What’s Your Favorite Lullaby?

Effect of Lullabies

By Gary Ronberg from livestrong.com

Years of research show that soft, slow, methodical music and words — such as those of a lullaby — can lull the mind to sleep by inducing delta waves in the brain. “Music exists in every culture, and infants have excellent musical abilities that cannot be explained by learning,” says Dr. Norman Weinberger, professor of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California at Irvine. “Mothers everywhere sing to their infants because babies understand it. Music seems to be part of our biological heritage.”

From the Womb
“There are whole studies–there are actual recordings to what the baby actually hears in utero,” says Dr. Patricia St. John, an adjunct assistant professor of music education at Columbia University. She refers to the recordings of Dr. Sheila C. Woodward, chairwoman of music education at the University of Southern California, whose research may explain, in part, why newborns are more tuned to their mothers’ voices than to their fathers’ voices. Most children inherently love music and rhythm, and are inclined to move to the beat of music as soon as they are able. “They sing before they talk,” says St. John. “They dance before they walk.”

Lullaby Learning
In her book, Super Baby: Boost Your Baby’s Potential from Conception to Year Dr. Sarah Brewer of Cambridge University notes that a baby’s ears “are fully formed around the 20th week of development, and your baby’s brain will begin to show electrical responses to sounds heard outside the womb before 24-weeks.” Additionally, researchers at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom discovered that babies will even breathe in time to music selections they enjoy—and “can remember and prefer music heard before birth over a year later.”

Introduction to Language
By singing a lullaby to her baby, a mother initiates the child’s introduction to language with the “simple-pitch contours” of speech and “repeating rhythms” of music. “Both contain many elongated vowel sounds,” explains Weinberger. “There is little distinction between infant-directed speech and song.” As children begin to grow, they soon join in the fun by singing along. “Setting words to music actually helps the brain learn them more quickly and retain them longer,” says Diane Bales of the University of Georgia’s Department of Child and Family Development. “That’s why we remember the lyrics of songs we sang as children — even if we haven’t heard them in years.”

Intellectual Development
According to Brewer, research shows that babies who are musically stimulated talk up to six-months earlier and reflect heightened intellectual development. This development refers to the increase of spatial understanding and intelligence necessary for jigsaw puzzles and such higher brain functions as mathematics, music and chess. According to a study by the University of Georgia ‘s Department of Child and Family Development, children who grow up listening to music also develop music-related connections in their brains that may influence the way they think.

Emotional Recognition
A study at Case Western Reserve University showed how children six- to 12-years old judged the varied emotions of 30 selections in J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations, BWV 988. According to the study, the children “show a surprising degree of emotional sensitivity and accuracy”–particularly six-year-old children without any musical training. In the study, “happy” was associated with high rhythmic activity and staccato articulation, “sad” with low rhythmic activity and legato, “excited” with high rhythmic activity in triple meter, and “calm” with low rhythmic activity in duple meter.


  1. One of my first nanny jobs, I sang the ABCs as a lullaby and by the time the baby was talking she could sing them with me. I loved listening to lullabies when I was a child too. My favorite is All the Pretty Little Horses.

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