Pirate Music & Sea Shanties

"...I soon got used to this singing, for the sailors never touched a rope without it. Sometimes, when no one happened to strike up, and the pulling, whatever it might be, did not seem to be getting forward very well, the mate would always say, 'Come men, can't any of you sing? Sing now and raise the dead.' And then some one of them would begin, and if every man's arms were as much relieved as mine by the song, and he could pull as much better as I did, with such a cheering accompaniment, I am sure the song was well worth the breath expended on it. It is a great thing in a sailor to know how to sing well, for he gets a great name by it from the officers, and a good deal of popularity among his shipmates. Some sea captains, before shipping a man, always ask him whether he can sing out at a rope."

-Herman Melville
Redburn, chapter 9, (1849)

The role of music was very important to the age of sail.  The rhythmic songs (known as "Sea Shanties") served to both boost onboard morale on long voyages and to coordinate the brute strength of the sailors.  Many tasks, such as raising the ships anchor, loading cargo, adjusting spar elevations on tall ships, hauling lines and more could involve several tons worth of dead weight.  It was only through the coordinated effort of the crew that made these tasks possible.

Not only useful, these songs have always also been fairly catchy.  In fact, many of these tunes still survive today and have only been slightly modified over the centuries. Click on the links below to learn more about the history of shipboard music or to see the lyrics to some of these great songs.

  • What is a Sea Shanty? (a.k.a. Shanties, chanties, chanty)
    Click above for a brief overview of what a sea shanty is, the various types of shanties, what each type was used for and more...

Shanty Lyrics!
Learn the words and sound like a REAL pirate:

Short-Haul Shanties

Halyard and Long-Drag Shanties

Capstan, Windlass, and Pumping Shanties

Forecastle Songs and Ballads

Modern Sea Songs

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