Is playing music as good as singing to your baby?

Dear Tunester, 

I often get the question of whether singing to your baby is more beneficial than playing music on speakers. It’s time to look into this quandary.

Here’s what you tell me –  you’re on a long drive on the highway, your baby starts to fuss, the fussing escalates to crying. Your baby doesn’t want a bottle, you can’t pull over to feed, your baby throws away paci and toys. You put on music and your baby is instantly soothed. Eventually they fall asleep. 

(In your stories it’s always my music but it’s magical soothing powers have yet to be scientifically proven.)

There is no doubt that music has the power to soothe our babies, and US! 

But I wonder – Before you put on the music, did you try to sing to your baby? Would that have worked as well? Or better?

Or when you put your baby to sleep, does it work as well to play a lullaby as it does to sing it?

The question for today is – 

Is live singing more effective than playing recorded music?


Let’s break it down. Here’s what we know.

Music has lots of benefits for your baby:


Physical Benefits;

The most comprehensive studies have been done with babies in the NICU. Recordings of parents singing, live music played by a music therapist, and recorded music have all been shown to have great benefits for babies in the NICU.


Soothing Powers:

We also know that when babies heard a recording of music, they remained calm for twice the amount of time than when they heard a recording of speech.


Bonding Boost:

This study found that musical interactions between parents and babies held more positive emotion and more synchronization than simply play interactions. The interactions with music encouraged more connection and were more meaningful.


SINGING a lullaby has huge benefits

This one is not a comparison with recorded music, but does show that the babies who parents consistently sang their lullaby had significantly decreased crying.


So it’s clear: music does a whole lot for your baby’s emotional state and your connection. 

Now let’s go a step further to see if we can figure out whether live SINGING is the winner over RECORDED music. These two studies can help.

Babies prefer unaccompanied singing to accompanied

This isn’t quite the answer to our question, but the idea here is that babies prefer to hear you sing acapella, without accompanied by instruments. That means they prefer your voice alone to your voice with other sounds. Probably because it is more intimate. This is significant to our question because often recorded music has lots of instruments.


Babies prefer live singing over recorded

This study is the only one that actually tested for what we are asking. They did show a SLIGHT difference in live singing vs recorded music and found that the live singing resulted in deeper sleep for preterm infants.

Why might this be? This study has an answer to that question


You sing differently to your baby than in the shower

This study (1997) shows that when parents sing directly to their babies their singing is slower, more energetic, has more pitch variability and exaggerated rhythm. Why do we do this? Because we want to attract our baby’s attention and communicate different emotional messages.

That means that when we sing we alter our voice to fit our baby’s mood, physical state, and age. We change subtle things in our voice and rhythm to match our baby in that particular moment. 

Does recorded music do that? NOPE.


So who is our winner?


I think you knew the answer all along. LIVE SINGING.


But not by a ton. Which means that if you don’t want to sing that’s ok. However you should definitely be playing music for soothing and play with your baby.

So what should you do? Three things:

  1. Come to our class, we’ll help you get over any insecurities you have related to your voice, we’ll get you singing in a group and feeling great about it.
  2. Sing to your baby. Today. Anything. Your baby doesn’t care. She just wants to hear YOU sing.
  3. Put on some tunes today. Ella Fitzgerald, Arianna Grande, Bach, Bruno Mars, whoever.


Do you have a friend who’s been wondering if she should sing or play music to her baby? Send her this post and tell her to sign up for more Tuesday Tune-Ins.