Issue 15: Miss Mary Mack – a versatile singing game

You can find the tune for this song in several books; Young Voiceworks (OUP) and Okki-Tokki-Unga (A C Black) to name just two. Here it is anyway;

 There are a couple more verses;

She asked her Mother, Mother, Mother for fifty cents, cents, cents, to see the elephants, elephants, elephants, sit on the fence, fence, fence

They flew so high, high, high, They reached the sky, sky, sky, and never came back, back, back, ’til the fourth of July, July, July.

This song takes no time at all to teach; if you start singing it to a group of children they will begin to echo the repeated words almost immediately. I will often sing a verse to them and then ask questions; “Who is the song about? What is she wearing? What has she got on her back?”. When I sing the verse again, most of the children will join in.

The tune is deceptive if you want them to play it on an instrument or chime bars, and makes a good choice to teach children to work out tunes by ear. They will get the hang of the first (and therefore second and last lines) very quickly, but line three always gives problems. Using pitch movements when you are singing will help;

“knees waist, shoulders, head, head, head; knees waist, shoulders, head, head, head; head shoulders waist shoulders, shoulder, shoulders; knees waist shoulders head, head, head”. 

I usually end up explaining that “the tune starts to go down, but changes its mind at the last minute” to help the children understand what is happening to the notes.

My favourite activity is to get the children to create their own clapping game. I pick a confident child and do some simple, rather feeble and uninteresting clapping sequence with them; for example pat knees twice and clap hands once for Miss Ma-ry, and clap partner’s hands three times for the repeated words Mack Mack Mack. before we have finished the frst verse, many of the children will have turned to their neighbour and started copying my pattern. Once I have sung all three verses, I challenge the children to create a more interesting pattern of their own. All you have to do now is circulate among the children facilitating their work and keeping an eye on the more exuberant ideas. Towards the end of the time, we all do our actions at the same time. Finally, I arrange the pairs in a circle around the space, and the children each do a verse one after another as we sing the song continously for as many verses as it take to get round everyone – this way we all get a chance to see every group. To finish, we all sit down and give feedback on what we have seen and done.


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