On baby music

2010 May 29
tags: ,
by Daniel Lakeland

I'm going to write a followup to the hyperbilirubinemia article on general principles in risk analysis, thanks to professor Bhutani from Stanford who pointed me to an article of his. But for the moment, I'm enjoying a brief break in fussing thanks to judicious use of appropriate music to put the baby to sleep, so I'm going to talk about my "experiments" on what makes for good baby music.

First off, let's define "good" in this context. I think baby music is good if it relaxes the baby and the baby enjoys the experience, frequently this will mean that the baby falls asleep while it's playing since babies spend a huge amount of time sleeping anyway.  So I'm not interested here in theories about music that makes your baby smarter, or more musically talented, or anything like that (though those are interesting issues as well). Also, I'm not talking about baby music specifically designed to soothe an infant to sleep (such as lullabies and soforth). This is music to play to your child to distract them while things get done around the house and soforth.

The model:

My current model for good baby music is that it needs upbeat clear rhythm with a certain amount of rhythmic complexity, moderate melodic complexity, relatively simple harmonic structure, and a considerable low bass content. Also it should have a relatively small dynamic range (not changing frequently from loud to soft). So for example Wagner with layered harmonic complexity, subdued rhythm, and high dynamic range is bad baby music, whereas Mozart is well known to be popular with the tiny ones (in the classical realm).

I'm a fan of classical music, but not a huge fan. I am however a huge fan of various forms of jazz, and world musics, so I'll make a list of some things I've tried here and their successes or otherwise. I'm sure as a baby grows, they will start to enjoy different things. Here I'm talking about music for very young babies, say birth to three months. Nicolas (my son) is only 3 weeks old so far, but I have some experience with my stepbrother and stepsisters (12 years younger than me), as well as babies of friends.

Good for me (in no particular order):

  • McCoy Tyner + Stanley Clarke + Al Foster: this moves along in a very active way, has a lot of bass, and is driven entirely by rhythm. It's basically all percussion (the Bass is plucked). It works extremely well to calm Nicolas.
  • The Police
  • Thelonius Monk
  • Orchestra Baobab
  • Kodo drumming
  • Grateful Dead
  • Pascual Gallo (Flamenco)
  • Various Latin Jazz (Chucho Valdez, Mongo Santamaria, Buena Vista Social Club)
  • Manu Chao: we speak English around the baby, so music with other languages seems to be something interesting for the baby, plus the strong rhythm and relatively constant dynamic range is good.
  • Cheb Mami: Again, strong rhythm and foreign languages (French and Arabic)
  • Bob Marley
  • Django Reinhardt: doesn't have a lot of bass, but it has a similar effect to Mozart. Simple fast melodic music.
  • The Beatles
  • Santana
  • Crooked Still, Railroad Earth and other Bluegrass

Unsuccessful:

  • Pink Floyd: too much layered harmonics and transitions.
  • The Bad Plus: too much harmonic complexity and dynamic range.
  • Gnawa Trance Music: this is extremely calming for me, but for the baby it's extremely simulating.
  • Astor Piazzola: too big dynamic range, and too harmonically complex.
2 Responses leave one →
  1. June 2, 2010

    My daughter LOVES Bob Marley - check out "B is for Bob" if you haven't already.
    Also http://rockabyebabymusic.com/ has some great albums of baby-versions of classic adult music.
    Have fun, i hope your child grows up learning to love all kinds of music. It is a key to the world for those of us not fortunate enough to afford constant travel!

    • Daniel Lakeland
      June 3, 2010

      Thanks, I found out that to put my baby to sleep, Brian Eno "Music for Airports" is highly effective. I'll check out your link.

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