Nabiya: A Charming Korean Folk Song For Spring

Nabiya is a popular children’s song I learned in Korea when I was a tot. I don’t remember learning the song because it’s just about as omnipresent as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” is in The States. I know my mom sang it to me, it’s also in pretty much every beginner piano book in Korea. Nabi means butterfly, but it’s also a term of endearment for cats. I had several cats growing up and the first one I had was a sweet, gray kitty named, Nabi.


You may be wondering why this song is titled “Nabiya” instead of “Nabi.” Koreans add the “yah” or “ah” sound to the end of a name (Nabi = Nabia) when addressing a person or animal as an informal honorific. It’s slightly less formal than calling someone by their name and shows that you are very familiar with that person. For example, a parent would add this honorific when calling their child’s name. My mom said “Jane-ah” when she called me and “Sarah-yah” when she called my sister.


This is a cute song to learn in the spring, especially if your elementary students will be releasing butterflies from their habitats after they emerge from their cocoons. It’s a simple song about wanting butterflies to dance nearby while flowers smile in the breeze and sparrows chirp about.

The translation below is not a word-for-word translation. I tried to match the syllables a bit more to fit with the melody. The lyrics are also spoken in a recording below by my husband, Dan.

Lyrics – spoken


Looking at the chords, melody, and rhythm, you can see why this song is a popular addition to piano method books for beginners. The rhythm is made of quarter notes and eighth notes, the melody stays within the first five notes of the scale, and there are only 2 chords. It’s a great one to accompany on the guitar and ukulele as well.


There are often movements associated with this song. Here are some suggestions.

1-8Any butterfly motion will do. You can join thumbs and flutter your fingers, or fly with your arms.
9-10A breezy motion, swaying arms from side to side.
11-12Place your wrists together and frame your face under your chin as if your face were a flower and your hands were the leaves. This move is commonly performed with the song.
13-14Talking motions with your hands as if they were in sock puppets.
15-16Repeat swaying motions from measures 9-10.


Here are a couple of videos that I like for this song. In the first one, the pronunciation is very clear. The second one is just adorable. They play with the melody and fancy up the movements a bit.

Related Activities

I have made a fun Boom Cards flashlight game for this song if you are interested in extending this lesson. Students shine a flashlight through different landscapes and landmarks in Korea to find the butterflies. Once they find a butterfly, they can listen to and/or sing the song!

If you are interested in more Korean songs, check out my blog post for The Music Crew on what may be the most well-known children’s song, Santoki.

Jennifer Hibbard from The Yellow Brick Road also has a blog post on Ha’kyo Jung, another well-known children’s song!

Thanks for stopping by!

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