Remember “Pease Porridge Hot?”

Pease porridge hot
. Pease porridge cold
. Pease porridge in the pot. Nine days old.

Turns out the rhythm of “Pease Porridge Hot” works nicely for both one and two octave scales with a little creative squirreling around at the bottom of the scale in order to finish off the rhyme.

I got this idea from a wonderful book called “Improvisation Games for Classical Musicians” by Jeffrey Agrell. Matt picked up this book for me many years ago and I am ashamed to say that it sat on my shelf, unread, for almost as many years. I believe strongly in improvisation as part of music education, but alas! there is always something else that manages to take priority in my teaching preparation time than reading about such things. But several years ago, I started working my way through the book. That’s when I discovered the nifty Pease Porridge Hot trick.

Now Agrell doesn’t even mention Pease Porridge Hot, but he does suggest that poems or nursery rhymes or famous speeches make interesting rhythmic foundations on which to build simple improvisations. Using the rhythm from a chosen poetic source, one can then create an improvisation using only, let’s say, the black notes on the piano. I chose “Pease Porridge Hot.”

My students all thought this was great fun. Sitting together on the piano bench, we traded lines of the poem and played “Pease Porridge Hot” on all the black notes, on various major or minor 5-Finger Positions, on the notes of easy major keys in various configurations.

The longer I teach the more I am convinced it is not about the quantity of tricks you know, it is how creatively you can mine each one for all its hidden wealth (How to Cook Without a Book). And so, taking the game one step further, I suggested that they practice their assigned scales for the week using this jaunty rhythm. Students took happily to this idea. Anything to avoid practicing scales with the metronome.

Some like it hot
. Some like it cold
. Some like it in the pot.
 Nine days old.

“Miss Amy, why would anyone want it nine days old?” one thoughtful kid said.

It was, I had to admit, a very good point.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Hey! Want to play the F scale using the rhyme with the right hand?”

“OK,” he shrugged and turned back to the piano. “But just so you know, I think the word ‘porridge’ sounds disgusting.”