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Lullabies for Babies: Songs to Sing Your Child to Sleep

Updated on October 3, 2012
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Lullabies are a form of music found in many cultures worldwide, and probably as far back as the invention of singing itself. Lullabies are songs played or sung to babies before bedtime to try to relax the baby and aid him or her in falling asleep. Traditionally, lullabies are sung to babies rather than played, although modern inventions that allow for musical playback allow caregivers to use instrumental tracks instead.

Because they are meant to lull a baby to sleep, lullabies usually have slow, repetitive melodies. Many lullabies often have a narrow range musically, which makes them easier to sing even for mothers not gifted with an exceptional singing voice.

Rock-A-Bye Baby

Traditional Lullabies

Rock-a-Bye Baby

This is a very well-known lullaby in the English language. It first appeared in print in 1765, in the book Mother Goose's Melody, where it was titled "Hush-a-Bye Baby" instead of "Rock-a-Bye Baby". The song's lyrics are often ridiculed by those who point out that a song about a baby falling out of tree is not very idyllic and soothing (although, of course, the young babies listening to the song will not have any idea what the song means and will only be listening to the melody and the sound of the words).

Its lyrics are:

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetops
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all

Brahm's Lullaby

Brahms' Lullaby

The music for this lullaby is widely known. It was written by Johannes Brahms and published in 1968. The lyrics, however, have changed frequently throughout the years, so there are many different versions to be found. The original lyrics are German, and were written years before Brahms set them to music.

An old English-language version of the lyrics is

Lullaby and goodnight, with roses bedight
With lilies o'er spread is baby's wee bed
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed

Modern English-language lyrics to the tune can be heard in performances by artists such as The Statler Brothers in their recording of "Brahms' Bethlehem Lullaby", and Jewel in her version from the album Once Upon a Lullaby.

Hush Little Baby

Hush, Little Baby

The origin of this song is unknown. Judging by the reference to mockingbirds, the song was probably written in the United States, but this is just speculation. The lyrics follow a simple format of promising the baby one gift and then substituting another gift in case the first one is ruined. This format means there are endless opportunities to make up new words, either to replace or to add to the original ones.

Since the song's origin is unknown, the original lyrics are also not certain; however, the most commonly used are:

Hush, little baby, don't say a word, Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird
And if that mockingbird don't sing, Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring
And if that diamond ring turns brass, Mama's gonna buy you a looking glass
And if that looking glass gets broke, Mama's gonna buy you a billy goat
And if that billy goat doesn't pull, Mama's gonna buy you a cart and bull
And if that cart and bull turn over, Mama's gonna buy you a dog named Rover
And if that dog named Rover won't bark, Mama's gonna buy you a horse and cart
And if that horse and cart fall down, Well you'll still be the sweetest baby in town

Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star

Sometimes, the tune of this song is credited to Mozart, who composed a series of variations on the basic, familiar melody. However, this is not accurate. The original melody is a French song called "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman" (or, "I will tell you, Mama"). The "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" lyrics come from a poem by Jane Taylor published in 1806 in a book called Rhymes for the Nursery.

There are five stanzas to the original poem, but only the first verse is well known. When set to the familiar tune, the lyrics are:

Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are

A Lullaby Of Your Own

Of course, you don't have to stick to a traditional lullaby to sing your child to sleep. You can use any song you want. As long as it works for you, go for it! Here are some tips for choosing a lullaby:

  • Choose a song that fits your vocal range so that you don't have to strain to hit the high or low notes. Remember, too: when you're singing unaccompanied, you can always adjust the starting note of the song up or down, if this helps.
  • If you've picked a fast paced song, slow it down when you sing it as a lullaby so that it is more soothing.
  • Keep your voice quiet and gentle; don't use funny voices or otherwise suggest to your child that it is time to laugh, giggle, and play.
  • Above all, don't be afraid to sing, even if you don't think you have a good singing voice! Your child doesn't care whether or not you would win the next season of American Idol—most of the time, he'll just want to hear your voice!

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    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 4 years ago from Minnesota

      I love baby lullabies. They work wonderful for little ones.

    • sarahk80 profile image
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      sarahk80 4 years ago from Kansas, USA

      Thanks jpcmc. I love hearing about the non-traditional tunes that parents use for lullabies. :) I wasn't familiar with the song "I Will" so I had to look it up and listen to it. Very cute song!

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Tinle twinle little star is a favorite of my daughter. Another song that she loves is not really a lullbye. She loves I Will by the Beatles. I guess it's because I'm a Beatles fan myself that I sing this to her often. I don't know about my vocal range but somehow she likes the song regardless who sings it to her.