Sing Hey Diddle Diddle

This is a continuation of my series of reviewing old songbooks for the Primary Music classroom.

This is a Nursery Rhyme songbook published by A & C Black.  There are 66 songs and rhymes and most of them are very well known.  When I tell people that my aim in KS1 is to learn over 100 songs off by heart, they often think I am being too ambitious.  However, I would bet that most people know at least 50 of the 66 and most of these they will have learned at home, in nursery or in Key Stage 1 when they were little.  This book has all the old favourites, it’s well laid out and there is a CD available.  However, the beauty of nursery rhymes is that you should sing them unaccompanied – one of the objectives of the National Curriculum for Music.

It is interesting how society has changed and some of the songs are uncomfortable for modern ears.  Here are a few un-PC examples:

  1. Little Tom Tucker cannot possibly get married unless he has a wife
  2. Jill gets whipped by her mother for grinning at Jack’s misfortune from falling down the hill
  3. Little Johnny Green drowns cats in a well
  4. Neglecting a baby by putting it in the boughs of a tree is perfectly fine and not a serious health and safety hazard when it breaks and falls
  5. Georgie Porgie has inappropriate contact with young girls
  6. A farmer’s wife runs around mutilating visually impaired mice by chopping off their tails
  7. Tom the piper’s son steals a pig and then is beaten down the street
  8. If you don’t say your prayers you will be grabbed by your left leg and thrown down the stairs
  9. You might get beheaded if you frequent certain churches in London
  10. Jemima gets whipped emphatically by her mum for yelling and screaming
  11. Old Mother Hubbard’s dog starts smoking a pipe
  12. Blatant misandry where girls are full of everything nice and boys made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails.  

Some people think we should get rid of these songs because of the content but nursery rhymes have a long history and many were written to respond to historical and political events.  I do think that we should learn them off by heart as it is important to keep this tradition going and in later years teachers will make reference to some of them in history and English literature classes.  Also, if you don’t know them you simply will not get many of the inferences people make which refer to them.  ED Hirsch Jr. has written about the importance of “cultural literacy” when it come to comprehension; if you don’t know some of these old songs, rhymes and sayings, you will not be able to understand many inferences in newspapers and academic publications.

Musically, some songs are fiendishly difficult.  For example “Sing a song of sixpence” has a melody that goes all over the place.  The pitch does not move by step and has quite an extensive range with some difficult intervals.  I would save this song until Year 2 when hopefully most children can sing in tune.  If you try to get Early Years children to sing this song what often happens is they just say the rhythm.  This needs to be discouraged as this is why you end up with the “growlers” and children labelled “monotone” or “tone deaf”.  There is such a thing as “tone-deafness”, or amusia as it is known in the music profession but it only affects a very small proportion of individuals.  The amount of adults who go up to me and say they are tone-deaf is unreal.  I have to explain that they are probably not tone-deaf, they just weren’t taught to sing properly when they were young.  This is a good reason why we should be teaching the Kodaly pitch system in Early Years so that children can access some of these more melodically challenging songs in Key Stage 1.  The rule of thumb when choosing songs for young children is to keep it between middle C and high C, try not to have many leaps and start by selecting songs with a “so me” pattern to help children find their singing voice.

To go back to the review of this book, if you want a collection of nursery rhymes this is a good songbook to have in your Music department.  You will know most the songs but there are interesting second and third verses of nursery rhymes that you won’t be familiar with, so there is some extension material for all – even teachers.

Here is the index:



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