Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

ECMMA: Early Childhood Music and Movement Association

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Movement Matters

After many years of making music with children, Eve Kodiak, M.M., became interested in the brain/body processes that underlie the learning process. As an Educational Kinesiologist, she now works with people of all ages, using music and developmental movement to create positive change. Eve can be found in her office at The Lydian Center for Innovative Medicine in Cambridge, MA, or at home in New Hampshire, writing and recording. Her CD/book sets include Rappin' on the Reflexes and Feelin' Free, which combine developmental movements with songs, raps, and narrations with music. Eve also performs and records as an improvising classical pianist. More information and articles on music and developmental movement may be found at www.evekodiak.com.


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily promote official policy of ECMMA.

Pop Goes the Lullaby


Enjoy a personal view of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - a little conversation and demonstration of track 1 of my upcoming lullaby album, Sleep Like a Baby.

A colleague on the Children’s Music Network listserve pointed me to an article headlined Pop Songs At Bedtime Push Out Lullabies – Parents Opt for Lyrics from Adele and Rhianna to Send Babies Off to Sleep.

Is this only natural - that parents share their own favorite music with their children at bedtime? Should we simply be grateful that parents are singing – or even playing recorded music – to put their children to sleep at all? Is there a greater value in singing traditional lullabies to children at night than singing pop songs? And if so, what is that value?

Historically speaking, most of the “children’s songs” we know today did not start out in the nursery. Take that all-time classic lullaby, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. The English words we know were written by Jane Taylor in 1806, but the tune is much older, with a French title: Ah! Vous Dirait-Je, Mama?  I found French lyrics that had clearly been written for children:

            Ah! Let me tell you, Mother

            What’s the cause of my torment!

            Papa wants me to reason

            Like a grown-up.

            Me, I say that sweets

            Have greater value than reason.

However, I have a feeling that the following lyrics are an earlier version of the song:

Ah! Shall I say to you, Mother,

What causes my agony?

Since I saw Cintandre

Look at me tenderly,

My heart says all the time:

“Can one live without a lover?”

I’ll stop here, because the answer turns out to be “no,” and the next four verses go into great detail about this. (For the uncut version, email me directly).

Most of our traditional “children’s” songs and nursery rhymes were originally sung by and for adults. Little Jack Horner is a story about a corrupt politician accepting a bribe. Ring Around the Rosy is a description of the symptoms of the bubonic plague. In Yankee Doodle Dandy, we find graphic descriptions of wounds incurred by soldiers during the American Revolution - and Goober Peas does something similar for the American Civil War.

One takeaway from this is that children have always listened to the songs adults sang to describe the life that went on around them. So is singing pop lyrics to children at bedtime any different?

Much less important than the song or its lyrics are the intention and love with which it is offered. Any song can be a lullaby, and any lullaby, sung with love, is a love song – and that love is what children most need, at bedtime, and at any time. But I see a couple of inherent problems with pop songs being the primary vocal literature we share with children.

The first problem is singability. Whatever lyrics one uses with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, it is a really easy song for children to hear and imitate. It’s six notes that fall within the vocal range of even the youngest child. It is sing-songy, it creates an atmosphere of lull. And this "imitatable," lulling quality is there in many of the traditional lullabies.

But many pop songs are not so easy to sing. Many are written to excite, not to lull. And when we hear them on electronic media, they are super produced. There is reverb and electronic arrangements and all sorts of bells and whistles that no child (or adult) can accurately imitate with their own voices. So these songs do not encourage – and perhaps even discourage - imitation. These songs are clearly performances in which the performer is very far removed from the audience. So the intention we experience is not, “Sing along!” but “Listen to me!” The energy isn’t usually, “Anyone can sing this!” but “You need to sound like a grown-up celebrity to sing this!”

If the voices the children are hearing sing these songs are their parents’ voices, the material matters a lot less. Mom's or Dad’s or Grandma's voice trumps everything. But if the children are listening to recordings at bedtime, they may be getting an unreal idea of what voices do, naturally. Young children do not easily differentiate between TV programs and TV commercials, between what cartoon characters can do and what physical people can do, between what an electronically engineered voice can do and what a natural voice can do. And that can create a disconnect between a child’s understanding about what is and is not appropriate to do with her voice – and maybe even her life.

I remember hearing an interview in the 1990’s on NPR with Charles Strouse, who wrote the music for “Annie” (if anyone can find that for me, let me know!)* He talked about writing the song “Tomorrow,” how he purposely wrote it outside a child’s range – because he wanted that striving, pushing sound in the song. It worked - on the stage, in the box office, and in every elementary school for years afterwards. (I remember an episode of the TV show Grace Under Fire around that time, in which the comic hook was every girl in the school talent show sang that song.)

But Tomorrow was not a good thing for children’s voices. It gave the message to girls that the right thing, the rewardable thing, to do with your voice is to push it.

Another reason for singing established lullabies to children is that those songs actually have a long track record of putting children to sleep. When we sing them, we enter the morphic field of lullaby – there is a kind of intelligence that allows us to participate in history, in hundreds of years of children falling asleep to that song. That “go to sleep” resonance is there – we can feel it, the same way we can feel it when we walk into any place, read any story, hear any song, that has a particular kind of history.

I still think that the most important thing is to sing to our kids – and any song sung with love will do. But when you sing children songs that they can sing for themselves, songs that participate in the age-old energy of lullaby – you give them a little more. You participate with them in the developmentally appropriate energy of childhood. And that is something, in our age of acceleration, that every child needs.

*Thank you Brigid, for the source: a 1994 interview on "Fresh Air" from WHYY! I am gifted with wonderful readers!


Pam Donkin Nov 15, 2013

Loved your blog piece, Eve.
Here is another article.
Pam Donkin

Lullabies have pain-relieving powers, study shows10/30/2013


As always, Eve, your post was thoughtful and totally encouraging for parents and teachers who worried that they are not good enough singers.  And adding close, secure, wrap-around rocking arms makes the lullabye even better for both children and those who love them!

Margaret Hooton

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