As infants, some of our first and fondest memories of music are of a loving parent singing a familiar lullaby to us as they rocked us to sleep. It provided us with a sense of security, calmness and love. Since response to sound is one of the most highly developed abilities in a newborn, it is important for infants to be nurtured musically. And lullabies are the perfect opportunity for physical and emotional attachment.
Lullabies have a magic to them that seems to easily sooth babies who are fussy and tired. Babies tend to respond best to songs that are familiar to them. They love what they know. So repetition is key when introducing your little one to their favorite lullaby. While I was still pregnant with Harper, a close friend and mentor of mine suggested that at six months in utero I begin to sing Harper a lullaby. So for the months leading up to her birth, we would sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to her as often as we could. Once Harper was born she was easily soothed by this song, as it was familiar to her and would remind her of the comfort and security that she felt in my womb.
Besides using lullabies to sooth an infant, rocking and singing to music helps infants become accustomed to the feelings of sound and motion. This type of gentle introduction to music helps to reduce babies natural reaction to startle due to sudden movement and loud noises or sounds. In addition, gentle rocking to the pulse of the music helps to instill that sense of the steady beat.
Another benefit of lullabies is the communication that occurs between parent and baby. It is not uncommon for an infant to respond directly to the singer by cooing and babbling, thus encouraging the development of speech and singing. In a recent conversation that I had with my dad, he recalled a special moment that he says he will never forget. When I was a baby, my dad used to rock me to sleep and sing me a litany of lullabies. One night, in the middle of one of our favorite lullabies, I began to sing along with him. I was still fairly young and had yet to say my first word, but I began to accompany him in perfect pitch as we engaged in an unexpected duet. Now that I have become a mother myself, and have experienced this with my own daughter, I can truly say, it is one of the most rewarding moments of my life. There is nothing sweeter than singing a lullaby with your baby.
Unfortunately, so many parents feel inadequate in making music on their own. They are insecure about the quality of their singing voices and as a result are ashamed to even attempt to sing to or with their children. But when it comes to singing to your children, the good news is, regardless if you can sing in tune not, they think you have the most beautiful voice in the world. What is most important is that you sing to your baby.
At the end of each of my music classes, I like to sing a few lullabies with my students and their parents. I enjoy it best when families share their own traditional lullabies with us. It becomes a wonderful opportunity for a cross-cultural musical experience and is a great way for all of us to learn a few new songs.
Having a small repertoire of favorites lullabies is a great tool to have in your back pocket. You never know when you might need to bust out a tune in the middle of the grocery store to calm your tired or fussy baby. But don’t feel limited to singing only music that is labeled “lullabies”. Try singing contemporary songs or show tunes. This is a great time to introduce your baby to lots of different styles of music. Remember, they love what they know, so repetition is key, especially with familiar recorded music and lullabies.
So go ahead and explore Pandora or iTunes and stock up on a short list of songs that you can easily memorize. Because one day, that memory you have of your parent singing you to sleep, will become their own.