Front page


The real Incy Wincy

30 Mar 21 | Re: Correct nursery rhyme tune, finally available online | Link-U-Post

Everywhere you look online, people are getting the tune of Incy Wincy Spider wrong! Google image search "Incy Wincy Spider sheet music" if you don't believe me. Many sources also get the title wrong ("Itsy Bitsy Spider"?) though not all, but I've yet to find what I consider the exact correct tune. So I'm happy to publish it online, right here, for what may be the first time ever.

All sources are fine for the first two lines, which go like this:

Music notation for the first line of Incy Wincy Spider.

Music notation for the second line of Incy Wincy Spider.

Then it generally falls apart in the third line, where most sources have this:

WRONG music notation for the third line of Incy Wincy Spider, bafflingly repeating line 1.

You can't fool me, though: that's just the first line repeated. I've been to plenty of toddler groups and that isn't how it goes. Some sources do a bit better, offering this:

Music notation for the third line of Incy Wincy Spider (mainstream version).

I will grudgingly give that a pass, and it may in fact be the standard tune for the line. But it's not how I sing it. My version (and I can't be the only one) is this:

Music notation for the third line of Incy Wincy Spider (my version - the real one).

See? The first and last notes are flattened. If you don't do that, you lose all of the song's off-beam, slapstick character and get a very bland result. The Eb (sixth degree of the scale) brings the spider's predicament into focus and gives it a whole personality. It's a musical wry smile that creates tension to lead into the fourth line (which, this time, is the same as the first one).

For the music theorists, the song is written in the harmonic major scale: a major scale with a flattened 6th note. (There's an interesting primer here, although it only describes what notes are in the scale and doesn't have anything about slapstick or musical wry smiles.) In Incy Wincy the third line is the only place in the song where the sixth note appears, so it is pure harmonic major. That's quite unusual - I don't have any other examples of famous songs that use it, though apparently it's not uncommon in jazz. But it's a nice illustration of the fact that you don't always have to look very far, or listen to jazz, to find unusual musical elements, and ideas that seem complex can sound very simple if they're deployed judiciously.

Lastly, as a companion to my post on Twinkle Twinkle Star a few years ago, here's my guitar chord arrangement for Incy Wincy Spider:

G          D              C            G
Incy Wincy Spider climbed up the water spout
Bm            D        C                 G
Down came the rain and washed the spider out
Eb           D(II)   C(II)            Cm
Out came the sun and dried up all the rain
G          D              D7            G
Incy Wincy Spider climbed up the spout again

Chord voicings:

Chord voicing diagrams for Incy Wincy Spider

The chords are fairly standard nursery rhyme stuff to start with, which makes line 3 a bit musically surprising when I lean heavily into the two E flats. The first one is backed by a bVI chord resolving down chromatically to a V chord, which I think of as "the Blur chord" - think End Of A Century. The second one sneaks up as the IV chord drifts into a iv chord (where the flat 6th is the third degree), which happens in a lot of songs but I think of as "the Creep chord".

Credit to Einar Egilsson’s fab chord image generator and for the music notation.

Oh, and finally finally, here are three more verses that I've written to continue the story:

Incy Wincy Spider tries to spin a web
Along comes the wind and blows it all to greb
Then comes the rain and takes it with its flow
Incy Wincy Spider has another go

Incy Wincy Spider looking for a fly
Here comes a wasp and stings her in the eye
Wasp buzzes off and ends up getting stuck
Incy Wincy Spider can't believe her luck

Incy Wincy Spider eating wasp for tea
Here comes Jim Dyson on a hoovering spree
Incy Wincy Spider shakes a fist at him
That's the last we see of arachnophobic Jim

Posted by ANNABETH at 22:14

[Back to main blog]

[Or dive into the blarchive...]

Take me home