January, 2019

The Cat is in the Snow

This song, “The Cat is in the Snow,” came to me through an old family book. I brought the book to school to share with my students one day. It was a kick for them to see something so old that I’d had it as a child myself. They liked the songs, they liked the pictures, and one liked that the book “smells like grandma’s house!”

Although I can’t find the book at the moment (home office renovations), I notated the song as I remember it, guessing at the key. You’ll have to imagine the picture of the cat running in the snow, as well as the aroma of grandma’s house.

I was concerned about copyright, so I searched for the song online. Fortunately, it turns out to be a German folk song. There is even an old thread out there with people comparing the various forms of English translation they remember.

The German version is “A, B, C, Die Katze Lief im Schnee.” The Project Gutenberg website has it in a charming antiquarian book, The Baby’s Bouquet: A Fresh Bunch of Rhymes and Tunes.

Here is the illustrated page.


Several music concepts in the song offer ideas for teaching. I have notated the song using rests in the first two measures, as I remembered it. Whether kept silent or sounded as a complement, the rests make a contrast to the sung pitches, so that they create a pattern of alternations together.

For example, imagine making a rhythmic loop of those first measures, with students in two groups: those with drums perform all the “notes” while others with claves play the “rests.” Later, this can become an individual step-clap pattern, and then simply a step-lift with nothing more than a shift of shoulders on the second of two rests.

The pitches in the first two measure make a mini-solfege study as well. Young children can learn to sing and identify the three “oh’s” as 1, 3 and 5 (or syllables of your choice). Add physical positions for each pitch to further distinguish them and enrich the experience. Then, for example:

  • Students sing series of three pitches back, on numbers, in the order you play them.
  • The same, but play only two pitches; finally, try playing only one.
  • Use the same approach for written dictation, and finally for sight-singing.

After discovering that the sixth pitch of the scale appears in the second measure, you might play with the difference between 1-3-5 and 1-3-6, melodically and harmonically.

The song ends with the melodic pattern 8-5-4-3-2-1 on the words, “The cat is in the snow.” The tonic chord is built downward on the words the, cat, in, and snow. Invent games leading children to sing, play and identify melodic patterns from the words, such as “snow, cat, snow,” “in the snow” or “the snow cat.”

For fun with rhythmic movement, musicians can play variations for other animals in the snow. While the cat might run in with sprightly little trotting steps, a deer might step slowly and more cautiously, and a bird could hop. Let children provide their own ideas, and be sure to include “The Kids are in the Snow!”