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About The Lullaby Project

It is known that lullabies have soothed generations of our ancestors. According to Hellberg's 2015 paper "Rhythm, Evolution, Neuroscience in Lullabies and Poetry” lullabies are traced to 2000BC, the first documented case etched upon a Babylonian clay tablet by a mother over 4000 years ago. Despite longstanding practices of lullabies, there is much to understand regarding their use and potentially beneficial applications in adult cognition and wellbeing.

 In 2013, UCLA-ethnomusicologist Pettit published a study revealing "live lullabies slowed infant heart rate, improved sucking behaviors...critical for feeding, increased periods of “quiet alertness” and helped the babies sleep.” Those with child-rearing experiences are aware of how babies are comforted by the slow, sing-song vocal tones and oft unsettling lyrics. Despite recorded benefits, few take these drowsy, mournful songs beyond the nursery. In Neurologist Tim Griffiths’ research, he explores how the limbic system’s emotional response to lullabies decreases arousal levels thereby spurring pain attenuation.

With council by voice expert Rébecca Kleinberger, my research begins by exploring current music therapies and moves to examine functional applications of reintroducing the lullaby to positively affect hormonal, stress and cognitive levels. Furthermore, we examine how the act of singing a lullaby is beneficial to both singer and listener. The slow tempo encourages reduction of rapid heartbeat aiding in stress reduction. Moreover, as Pettit (2013) and Loewy (2013) hypothesize, the frightening stories in lullabies often reflect a parent’s worst fears, ones curbed by the catharsis of verbalization. According to Abou-Saleh, Et Al. (1998) lower prolactin levels were associated with postpartum depression in new mothers; levels that could be treated by lullabies. Studies by Huron (2011)/ Sachs (2015) reveal melancholy music triggers the endocrine neurons in the hypothalamus which tricks the brain into a compensatory release of the hormone prolactin, key in grief attenuation and self-comfort.


-Published In NIME GAPS Proceedings 2017

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