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The Importance of Lullabies

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Since response to sound is one of the most highly developed abilities in the newborn infant, children need to be musically nurtured from birth. Staincliffe Maternity Hospital in England soothes new infants by playing recorded music of such composers as Brahms, Handel, and Mozart. The effect on the infants works wonders, hospital attendants say. In some hospitals, a program of lullaby music is piped into rooms where mothers are feeding their babies.

Lullabies from the greatest composers and spontaneous melodies sung and hummed by loving caregivers have brought comfort and sleep to countless babies. For generations, people throughout the world have sung lullabies to their babies as they cuddled them in their arms and gently rocked them to sleep. Modern research is only beginning to discover the full importance of lullabies. Hearing soft, rhythmic songs brings a sense of calmness and security to the sensitive infant. Besides soothing an infant, rocking and singing help the infant become accustomed to the “feelings” of sound motion. Without this type of gentle introduction to music, many infants will continue to react with a startle to sudden movement and loud sounds and noises.

Another benefit of singing lullabies is the communication that occurs between the caregiver and the baby. An infant often seems to respond directly to the singer by cooing and babbling, thus encouraging the development of speech and singing.

In today’s technological world, people are accustomed to hearing music produced by top professionals. It’s understandable that when comparing themselves to the professional, some people feel inadequate in making music on their own. It is not unusual for parents and teachers to become unduly concerned about the quality of their singing voices. Some will not attempt to sing to or with children. Dr. John Lind, professor emeritus at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, discovered that children who have parents with rather poor singing voices still grow up to love to sing and are able to sing on key (Fletcher, 1981, p. 26). It is more important that parents sing to their babies than that they sing well. Authorities like Lind and Hardgrove (1978) remind us, “It is not the quality of the voice that matters, it is the connection....It is not the on-key, smooth mechanical perfection that brings joy to infants as well as adults. The joy comes in the rendition, and the example of this intimate parent-to-infant message encourages the child to sing” (p. 10).

Although singing lullabies comes naturally to many people, some may need a few tips on sharing them with infants. Infants’ interest in a world of sound can be enhanced in different ways and through different qualities of tones and pitches, rhythmical movement, and songs. 

Suggestions for Singing Lullabies to Infants 

  1. Build a repertoire of favorites lullabies. If possible, memorize them. This is important, as many of today's young parents have no memories of being lullabied and are not familiar with the most beautiful lullabies from around the world. There are excellent lullaby books on the market. There is also a wide variety of good lullaby compact discs (CDs) and cassette tapes available. Note: Tapes and CDs should be used only as accompaniment or as an aid when learning new songs. The parent's or teacher's voice should always be present.
  2. Some infants prefer one lullaby over another; however, don't limit your singing to only music labeled lullabies. Try singing contemporary songs and show tunes. Infants enjoy variety and change of pace.
  3. As you securely hold and gently rock an infant, smile warmly and look directly into the infant's face and eyes. This kind of "bonding" brings contentment and security to the infant.
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