For thousands of years, parents have instinctively used music to help children and babies sleep. Right from the moment of birth, although babies may not understand speech or language, they do respond to rhythm, pitch and lilting melodies which can calm and reassure children who are distressed or anxious. Lullabies are often pieces of music which stem from early, traditional melodies; they are gentle and often repetitive because after all, any melody which is too stimulating or catchy might have the opposite effect!

Rock a bye baby, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Hush Little Baby and Suo Gan (a traditional Welsh lullaby) are well known traditional lullabies and classical composers have also written soothing music for children, most famously Brahm’s Lullaby (Wiegenlied’ composed in 1868). Other composers who have written classical music to help babies sleep include Liszt, Grieg, Chopin and Ravel. Often composers use the alternative title ‘Berceuse’ which is a French word meaning ‘cradle song’ or ‘lullaby’. A ‘Berceuse’ is usually written in 6/8 time or in triple meter, designed to sound simple and comforting enough to help babies to sleep.

In terms of classical music, many studies have taken place into what is termed ‘the Mozart Effect’ – the theory being that babies who are exposed to classical music (both in the womb and after delivery) can develop better concentration and intellectual ability later on. Whether or not this is true, it makes sense that by allowing our little ones to listen to the sound of real, natural instruments and the rich harmonies inherent in classical music, they will naturally become acclimatized to hearing more subtle, sophisticated music – instead of more cheaply produced, simplified and artificial sounds which are sadly all too common in a lot of albums which are specifically recorded for children. Allowing a baby to hear the rich sonority of a cello, the gentle sound of a harp or the subtle layering of a string orchestra will familiarize him or her with the qualities of different instruments and help them to appreciate real music as they grow. Playing babies only synthesized sounds (even when these are simplified versions of famous classical pieces of music), is more like surrounding a child with plastic flowers in the hope that they will grow up to appreciate nature.

Any song or piece of instrumental music which allows babies to feel comfortable and safe can have a beneficial effect on calming distressed or fretful babies and it can have a beneficial effect on parents too! If parents are not always able to sing lullabies themselves, in the modern age of digital downloads, it’s possible to purchase several albums of lullabies to help children sleep and create a playlist of various carefully selected pieces on an mp3 player in the nursery. Whether a baby responds to lilting folk melodies, classical music, gentle ballads, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or recordings of natural sounds such as waterfalls or the ocean, parents can always experiment with finding a few favourite albums that seem to work and rotate these (so that they don’t become too repetitive or cloying) – thus continuing the time honoured tradition of sending our little ones off to dreamland with soothing lullabies.

Author's Bio: 

Vaughan Jones is an English violinist and composer who has written two orchestral albums in the relaxation genre, both of which are recorded using real instruments. His album for children and babies is called 'Little Star Lullabies' and this features original compositions and some arrangements of traditional melodies to help babies and children to relax and sleep. Vaughan's music is available from itunes, amazonmp3 through his website