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Musical Baby Steps

Musical Baby Steps

Leading up to the birth of my first child, I did all the requisite things that expectant fathers should do: compile a birth plan as well as a list of important phone numbers, attend all of the prenatal appointments, birthing class, etc. However, the one thing I did, which elicited a great deal of amusement and eye-rolling from my wife (as much as she did appreciate it in the long run), was compile a six-hour playlist of music on my iPod, to be played through the labor and birthing process–a playlist simply called “Birthy.”

On this playlist were songs and compositions that I knew would establish, or at least nurture, a mood of steady tranquility during, what I expected to be, an extraordinary undertaking. Represented on this varied mix were Bach cello sonatas, John Coltrane, Cat Power, Aphex Twin, Brian Eno, and Konono #1. As much as this playlist was to serve as a warm and familiar aural blanket to envelope my wife and I throughout the assembled hours it would take to birth a child, I was aware that any one of these particular songs could be the first bit of recorded music my child ever experienced. At the time, this seemed like a significant matter.

After the birth, and the following whirlwind that are the first few hours of parenthood, we took the boy home and then the parenting, as well as the musical education, began.

I was reminded of this nearly forgotten moment when I recently came upon this piece of NPR reporting that echoed my prenatal intentions. While I would guess a child’s first musical moment is largely inconsequential, as their focus is likely more attuned to the utter surreal nature of being, rather than if that was Brahms “Intermezzo in C Major” or Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” they were listening to, I do think there is extraordinary value to exposing your young child to a wide variety of eclectic musical forms and styles.

There is a whole racket out there offloading baby-friendly CD’s that are marketed to increase cognitive function, intelligence, and improve general disposition among the newest of listeners (I am looking at you, Baby Eintstein!). While I don’t think any of these musical marketing opportunities really do any damage, I am somewhat skeptical and am thoroughly convinced that children tend to enjoy music that evidently provides genuine pleasure for their parents (obviously there are exceptions to this rule). This could be anything from Mozart to Lil Wayne. I think the key is variety, as well as matching the mood and temperament of your child. No one wants to hear Swedish Death Metal as they are trying to go down for a nap.

So, all you parent DJ’s out there… what music has been your parent/child soundtrack? Is music listening a big part of your routine? Have you been surprised by any particular music or musical artist that your child has gravitated toward? Does music have a profound effect on your child’s mood and/or development?

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

Parenting at the Crossroads

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

16 comments

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5:00PM PST on Mar 11, 2010

Thanks! I will give this advice to my friend who is expecting and keep it in mind for my husband and I.

4:11AM PST on Dec 28, 2009

The Bach cello sonatas sound best live and on a baroque cello-but tbh any decent recording is pretty heavenly!

10:48AM PDT on Jun 19, 2009

thankyou...
Kabin
Konteyner
mega kabin

3:42AM PDT on May 12, 2009

This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone. The above thought is smart and doesn’t require any further addition. It’s perfect thought from my side.
Ian Roger

Many tour guides in Alaska are asking visitors to purchase bear spray this year due to the number of increased attacks in Anchorage.

bear spray

3:40AM PDT on May 12, 2009

This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone. The above thought is smart and doesn’t require any further addition. It’s perfect thought from my side.
Ian Roger

Many tour guides in Alaska are asking visitors to purchase bear spray this year due to the number of increased attacks in Anchorage.

bear spray

9:14AM PDT on Apr 30, 2009

I Love this writing! I just had a baby 2 1/2 months ago, and we have been playing him music from every genre on our computer's I-tunes library. Michael loves all kinds of music as I think most children and people do. I am a singer/songwriter and guitarist and my husband is also a composer/keyboardist and drummer. We met in Los Angeles going for the big dream and decided we wanted to make an even bigger dream come true. So we moved back home, got married and started a family! We are always singing to Michael and making up songs as we go along. I absolutely believe that playing a plethora of musical styles does in fact generate an amazing capacity for the love of music in all it's passionate forms and genres. I believe that music makes matter, and in that I mean that a day or even an hour filled with music, brings joy to those around.
A good soundtrack makes a good film, great! And music makes us remember things that we may forget, like that we are human. A loved melody brings with it nostalgia and reminds us of where we came from. A great song gives us an epiphany as it "changes the air in the room." I love music and I am so happy that it exists. Our son Michael loves music and we think that he will continue to astound us in very many ways, one of them being his great big voice that already has it's own, individual melody.
We ARE music, from Mozart to Fishbone.
I think music and the arts are as necessary as math and science, if not more so.

11:41AM PDT on Apr 23, 2009

Yay! An article that values music as important for child development! As a music teacher I'm always on the look-out for more proof that music is as essential for kids to learn as math or language arts. How can people be happy without music in their lives? I remember being a little kid and listening to Dylan and the Doors and Zeppelin while my mom was cleaning house, Simon and Garfunkel and 50s sock hop classics in the car w/ my dad (Thanks Cousin Brucie!) and going to folk concerts of Pete Seeger, Schooner Fare, etc. with the whole family. I couldn't have a more eclectic taste in music if I tried! Thanks Mom and Dad. Dancing in the living room to "Crocodile Rock" will always be one of my favorite memories.

5:11PM PDT on Apr 20, 2009

when my mother was pregnant with me, my father was studying for his classical guitar exams, and i must have picked up on that as i love those sounds and music so much now, i used to tune my fathers guitar in a way he couldnt by ear while he turned the machine heads and told him, higher or lower when i was a kid, lol!, he was always sure it was as a result of me hearing him play when i was 'in the womb' !

aphex twin at a birth¬!, yep!

4:02PM PDT on Apr 20, 2009

How lovely to hear that so many children are getting this extra, easily given and wonderfully creative opportunity to develop a sense of music early in life.
My son, who is now 25 first heard (loosely termed music) me trying to play Bachs bouree on the penny whistle while I was pregnant. He must have heard it through my tummy as whenever he couldn't sleep or was fractious after he was born, I'd play a few bars and he'd immediately calm down. This I did throughout his baby and toddler years. Not sure what he'd make of it now! Happily he has his own life listening to both old and new music types and frequently gets me into different things too. music is a blessing.

1:43PM PDT on Apr 20, 2009

I'm 15, and a lot of the music I currently like are pieces from when I was younger. They remind me of a time or place and I recognize them as symbols of a previous time. So I dig a whole bunch of old music that my parents were listening to as I was growing up. I also have my own differing tastes, but I have a fascination with the drawer of cassette tapes that were once my mothers.
If I ever have a child in the future, I will most definitely incorporate music into a large part of her or his upbringing.
I think 'birthy' was a great idea.

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