June 19th, 2009

Well-Tempered (& Notso) Sounds for Baby

As can be imagined, I give a lot of thought to the soundscapes my two daughters soak in, especially when so much of it is structured by me — at home, in the car, or anywhere else I can plug my iPod/Phone, whistle a tune, or bang out a rhythm.

When I’m selecting a kind of background music, something to inject a little colorful noise into our home, I tend to draw on particular playlists I’ve put together. These are labeled, for better or worse (I know there are categorical / ontological problems with these, but let’s set those aside for now):

baby-music-perse: id est, per se; baby music qua baby music; kids songs; sing-alongs
baby-music-tonal: baroque, classical, romantic, minimalist
baby-music-weird: whale song, Indonesian jaw harp, Ghanaian “honk horn”
baby-music-worldy: mostly traditional music from SE Asia, Africa (N and S), Middle East

I also draw heavily on folders labeled things like jamaican-jazz, electronic-fun, ambient-music, technos, all-gamelan, and so forth. Mostly instrumentals, or some foriegn language vocals; very little, if any, English language. (I tend to find English vox distracting, hence not as easily “ambient” as I want.)

As I mentioned way back when, I’m concerned with exposing my children to as wide a range of musical forms and aesthetics and tonalities and ontologies (what is music?) as possible. And I do feel some need to foreground non-Western music given how inevitably “Western” so much of what they hear elsewhere tends to be. I’m not joking when I say that I don’t want their hearing to be “ruined” by too much (Western) tonality. And so I’m careful to balance Mozart with mbira, Bach with Bali; indeed, never mind balance, I’m hoping to submerge the so-called “common practice” “canon” in the vast oceans of the music of the world.

What has been interesting, however, is the discovery that I actually find myself gravitating frequently toward baby-music-tonal, which may take liberties in its interpretation of “tonal” (putting Riley and Reich and Rachel’s alongside Bach and Chopin) but remains fairly anchored in what we might (as well) call “Western tonality.”

I think it has a lot to do with the mellowness of solo piano stuff (won’t wake the kids!), though I have to admit that — as much as I seek to counter the influence of Western art music and think Mozart-for-Babies is a bunch of bullshit — I am also a believer in the potential effects of (slowly, somewhat subconsciously) comprehending the often wonderfully symmetrical (and asymmetrical) forms so powerfully modeled by something like Bach’s fugues (or his Goldberg Variations, which, in the form of Glenn Gould’s landmark 1955 recording, kicks-off the playlist). I am persuaded — or inclined to believe — that hearing and listening to such forms and retracing them in one’s mind might help to build all kinds of conceptual bridges. Good grist for the mind’s mill. Can’t hurt anyway, I don’t think — at least not in the healthy company of all kinds of other forms.

Given this apparent predilection — as well as my boom-bap leanings — I was delighted to hear that Mad EP, a fine cellist and beatsmith (and hence a fan of Bach & Shostakovich as well as Dilla & FlyLo), not to mention a devoted dad, recently put together 24 Breakbeats, one for every major & minor key. Stream or download here; & share it with the kids (of all ages) —

I definitely want to share some of my favorite baby/kid music here in the near future. There are some truly striking and beautiful songs in those playlists, most of which go well beyond the typical w&w fare. (I also listen to “acoustic” music! SRSLY) Perhaps a mix of some sort is in order. It’d be the sort of thing, like Ripley’s recent & radical contribution to the repertory, that would hardly scream “kids” and might, I would hope, work in a variety of settings and for young & old alike.

Also: still very much open to recommendations! The last round bore some sweet fruit.


  • 1. giessel  |  June 19th, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    nice one wayne, and it’s clear you don’t take this lightly!

    it’s funny how this awareness is so infectious- when you get aware about tunes around your girls, i get aware. (of course, we invariably have music on when we chill, don’t we?)

    so beats are a minority of the explicitly chosen tracks? any reason?

  • 2. wayneandwax  |  June 19th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Plenty of beats in there too, I should say. And that’s in addition to MadEP’s project. I guess the other main folder I play from is “mixes” which really runs the gamut. I guess I thought it went without saying that a lot of the music I listen to everyday (i.e., more typical w&w fare — beat-based, synthesized, etc.) is also a big part of these kids’ soundscapes.

  • 3. casper  |  June 21st, 2009 at 3:12 am

    Wonder whether you need to be so obssesive moulding your kids. Riley and Reich western tonality? Look at their inspiration: Gamalan (great music for kids to sleep by BTW). I miss a category: music for babies, see:


  • 4. wayneandwax  |  June 21st, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Oh, I wouldn’t be so confident or pretentious to think that I could “mould” my kids in this way. Just trying to present a rich & diverse palette to them.

    I love Raymond Scott’s project, btw. The title of this post is a wink to it, and if you clicked through to the earlier post embedded here, you’ll see that I remixed one of those tracks with my first daughter’s in-utero heartbeat. Also, it’s worth noting that the folder “electronic-fun” includes Soothing Sounds.

    As for Riley/Reich, I’m with you on their own influence vis-a-vis non-Western sounds — and, again, as you can see in this post I also play plenty of gamelan proper for the kids. But I do think that Riley & Reich are still, for all their branching out, inevitably “tonal” in the way they compose. I mean, c’mon, “In C”?!

    As for obsessing about (and attempting to shape/curate) my musical environs more generally, no getting around that; that’s just who I am at this point.

  • 5. back in bridge  |  June 22nd, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Any chance you have a folder of dub with animal sounds on it?

  • 6. mad ep  |  June 22nd, 2009 at 4:32 am

    Heheh- first of all, to obsess is to be a parent. Simple as– and btw, hope you had a lovely Father’s Day, Wayne.

    I also know what Wayne means. Anyone who has spent much time with lil’ kids knows that you can’t shape their taste at all. They like what they like, and that is all there is to it. However, what one *can* do as a parent is to provide them with as wide of a palette as possible for them to explore and experience. They’ll still have their favorites, but you’d be surprised what their favorites might be.

    As for my 7 year old- his current favorites are Fishbone (circa ‘Truth & Soul’), DJ Flack, Bernard Parmegiani, Tom Waits, Stravinsky, Bruce Springsteen (circa ‘Greetings from Asbury Park’) & Villa Lobos. He hears most of this while helping me in the kitchen while I make dinner, or in the car… It usually only takes one listen for him to decide if it is something he wants to listen to over & over and given his good taste in ‘favorites’, I certainly feel no need to try to influence him any further than to just make a wealth of music available to him.

    Thanks to you Wayne for posting the “Twenty-four Breakbeats”… you are correct in that it does appeal to all ages. It was a labor of love, and certainly ended up being much more difficult than I had planned!

  • 7. wayneandwax  |  June 22nd, 2009 at 6:47 am

    thanks for “chiming in,” matty — in more ways than one.

    and, yes, back-in-bridge, that would be the barnyard-dub folder ;)

  • 8. DJ FLack  |  June 25th, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Hey Matty just downloaded your 24 Breakbeats – what an awesome thing! sounds amazing so far. Wayne and I will be rockin’ em in our homes and at our night- As to being on your 7 year-old’s favorite music list – that is a true honor indeed. Lets hope my kids have as good taste (I will be a father of twins in less than 2 months time (!) – I’m thinking some deep dub will be in heavy baby room rotation. Thanks for the post Wayne.

  • 9. james gyre  |  July 7th, 2009 at 9:17 am

    i didn’t read all the suggestions or even the whol post, but river (my two year old son) really enjoys bumpin’ funky house, not-too-aggro dancehall, up-beat mexican tunes (like the inimitable tlen-huicani), and basically anything that i’ll dance with him to.

    when he was a youngin, he seemed to enjoy dubstep with bit of a low pass filter on… so it’s reduced to a warm hum.

  • 10. Marc Rosenberg  |  July 21st, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I wanted to share my children’s music CD with you and this community. I enjoy your blog, so thanks!

    Here it is: http://www.cdbaby.com/assist



  • 11. wayneandwax.com » D&hellip  |  January 21st, 2010 at 11:03 am

    […] course, I’ve given lots of thought to seeking sounds for babies, and I’ve been meaning to make a mix of my own reflecting some of the music that seems to […]


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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