Singing to the baby beat, who doesn’t do it?

And why it’s good for babies and adults.

This post is also available in Dutch.

Hush, little baby don’t say a word, mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird. The wheels on the bus go round and round. Five little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped his head. Have you ever noticed that these songs go hand in hand with exaggerated dance moves, lots of repetitions, and that it’s darn difficult to – especially as a man – sing along to the pitch of these songs?

We all do it

Baby talk, the way we speak to a baby as adults, is characterized by shorter sentences, longer pauses, a slower speech pace, raised pitch, and varying and exaggerated intonations. We all do it, and babies all over the world love it. A study involving 67(!) research teams from North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia shows that babies worldwide prefer baby talk to adult talk.

Successful evolution?

Why we do it? No one ever told me to raise my pitch to 800 Hertz when talking to a baby. Maybe I do it because adults used to talk to me like that, or I copied it from others who talked to my baby brother in that manner. Maybe it’s intuition or a result of successful evolution? We’re not exactly sure. What we do know is that baby talk is good for development. Babies listen with increased attention to baby talk. As a result, they pick up more words, which has a positive impact on language development. Additionally, it helps babies develop communication skills. For example, they learn that it’s normal for people to take turns talking. But what about baby singing, does it work the same way?

Singing versus talking

There are many similarities between baby singing and talking – think of the slow pace, more and longer pauses, and the positive influence on language development – but there are also differences. Singing is more rhythmic, more consistent (less changes in pitch and rhythm) and has more repetitions in both melody and lyrics. Babies hear these differences and can distinguish between song and speech. In fact, babies seem to prefer singing. Additionally, baby singing has some unique functions. While baby talk is mainly aimed at increasing attention and alertness (more body movement and babbling), baby singing also has a relaxing and comforting effect. However, this depends on the song you sing. You can imagine that “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” is more sleep-inducing than “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”.

Everyone happy

Not only does baby singing have positive effects on the baby itself, it also also affects the bond between parent and baby, as well as the well-being of the parent. Research shows that during singing, parent and baby are in a similar emotional state. They mirror each other’s emotions, so to speak. Usually, these emotions are positive, and – it probably won’t surprise you – sharing positive emotions strengthens the bond. As an added bonus, the baby’s response to singing (tears disappearing, a smile, falling asleep) gives the parent an extra boost of confidence. In short: everyone is happy!


Author: Eline de Boer

Buddy: Maartje Koot

Editor: Lucas Geelen

Translation: Swantje Neil

Translation Editor: Vivek Sharma

Image from Anna Hecker via Unsplash

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