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Lady Lullaby Blog

Lullabies for babies, grown-ups and everyone in between!

Friday, April 29, 2011

When Words Fail

If you want to sing a lullaby to your baby but forget the words---keep singing anyway!

Words tell a story, convey emotions, and make the meaning of a musical expression clear. The combination of words and music is a powerful human medium because it transmits the story of our lives to the next generations.

But we also know that we could sing the same words to various kinds of music and it can have an entirely different feel---play “Twinkle Twinkle” with a hip-hop beat and your baby will be wiggling instead of dozing.

With lullabies the most important aspect is the feeling that you’re trying to convey. That is the same feeling that parents two million years ago were conveying when they hummed to their babies, even before speech was developed. It’s the feeling of love. It’s the feeling of devotion and nurturing, of giving comfort and protection.

That feeling can be conveyed just as strongly through a melody with no words, and sometimes even more strongly, because the emotion comes through without the intellect being involved. Musician and research scientist Daniel Levitin says, “Neurobiology show that music--but not speech--activates areas of the human brain that are very ancient, structures that we have in common with all mammals . . .”

Nonsense words are rampant in lullabies—that’s where the word “lullaby” comes from! “La la la” and “loo loo loo,” “tula tula” and similar meaningless sounds are used in lullabies all over the world.

My friend Donovan Leitch suggested that I use his lullaby “La Moora” for my “Midnight Lullaby” album. When I asked him what the words “La la moora” mean, he laughed at me. “They don’t mean anything,” he said, “It’s what lullabies are made of.”

I was inspired to write about this when I recently heard a beautiful lullaby without words that expresses this feeling perfectly. It’s recorded by Al Pettaway, one of the best fingerstyle guitarists in the world, and Amy White, who has a truly celestial voice ( Here is their “Lullaby.”

So hum, croon, sing “lullaby” over and over, or anything that comes into your mind. Know that your baby will understand everything.

Sweet dreams,

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