Anything that stops a baby from wailing like the littlest banshee is aces in our book, but with the proliferation of “My Baby Stops Crying When She Hears…” videos popping up on the Web, we got to wondering: Why do some songs sooth the baby beasts — and why do others get them weeping?
Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” has done it. So has 2 Chainz’ “I’m Different.” Rod Stewarts’ “My Heart Can’t Tell You No”? Well, that just reduces one baby to a puddle of tears. As they do with fully formed humans, songs have varying effects on those who can’t yet articulate their emotions — which seems like an obvious statement. But how, then, do we translate those reactions?
We hit up Lisa Huisman Koops, associate professor of music education at Case Western Reserve University, for some answers:
Why do some babies stop crying when they hear certain songs?
It depends on the baby. Studies have shown that infants recognize and prefer music they heard while in the womb as compared to unfamiliar music. So the baby in the video who is comforted by 2 Chainz probably has heard that from before birth. That music also has a beat that is close to the baby’s natural jumping rhythm, so that is another reason it is probably enjoyable for her.
I have three children, and the younger two are soothed by their older sisters’ violin practicing, as well as specific piano pieces I played when they were in utero. They also love a certain CD we listen to a lot in the car (European Playground by Putumayo) — they especially love it when we turn up the bass.
Perhaps the heavy bass reminds them of utero sounds (mother’s heartbeat, etc). Other studies have found that babies prefer higher-pitched sounds, which is why parents (and all adults) all over the world coo and speak to children with a higher voice. (You’ll also notice this with pets.) Our church organist used to play huge pipe organ pieces with her newborns on her chest in a baby carrier — tiny ones can be soothed by and sleep through almost anything.
Are certain babies more likely to be soothed by music?
I think certain babies are more likely to be soothed by music vs. movement vs. being outside. Or it could be that certain babies are more likely to be soothed, period.
Based on my experience (not research, just experience), each baby is different — some like loud music, some like soft, some like to be rocked, some like to be bounced, some are soothed with fresh air — and it can depend on the day/time too.
It’s great for parents to learn lots of soothing techniques and try lots of different things. I also encourage parents in my early childhood music classes to play a wide variety of music for their babies and young children — jazz, world, pop, blues, folk, classical, etc. The more we can open kids’ ears early on, the more they will be able to enjoy and understand as they grow.
It’s also fun to notice what your children are drawn to — could be something you wouldn’t usually play. For me — country music — not my number-one pick, but the kids enjoy it.
Are certain genres more effective when it comes to soothing?
I have not read any research to suggest that certain styles are more effective than others at soothing babies. My own experience, and the anecdotes from parents in my early childhood classes, suggests that the music that is near and dear to a family is that music that will soothe the children.
It’s so important for families to enjoy music together — it provides a common bond through the years, from the days of soothing an infant on through coming-of-age moments many years later. Lately my 8-year-old has been singing ’What a Wonderful World’ to soothe my 1-year-old, and it’s a song my dad sang to me when I was little.