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Deciphering Your Baby's Sounds

During our Babies class yesterday we listened for vocalizations from the babies and talked about identifying babies' personal pitch centers. If you have an infant and want to try some at-home research, you might try noticing if your baby cries or coos around a certain pitch. You might even try to match the pitch (note) of their vocalization to an instrument—or pitch pipe app—just to know what their personal pitch center is. Once you identify your baby’s personal pitch, you’ll be able to notice when they begin to shift it to the notes you are singing.

Besides the various types of crying sounds and learning what your baby is trying to communicate, an infant's repertoire of vocalizations provides lots of opportunities for listening and deciphering. Listen for:

  • Sustained vowel sounds [aaah, eeee, or ooooo]

  • Punctuations or staccato notes: short, accented sounds, not a sustained cry [ah!]

  • Sustained dipthong: multiple vowels shifting from one to another [aaaauuuu—eeee!]

  • Squeals and swoops, most often from high pitch to low

  • Spit gurgles, usually when the baby is on his/her back

  • Consonant-vowel combinations, a favorite personal “vocable”. I remember my son saying "a go, a go" repeatedly at about 4-5 months.

  • Coos: long note on one or two sounds

  • Giggles and giggle-singing: a huge gamut of high to low notes

  • Resting tone after or during a song sung by caregivers (start listening for this as early as 2 months) We heard this yesterday!

  • Pitches related to the resting tone: 5th note above it- called the dominant, 3rd note up from resting tone called the median (2–3 months). Singing the resting tone, median or dominant is a musical milestone to celebrate!

  • Nonstop babble, with occasional sustained singing (often 8 months or later)

  • Singing two notes —usually the dominant and resting tone (the pitches we often sing in class when we put things away "Bye Bye Instruments"). At first, they'll connect these two pitches with a slide and eventually they'll start singing the two tones separately. This is another clear music development milestone to celebrate!

You can support your babies' vocal experiments by matching their sounds and having a musical conversation. Babies love it, and it is brain-building! Babies love it when you make silly sounds. Your baby will use your sounds as the raw material to process, remember, categorize, and experiment with. They will notice if it is the same or different from a previous sound; they love repetition and novelty- so throw in a surprise and see what they do!

This article was adapted from an article written by the late Dr. Lyn Ransom, a beloved colleague, choral conductor and Music Together Teacher Trainer.

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