A Rhyme and Two Riddles

Here are three songs made from old Children’s verses. In each case I have written out the rhythm of the words in crotchets and quavers (ta’s and te – te’s), then added pitches that I felt fit their meaning. The first two are easy, the third is a harder one. Take a nursery rhyme you know, or find a new one and try this yourself. Keep checking no parts of words have been missed out, and make everything as simple as possible.

Once I saw a little bird
Come hop, hop, hop,
And I cried, Little bird, 
Will you stop, stop, stop?
I was going to the window
To say, How do you do?
But he shook his little tail
And away he flew.

An old rhyme I found in the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (I. & P. Opie, 1985). You will notice I’ve rearranged the lines so they fit into the two beat bars.

Say the rhyme with the rhythm names, then use the singing names using the black notes of your keyboard or your recorder. If you need help to get the pitches right (it can use the same ‘so’ as for ‘Cobbler, Cobbler’). Play it fast or slow – however you think best.

Little Bird (Recorder)

The piano piece is in D minor, so if you want to use both kinds of music together and play a duet (quite possible by video link),‘do’ is D.

I’ve written out the tune on a stave for the right hand and turned it into a short piano piece with (mostly) chords for the left hand, and some more adventurous ones as it goes along, but please make up your own if you like them better, or write a ‘do so’ ostinato accompaniment. The tune could just as well be played on the violin or recorder, which would be especially bird-like, or on any treble instrument – add some more parts. It uses the ‘la’ pentatonic scale.


3. Flour of England

This is an easy riddle, and a straightforward answer needs a straightforward tune, so this one uses the common tone set (group of solfa notes): ‘do, re, mi, so, la’, which is the ‘do’ (happy sounding) pentatonic scale. It’s from the same book as before.

Flour of England, fruit of Spain,
Met together in a shower of rain,
Put in a bag tied up with string;
If you tell me this riddle
I'll give you a ring.
Flour of England (Recorder)

2. White Bird Featherless

My next task is to write a tune for this very old riddle, that has been found in Greek, Latin, German and Swedish as well as this English version (same source as above). How might it sound in another language? Like a large amount of English poetry the lines sits well into a compound metre, each beat splitting into 3 instead of 2 (Like ‘Row, Row Row your Boat’). What is the answer?

White bird featherless
Flew from Paradise
Pitched on the castle wall;
Along came Lord Landless,
Took it up handless,
And rose away horseless to the King's white hall.

I’ve written out the rhythm, but this time added no solfa – as I felt it needed a modal tune (not major or minor, but another arrangement of tones and semitones), which is presently beyond my solfa writing abilities, so please make your own one using the solfa notes you know already. The six-eight time-signature immediately suggests a folk style jig, so this is what came about: a light and feathery tune for violin with rippling piano accompaniment and some icy chords (track to appear soon).

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