What makes a good lullaby?
Aside from the beauty of the melody, the two most important attributes of an effective lullaby seem to be sing-ability and having a personal connection to the song. Try songs you can sing comfortably and repeatedly, enjoy singing and can easily rock to. Consider songs that were sung to you, songs from your culture, songs that connect you with happy, peaceful memories or songs that help you express your feelings. When you pick a song that feels right for you, you are going to gain and convey your sense of peace to your child through your voice and body.
While some very effective lullabies have a lot of emotion, but no words- just “vocables” (one of my favorites is simply called Lullaby- See playlist 1), other lullabies contain subject matter such as babies falling out of trees, illness and death. A few people told me that the songs handed down in their family had some dark lyrics. Historically lullabies seem to have included more expressions of grief and fear than those composed today. Based on my unscientific survey, the favorites of the moms of young children are more significantly influenced by mass media culture and the idea of singing to children about sadness or fear doesn’t feel quite right. Granted, putting your child to sleep with images of shipwrecks may not be conducive to a quiet night of sleep!
That said, we know that lullabies aren’t just for the listener. While music and the arts in general brings us appreciation for beauty, it also helps us cope with the fears and difficulties of life. Lullabies can help parents manage their unspoken worries and concerns by expressing them in song. And although the tragic circumstances of the old story songs may be different from the suffering parents feel in 2022, perhaps it could be healing to sing old songs like the Irish “Connemara Cradle Song.”(playlist 2)
Sad or hopeful, lyrics don’t have to be serious at all to be perfect for your family. My friend Trish shared a great story of her families’ surprising ritual lullaby. Trish and her twins Andy and Pete’s favorite is “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. (playlist 2). The boys sing heartily along- not knowing or caring what hold ‘m, fold ’m or whiskey is, but when singing it together, it is crystal clear that Mom loves them! I call that a lullaby win!
In response to reading a draft of this article Trish said:
"Just this morning "A" was having a “bad day.” He wanted to be held. He said "Mom will you hold me like a baby and sing "The Gambler" to me?" Had do do Gambler twice, and one round of Country Roads, and A's bad day was over.
Some may say it’s a crazy set of songs, but they are our songs and they work."
On the wings of the wind o'er the dark rolling deep
Angels are coming to watch o'er thy sleep
Angels are coming to watch over thee
So list to the wind coming over the sea.
Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow
Lean your head over and hear the wind blow
Hear the wind blow love, hear the wind blow
Hang your head over and hear the wind blow.
Oh, winds of the night, may your fury be crossed
May no one who's dear to our island be lost
Blow the winds gently, calm be the foam
Shine the light brightly and guide them back home.
The currachs tomorrow will stand on the shore
And daddy goes sailing, sailing no more
The nets will be drying, the nets heaven blessed
And safe in my arms dear, contented he'll rest
Playlist 1, to the right, called “Lullabies and Soothing Songs” is full of fun and/or lovely lullabies that I find soothing and sing-able. It begins with songs that are a bit more upbeat to meet you where you are and help you settle, then slowly becomes more peaceful and meditative, with soothing instrumental recordings at the close. I repeatedly nodded off while building this playlist, so I hope it works as well for your family!
Playlist 2, below, called “Lullaby Favorites” includes many of the songs and recordings that were suggested by others; many were passed down through generations in their families and others just became the favorites for their family when they became parents.
“My Grandpa used to sing "My Little Buckaroo" by Bing Crosby (playlist 2) to every one of his grandchildren. He couldn't carry a tune, but he sang with enthusiasm! I was an adult, and my Pa was long gone, when I finally found the song and learned how it actually went to sing to my children. I still hear his enthusiasm every time I do.”
Kendra, music teacher mom