06 March 2013

"Cups" is a modernized version of "pattycake"

The StarTribune provided the explanation:
Diedre Neal, the sixth-grade assistant principal at Alice Deal Middle School in Washington, D.C., started noticing them all over the cafeteria. During lunch, the children, mostly the girls, clapping their hands, beating out a rhythm on upturned plastic cups, then flipping them over and slamming them onto the table. Over and over again. Clap, clap, ba-da-boom, boom, boom, slam. Boom slam. Boom slam.

If they didn’t have cups, the girls hammered out the rhythm with their fists. Neal soon realized the girls weren’t just being just rambunctious — they were all banging out the same pattern, singing the same song: “When I’m gone, when I’m gone, you’re gonna miss me when I’m gone …”

A new hand-clapping game, similar to schoolyard classics such as “Miss Mary Mack” and “Down by the Banks,” was spreading through the school, transmitted from student to student, face-to-face, like in the old days. Inside of a week, the rhythm became ubiquitous.
The flulike spread of “Cups” allowed Neal to experience something that social scientists are just beginning to understand. The games are encoded with sociocultural significance, said Elizabeth Tucker, a folklorist and English professor at Binghamton University in New York.

They have existed since at least the late 19th century and their functions include teaching dexterity and serving as tools for forming friendships. And new research is showing that these primitive clapping and chanting games have endured around the world, despite competition from hand-held technology.
A quick YouTube search yielded the embedded example at top (the best vocal harmony of the many examples available).

Addendum:  Anna Kendrick performing Cups (Pitch Perfect's "When I'm Gone").  Hat tip to a reader for finding it.


  1. Amazing (I didn't know actresses had other skills besides reading up lines and being pretty).

  2. I dunno about tracing it back to a fairly new movie. I posted Lulu and the Lampshades version several years ago (the post is gone now, like most of them).

  3. That cup rhythm game has been around for decades. I first learned it at camp. Because it is based on a 4/4 rhythm, it can be applied to a number of songs. The recent movie just popularized it with a particular song.

    Here is a demonstration from the tv show Full House:

    Here's one to an Adele song:

    Here's an instructional video

    Here's a good example of it being played. Note how when someone near the front goes out the game continues without losing a beat:
    This works because the first "thump" with the cup offers a chance to reset it's location prior to the second more complicated sequence.

    It is also possible, though difficult, to do it syncopated. With one group half a sequence ahead of the other. I think this requires an extra cup.

  4. Apparently there are things I've missed out on by not having young children or watching television...

    Tx, Miss C and xcentric.

  5. I see two girls and a cup and I don't even want to click on that link...

  6. Yup, decades old game with cups, and long history before the current internet rage (lulu and lampshades my fav). But the internet forgets the world existed before it discovered it.

  7. For the newest reference, the lead person "Becka" in Pitch Perfect uses this technique and song for her audition to a university acapella groups. Surprisingly enjoyable film, not for everyone but I enjoyed it.

  8. that looks WAY harder than anything I ever did with hand clapping.
    also, love the harmonies.

  9. Great clip - saw a young man doing something similar in the mall just the other day....

  10. We had something called Lemmy Sticks when I was a kid (Kennedy administration). A pair of clubs, really, about the size of a hammer handle. There were various songs you did while beating them against logs, chairs, fences, or standing opposite another Lemmy Stick holder and clacking them against hers. It was a Girl Scout thing back then.

  11. thtas my school! i remember that day!!!


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