Ep. 137: What makes a lullaby a lullaby, and what difference does it make? with Laurel Trainor, PhD

How do lullabies affect babies?

Photo by Minnie Zhou on Unsplash

Our very first social interactions are musical, and the singing of lullabies to babies is universal across cultures. We discuss the common elements of lullabies, benefits of live-sung lullabies to both baby and caregiver, and just how long those benefits extend. Bonus: We answer the age-old mystery of why the most enduring lullabies have such dark lyrics (think rock-a-bye baby)!


My guest today is Dr. Laurel Trainor, Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Dr. Trainor is the founding and present director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind (MIMM), which houses LIVELab, a research-concert hall equipped with motion capture and EEG. She is also a Research Scientist at the Rotman Research Institute and has published over 160 articles on the neuroscience of auditory development and perception of music.


We discuss:

  • What IS a lullaby? Are there unique characteristics in structure/rhythm/pitch, that qualify a song as a lullaby?
  • Singing to babies is universal across cultures. Are the elements of the lullaby universal?
  • What is it about these elements or characteristics of lullabies that are so soothing and calming to babies?
  • What are some of the other benefits of lullabies for babies – both physiological and social-emotional?
  • How do lullabies affect caregivers?
  • Why do some of the most enduring lullabies have such dark lyrics (think rock-a-bye baby)?!
  • What are the benefits of live-sung lullabies vs. recorded lullabies?
  • We tend to think of lullabies’ benefit being short-term – calm this baby down NOW! However, studies show long-term benefits result from the infant-caregiver lullaby experience.

Connect/Other Resources

In-Episode Promo

This is a quick break to tell you about Sonix, the service that I use to transcribe these episodes. Sonix is an artificial intelligence transcription service that automatically converts audio and video files to text – and can translate to over 40 languages. I transcribe these episodes to make them more accessible. I tried multiple services, and chose to stick with Sonix because of their accuracy, affordability, and because their site is just so easy to use; that’s a big plus for me, to not need to spend a bunch of time figuring out one more platform! While I love podcasts, I do tend to be a very visual learner. I figure other people probably are, too; and having that written form of your work just makes it more versatile. Sonix transcripts make the most of your hard work and can increase traffic to your site. Sonix is spelled s-o-n-i-x. You can check them out with a free trial PLUS an extra 100 minutes of free transcription by using the link sonix.ai/invite/enhancelife100. There’s a link in the show notes. Again, it’s sonix.ai/invite/enhancelife100 for a free trial AND an extra 100 minutes of free transcription.


Dr. Trainor shares the personal meaning of the song, “It’s a Wonderful World,” by Bob Thiele (as “George Douglas”) and George David Weiss – particularly the  Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) version. She says: This is one of the songs we danced to at our wedding. Every time I hear it now I tear up as it brings back such good memories. Love the song, the words and Armstrong’s unique voice. Love these words especially: “I see friends shaking hands; Saying “How do you do”; They’re really saying is; I love you.”

Closing Words

Thank you so much to Dr. Trainor for sharing that personal connection with that heart-warming song with us – and for sharing her research and expertise on the effects of the lullaby experience on both infants and parents and caregivers! As always, there are lots of links in the show notes to all the resources discussed in this episode, and more, including many ways to connect with Dr. Trainor’s research, a link to the episode we referenced on how music can enhance your DOG’s health and behavior, and a list of other related episodes you may enjoy.

All links from today’s episode – including a transcript of this episode – can be found in the show notes; this is Ep. 137. A link to the page is also in the episode details right in your podcast app. If you know someone who would enjoy this episode, please share the episode with them directly or with your network on social media! It’s easy to do right in your podcast listening app – just tap the three dots in the top right corner and then tap “Share Episode”. That will give you options to share by text, email, social media, and more.

You can always connect with me on email (mindy@mpetersonmusic.com), Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn. 

Thank you so much for joining me today. Until next time, may your life be enhanced with music.

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