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Hickory Dickory Dock | fun English nursery rhyme

When I first heard Hickory Dickory Dock, it was when I taught my five-year-old daughter to play the piano. I was intrigued by the cute mouse who ran up the clock with the clicking and came down with the sound of the clock striking every hour.

What a wonderful way to teach young children about numbers, with literature and music combined in an imaginary story!

by Lisa Ruping Cheng

When I first heard Hickory Dickory Dock, it was when I taught my five-year-old daughter to play the piano. I was intrigued by the cute mouse who ran up the clock with the clicking sound of the clock and came down with the clock striking every hour.

What a wonderful way to teach young children about numbers, with literature and music combined in an imaginary story!

The earliest anthology of this song can be traced back to the 18th century. Hickory Dickory Dock was found in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, a collection of popular nursery rhymes published in London in about 1744. It was also found in Mother Goose’s Melody published in 1817 in London.

Traditionally Mother Goose has been recognized in the French and English speaking world as a character who tells children’s stories with poems and songs. When I was a kid, I remember seeing a mother-like character dressed like a goose telling children’s stories on a kids’ TV show, a Chinese speaking one. It struck me that the idea of the mother goose of the show must have been related to this tradition in the west. In Chinese we would say Uh-Ma-Ma for Mother Goose. I associate Uh-Ma-Ma with the characteristics of being kind, nurturing, patient and knowledgeable.

The lyrics of Hickory Dickory Dock

Hickory, Dickory, Dock!
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, Dickory, Dock!

Hickory, Dickory, Dock!
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck two,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, Dickory, Dock!

Hickory, Dickory, Dock!
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck three,
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, Dickory, Dock!

Hickory, Dickory, Dock!
The mouse ran up the clock.
The clock struck four, (five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten)
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, Dickory, Dock!

Like many other popular nursery rhymes, this song has a simple, easy- to-remember melody and a clear and short rhythmic pattern. For the lyrics, there are words that can be replaced easily. For example, the number, and the mouse. For the unchanged lyrics, they serve as great materials for children to learn words by repetition; for the changed words, they serve as excellent ways for children to learn about pattern, substitution and creativity.

What word can be used to replace the word “mouse”? An ant, a fly, a bug, or any word representing a living thing that can move and has one syllable to go with the music would work!

Harmony

The harmonic structure is very simple and clear in this song. It begins with tonic-dominant-tonic basic progression and ends with tonic-subdominant-dominant-tonic. When the harmony changes to subdominant, it creates tension, and that is when the clock stuck at each hour and the mouse ran down! We can see that the harmony and the words work together to give a satisfying cadence. I’d like to map out the melody in solfege and point out that the meter in this song is very unique. It is in 6/8, which means it is a compound time. Interestingly, each group of three beats can be seen as one beat making the pattern sound like simple time of 2/4.

Chinese version

I do not know a Chinese version of Hickory Dickory Dock. I wish there was one. Here are the Chinese lyrics I created as an experiment:

Hickory Dickory Dock,

小老鼠爬上鐘,

當鐘敲一點, 老鼠爬下來,

Hickory Dickory Dock.

Similarly I can subtitube the mouse 老鼠 to the ant 螞蟻. And sing the same verses that follow it by changing only the numbers.

Hickory Dickory Dock is also an excellent song for young children to learn to play on the piano. I have written an arrangement for piano. You can find the sheet music in the book The Bagels on the Table, 26 fun nursery rhymes for level one piano on Amazon, or simply the sheet music for this song on SheetMusicPlus.com by Lisa Ruping Cheng.

(To listen to the singing recording for Hickory Dickory Dock, please stream WowoSpot Kids Podcast of the same name episode, to be released on September 21.)

Further interest

Out of interest, I searched and found the book The Tales of Mother Goose as first collected by Charles Perrault in 1696, a new translation by Charles Welsh. I am excited to find a number of very popular fairy tales that I have known since I was a child. They are Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper, The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, Little Thumb, The Master Cat, or Puss in Boots, Riquet of the Tuft, Blue Beard, The Fairy, Little Red Riding-hood. I am eager to read them myself and to share with WowoSpot Kids podcast’s listeners. I am also hoping to find the connection between the popular nursery rhymes we know today and the Mother Goose fairy tales.

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