Lullabies; the hidden depth of an ancient art

Jun 15, 2015

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In this beautiful blog we uncover the history of lullabies and find out why they are so soothing for little ones……

According to research, women from every corner of the world use the same tones in the same kind of ways when they sing to their babies, but that’s not the only qualities they share. Lullabies from as far as Iraq, Africa, Asia and Australia share things like simple melodies, repetition and soothing rhythmic patterns.

Researchers also believe that the way we sing and talk to our babies is an effective way to help them develop language skills. Mothers instinctively alter their pitch and rhythm when they talk to their babies. We call it baby talk, but scientists call it ‘motherese’ and studies show that it helps infants to identify sounds, syllables and eventually words and sentences.

Colwyn Trevarthen, a professor of child psychology, reveals that babies are innately musical and have an excellent sense of rhythm. When mothers speak to their infants they use musical tones, repetition, rhythm and inflections. Even more amazing, says Colwyn, is how babies respond with coos and gestures in time with the mother. Baby and mother “get in the groove,” he says, like jazz musicians improvising.

The earliest documented evidence of lullabies comes from the Babylonians over 4000 years ago. These ancient lullabies reprimand baby for disturbing the house god with its crying saying that it might get eaten by the demon. In western Kenya, the Luo people sing a lullaby about a baby who will get eaten by a hyena if they cry. And if you think western lullabies are all sunshine and roses, think about the words to Rock a Bye Baby.

But despite all the doom and gloom that some lyrics suggest, all lullabies – even the scary ones – are rooted in love, tenderness and caring. Regardless of their meaning, they possess a peaceful, hypnotic quality. And while some of the old classics might seem a little menacing, most of our favourites sing about all the wonderful things that nap-time brings. Brahms’ Lullaby mentions sweet dreams, guardian angels, flowers and silvery moon beams, Hush Little Baby – another popular lullaby talks about mockingbirds and diamond rings and then there’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Lavender’s Blue that sing about star light, sunshine and flowers.

Modern mummies have added to the tradition by singing movie classics like Somewhere Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz, or Disney favourites like When you Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio or Baby Mine from Dumbo. Some mums might even like to sing their favourite Beatles song like Blackbird or Golden Slumbers and even Radiohead’s No Surprises.

So whether you’re singing traditional lullabies about babies falling out of trees or crooning your favourite One Direction ballad, remember it doesn’t really matter what you sing, it’s how you sing it that counts.

 

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