  This provides some extra engagement with the music and allows the client to interact with what’s being sung.

With higher functioning clients, you can rewrite the lyrics to anything they want.  Like this:

If I had a dog
I’d walk it in the morning
I’d walk it in the evening
All over this town
I’d take it to the vet
I’d throw the ball
I’d love it and pet it and feed it and scratch it
All over this town

You can do several verses, with a different topic each time.

With still higher functioning clients, you can get even deeper, looking at the social significance of the original in context of the sixties, and try to write new lyrics with a more personal meaning.  Like this:

If I had a dream
I’d chase it in the morning
I’d chase it in the evening
All over this land
I’d learn all about it
I’d make lots of plans
I’d do whatever I had to do
All over this land

This can lead into discussions of what that dream would be, and some specifics you might be able to plug into another verse.

Beyond the lyrical engagement, this song is pretty fun to play and sing with anyone.  Even if they don’t really understand what’s going on, this is one of those songs that transcends the generation gap and is on its way to entering the public consciousness like a lot of the folk songs from the 1800s we still sing.  Give it a try sometime.

Thanks for reading!

-Jesse

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