Most people sing during childhood, before there is awareness of potential embarrassment from hitting a wrong note. Young Babies will vocalize with music and even match tones if we listen carefully. To the novice ear, they are yelling or howling. But, pay attention – especially if music is playing – you may pick up their first song. Parental praise can help turn those sounds into real songs. Conversely, parental criticism can quiet singing for a long time.
Why should singing be cultivated in the very young? Parents want the best for Babies and music is a lifetime gift. Young parents with limited resources are often concerned with the cost of music lessons, both in time and money. The voice is an instrument that is always available and putting voice to song will place Baby at an advantage for future musical instrument study. Even the most tin-eared child should be encouraged to sing
Singing creates access to brain pathways in a way that has no equal. Singing opens a place in the brain that is available only musical tones and melody. Research is revealing how fundamental music is to humans and how closely it is tied to our mathematical and logic centers. It satisfies the brain’s desire for order with its mathematical foundations, yet provides infinite variety and sublime surprise (2).
Music and Memory
Because of the power of that music has on memory, it is a tool to impact those whose memories are failing. Music has been shown to bring memories back when all other measures fail. In the study of Alzheimer patients, neurologist Oliver Sacks says that, “By pairing music with every day activities, patients can develop a rhythm that helps them to the recall the memory of that activity, improving cognitive ability over time” (3). If music restores lost memories, perhaps care should be taken to ensure the quality and quantity of music input in youth.
Music has power to embed or secure memories even for those who do not have memory decline. Music and its vibratory powers are a gift from our Creator – a celestial tool given for our edification and advancement. But, like other powerful tools, it can be used for harm also. Sick and crude lyrics stick in the brain and create accompanying effects. Be careful what you put in Baby’s brain.
Music and the Body
Recent studies have shown that singing creates feelings of elation and wellbeing. Measurement of the human hormone oxytocin after a singing lesson shows that it is elevated (1). Oxytocin has been referred to as the “relationship” hormone because it creates warm feelings and human bonding. Singing in a choir generates healthy respiratory rates and cardiac rhythms (4). Singing affects the mind, the body and the spirit.
Without parents, schools, and churches to encourage and provide venues for participation, singing often goes away as an adult activity. What can be done? Lobby for singing in the Baby’s school and volunteer to make it happen. Take Baby to a church that provides opportunities for choir and learning harmony. Lots of singing and exposure to music is a platform that will allow a child to reach higher in many future endeavors.
Sing to baby in utero –this is a good time to increase your own comfort with singing. Most people sing along with their favorite group or singer. That is a great start. But take a close look at the groups you are singing with and make certain they are kid-friendly. During pregnancy, mom and dad may begin to explore kid songs – especially silly songs. Download some Raffi and learn “Banana phone!” Revisit songs from your youth – “Rain, Rain Go Away,” “Rock-a-Bye-Baby” and “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.” The most important thing is that Baby hears songs from you from four months gestation forward as that is when their tiny ear bones begin to function. Studies have suggested that they will recognize those same songs after they are born.
Teach your toddler solfege – with some accompanying play movements . If you remember “Sound of Music,” you can probably sing “Do, a deer, a female deer, Re a drop of golden sun… “ You know solfege! Solfege is the term that describes the system of giving a name to each note and is useful in singing any scale. So, here is the game:
Do – touch your toes
Re – touch your knees
Mi – pat your thighs
Fa – waist
Sol – pat your chest
La – shoulders
Ti – cheeks
Do – top of head
This gives Baby a direction to go with tone and provides an excellent first visit to low tones versus high tones. Movement plus music always reinforces the concept.
Sing to your babies. Sing to them in utero and continue after birth. It doesn’t matter if you have a great voice. It does help if you can hold a tune and match pitch, but it is not required. Sing a diaper-changing song, make up ditties for toy pick-up time, for bed time, for wake up time. Sing in the car and introduce your captive audience to some new tunes. If classical music is not so appealing to you, the light opera of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance’s a good start. It is funny and singable for kids. Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” tells a delightful story while exploring different kinds of instruments in an orchestra. The list of fun, interesting and edifying music to play for Baby is endless.
And if you are lucky, your Baby (with barbershop quartet) will grow up to sing to his Baby.
And no matter what, keep singing – especially in the car.
1. Grape, C., Sandgren, M., Hansson, L., Ericson, M.M, Theorell, T. (2003). Does singing promote well-being?: An empirical study of professional and amateur singers during a singing lesson. Integ Physiol Behav Sci. Jan-Mar: (1): 65-74
2. Levitan, D. (2007). This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York: Plume
3. Sacks, O. (2008). Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the brain. New York: Vintage.
4. Vickhoff, B., Malmgren, H., Astrom, R., Nyberg, G., Ekstrom, S., Engwall, M., Snygg, J., Nilsson, M., and Jornsten, R. (2013). Music structure determines heart rate variability of singers. Front. Psychol., 08 July 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00334