Sea Shanties were basically the work songs that were used during the time of the great sailing ships. The word shanty or chanty may be derived from the French word chanter which means to sing.
They were not originally in the musical form we find them today, but chanted, with emphasis on a syllable or word as sailors performed their work. The chanter calling out words and the men calling out the chorus in rhythm to their work. The words of the chorus usually coincided with a heave, or pull. Shanties developed separate rhythms for the various chores at sea such as for raising the anchor, hauling ropes, etc.
Shanties could also help provide a way for sailors to express themselves without much fear of punishment. The ballads typically describe the hardships of life aboard the tallships, about the harsh treatment by their superiors, the good or bad properties of the ship or about the sailors ties with the shore. Some of these ballads started out as working songs by landlubbers like woodcutters, railway and farm workers, blacksmiths, and gold diggers. Still others were sung by slaves loading and unloading cargo.
Below is a clickable list to some of the more popular tunes. They represent only a fraction of the many shanties and sea songs that were used. I have compiled this list to give you a sense of what the songs were like and a feel for that period in time.
Shanties and Sea Songs