Singing to babies and infants is something that comes naturally to many parents, grandparents and carers, and has carried on through many generations and cultures. Other parents might also want to adopt it as a deliberate routine for an infant who is different in their capacity to enjoy things or respond. A good start – babies can already hear their mother’s voice before they are born (Brezinka C., 1997).
Why not just talk?
Singing bestows added effects, such as:
- Association and memory, for example a reinforcing effect from hearing familiar tunes, or learning to associate a lullaby with bed-time.
- Another way of communicating with an infant, and a comforting way of hearing a parent’s or carer’s voice.
- Engaging patterns of brain processing that are slightly different from processing speech (Ozdemir E., 2006).
- Something that could extend into a form of communicative play, and into the infant actively making music. This could turn out to be a way they like to express themselves, add to other activities, and share with other children.
- Entertainment that can stimulate or relax, as a background to other activities.
Why not just play a recording?
Again, singing as well adds elements, such as:
- Obviously, the communication and relationship occurring between you.
- Availability and ease of use of shorter, simpler and perhaps gentler bits of music.
- Possibly, a quick way of lightening things up or providing a distraction.
Having said this, recordings and instrumental music have their uses as well, including for deaf infants who can pick up the rhythms / vibrations of the music. They may also sense you singing if you hold them close to you.
But I can’t sing!
Probably you can, but some people have difficulty with singing the right note. Try pitching your voice by starting where you are, so if you want to sing a note but the pitch of your voice is not what you want, slide the note up or down to where you want it. With repetition, this should enable you to find the desired pitch more easily. There is a step-by-step ear-and pitch-training video at: http://your-personal-singing-guide.com/ear-training.html (Aaron Matthew Lim). Go on into a tune. If this is difficult, try songs that have the notes close together to start with, such as “Row, row, row your boat” or “Frère Jacques”.
Their singing voice is something that many people are rather sensitive about, so if a baby or infant does not seem to have a positive reaction, or any reaction at all, a parent may be easily put off. However the reason is more likely to be something different. For example, below a developmental age of about one year, it may not yet be possible to copy sounds, show a physical response to music, or use music as a “language” (cf. Center for Parent Information and Resources, Developmental Milestones, US Dept. of Education, 2010/2014). A lack of response may not be the same thing as a lack of impact. As time goes on you may see what calms or stimulates them (cf. UK National Children’s Bureau, Early Support, Information about behaviour).
For songs to sing, searching on “lullabies”, “nursery rhymes” or “nursery songs” will locate plenty of material, such ashttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MtYnT0786SQ, or http://www.babycentre.co.uk/lullaby-lyrics.
The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning publishes suggestions for activities, including musical ones, to go with children’s books and other resources. The ideas could be used on their own or with different books (Vanderbilt University).
What are discussed in this article are really softer issues like enjoyment between parents / carers and infants. It has to be said that a number of research studies looking for specific technical benefits of music with infants have not found anything. Among those that have done so, though is Arnon S. et al. 2014, Maternal singing during kangaroo care etc., (Acta Pediatrica, doi:10.1111/apa.12744).
“Voices” is a journal containing other research articles about singing for and with children, from different parts of the world.
“Imagine” is an annual online magazine about early childhood music therapy. Therapists attempt to support motor development, breathing and skills such as communication for children with special needs.
Why Music Education? is an evidence-based discussion of ways in which music can contribute to children’s education and development, by the (US) National Association for Music Education (2007).
Further references:Brezinka C. et al. 1997, The foetus and noise. Gynakol Geburtschilfliche Rundsch 1997;37(3):119-29 [translated abstract, PMID 9483870].
Ozdemir E. et al. 2006, Shared and distinct neural correlates of singing and speaking. NeuroImage 33 (2006) 628–635.