Teach me to Sing Lullabies
August 19, 2014 12:07 PM   Subscribe

I know the lullabies my mother sang to me, but I'd like to learn some more lullabies or lullaby-like songs (we can go broad, but I think "soft, sweet and slow" are our watchwords) that I can sing to our child.

I am a classical choral singer, and I feel like it would be such a missed opportunity for me not to use that to its fullest extent possible. I can research titles that you've got, but you'll get bonus points for sending me to a recording. Triple word score if there is sheet music involved. Gold star for lullabies in French. You win the internet if you can find me good lullabies in Serbian.*

Don't feel constrained by key. I've got a high voice and a decent range. I'm pretty sure I'll be able to find a key that it works in for me.

Complication: While I can sight-sing sheet music pretty well, I am *not* great at learning music by ear. So the closer we stick to the Western classical music tradition, the easier it is going to be for my ear to learn something by ear.

*Found some of these on YouTube but they were either more like nursery rhymes or too far outside of my Western classical musical comfort zone.
posted by jph to Education (61 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
Baa Baa Black Sheep is a big hit around here, it has 4 verses and can be found here.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 12:12 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

My favorite lullaby is this one: Congo Lullaby, here sung by the great Paul Robeson.
posted by yoink at 12:21 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Oh good call. I should say, I already know:

- Baa Baa Black Sheep
- This Old Man
- I Gave My Love a Cherry
- Walk Shepherdess Walk
- Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
- Tender Shepherd
- Distant Melody
- Brahms' Lullaby
posted by jph at 12:23 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

"I Will" by The Beatles makes an excellent lullaby, if you can make it through without crying (I can't).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 12:24 PM on August 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

The beautiful Welsh lullaby Suo Gan is one of my favourites. It sounds gorgeous in Welsh, but I'm most familiar with the English words in the middle here.
posted by Catseye at 12:24 PM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've loved Poor Wayfaring Stranger all my life. This version from The Broken Circle Breakdown is particularly nice, but all versions (Emmylou, etc.) are all equally so in their own way. (Video may be a spoiler, so listen, don't watch.)

This gentleman sings a verse in French, to lovely effect.
posted by mochapickle at 12:25 PM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I sing what I call "church songs":
- swing low, sweet chariot
- May the circle be unbroken
- Tis a gift to be simple

Summertime is the classic

In French: (can't link but these are easily google able)
- Une chanson douce
- La Claire Fontaine
- Frere Jacques
- Fais dodo cola mon petit Frere
- Meunier tu dors
posted by ohio at 12:27 PM on August 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

People often forget that Gershwin's Summertime is a lullaby. In my experience kids often love it. (On Preview, jinx Ohio).

This YouTube channel has a lot of classic French kids songs with the lyrics on screen.
posted by yoink at 12:29 PM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Whistling Gypsy Rover. The version I know is by the Kingston Trio but for some incredible reason I can't find it online to link to.
posted by phunniemee at 12:38 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh no, this is so embarrassing to admit, but I often sing lullabies to my hyperactive 2-year-old puppers, because she often needs to calm down and focus. Here are non-lullabies that work for us, slowed down and low: Blowin' in the Wind, Bookends (Simon and Garfunkel), Puff the Magic Dragon, Michael Row the Boat Ashore (actually a lullaby, I think), Red River Valley, and Git Along Little Dogies. (She has varied musical tastes, ha.)
posted by umwhat at 12:40 PM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I sing my baby classics from the international folk dance repertoire, which includes several Serbian songs: Ajde Jano (lyrics and lots of videos), Fatishe Kolo, Šano Dušo. Depending on which other Balkan countries/languages/regions you'd like to include, there's lots of other great material in the IFD standards. In our house, the last go-to-sleep lullaby is Erev Ba (Israeli).
posted by nonane at 12:44 PM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Suliram! we did it in high school, it is beyond gorgeous

The internet can't seem to decide if its Indonesian or African.

miriam makeba's version (makes me cry)

The Weavers with a little country twang

Suliram, suliram, ram, ram
Suliram yang manis
Adu hai indung suhoorang
Bidjakla sana dipandang manis

Tingi la, tingi, si matahari
Suliram, Anakla koorbau mati toortambat
Suliram, sudala lama saiya menchari
Baruse klarung sa ya mendabat

La suliram, suliram, ram, ram
Suliram yang manis
Adu hai indung suhoorang
Bidjakla sana dipandang manis

Hush, baby
Now that I've found you, I won't let you go.
Early in the morning as the sun was rising,
I saw a water buffalo slain.
suliram, suli ram, suliram oh suliram ram ram oh suliram
soon the clouds will cool the earth with showers
so sleep in peace until the morning hour

posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:44 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

(note that the way songs/dances are done in (USA) International Folkdanceistan are not necessarily authentic, have been filtered through umpteen years of cultural appropriation, etc, etc)
posted by nonane at 12:48 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, esp. with the Peter, Paul and Mary stylings, for a lullaby.
posted by Bardolph at 12:50 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Did you know that Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star has lots of verses? It was one of our favorites.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Then the traveller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark,—
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:54 PM on August 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

The songs I sang most often when my kids were babies:
Wild Mountain Thyme
Down in the River to Pray
Go to Sleep Little Baby
3 Little Birds
Rock-a-bye-baby (but with the last verse changed to "And mama will catch you, cradle and all")
posted by belladonna at 12:55 PM on August 19, 2014

Also, I love singing The Water is Wide to the littles.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:56 PM on August 19, 2014

Lalalu from Lady and the Tramp, as sung by Peggy Lee. Sublime. Will sing it to all my children someday.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:57 PM on August 19, 2014

Soft Kitty from The Big Bang Theory?
posted by Melismata at 12:58 PM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

"Moon Moon Moon" by Laurie Berkner
posted by mefireader at 12:58 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

All the Pretty Little Horses!
posted by superlibby at 1:02 PM on August 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

My mother sang Once In Royal David's City to me, which is one of the most beautiful songs ever: here

also by baby bunting here
posted by PinkMoose at 1:08 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make sure you have a song that has your baby's name in it. You can pick one of the songs above and change some of the words, or make up your own melody and words. It doesn't have to be long, repetitive is often best.

My kids loved each having their very own lullaby.
posted by CathyG at 1:12 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Baby That's Not All, by Josh Ritter.

The lyrics are in the "show more" section, though "melt in" should be "melting".
posted by Adridne at 1:36 PM on August 19, 2014

Oh boy, most of my lullabies are from movies. Edelweiss, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Baby Mine from Dumbo, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes from Cinderella, Stay Awake from Mary Poppins... mostly it was just that they were songs to which I already knew some or most of the words.
posted by town of cats at 1:37 PM on August 19, 2014

Sleep is not something you worry about;
Sleep is just something you do.
Don’t make resolutions to figure it out,
But love it like children and sleep will come true

Theodore Chanler is your guy (composer). He has a whole song cycle called The Children that you might like.
posted by amtho at 1:38 PM on August 19, 2014

I had one special song for each of my two children. For my daughter, it was Another Lullaby from Art Garfunkel (written by Jimmy Webb). With your choral background, you might appreciate this one for being a bit more vocally intricate than most straight on folk songs.

For my son, it was Sweet Baby James. Funny story, you know how boys are, at a certain age he would sing along and replace the last word of each line with the word "poop". For some reason, the humor works pretty well with that song. "Deep greens and blues are the colors I poop" always cracked me up.

I also love the Welsh lullaby Suo Gan.
posted by rekrap at 1:41 PM on August 19, 2014

My parents have a book of old folk songs (with sheet music) which they sang to us as nursery rhymes. Sweet Molly Malone, Red River Valley, The Golden Vanity, The Minstrel Boy, Sweet Betsy from Pike... I remember so many of them. They aren't children's songs per se but they mostly have pretty simple lyrics and melodies, so they're good for kids. They were (and are) really special to me and my sister because nobody else knew them.

If there were any objectionable lyrics, my parents had a fun game (which was secret from us kids, of course) where they'd change them to something else. So in The Golden Vanity, which ends with the hero dying and the lyrics "and they threw him overboard and he drifted with the tide," they changed it to him living and then ended it "and everyone got so mad that the captain (the villain) had to hide." It was great.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:42 PM on August 19, 2014

One night, in desperation and out of ideas, I sang my infant son the last song that I could think of that I knew all the words to:

The Incredible String Band - "Witches Hat" [tabs]

Definitely not a traditional lullaby, but it worked and I still sing it to him. Also, possibly fun to sing for someone w/decent vocal range.

Another surprisingly successful one that I'd slip in grumpily when he was driving me nuts resisting bed time is This Heat's "Sleep".
posted by ryanshepard at 1:44 PM on August 19, 2014

I have fond memories of my mother singing Barges as a lullaby (less insipidly than that version).
posted by marginaliana at 1:51 PM on August 19, 2014

La Vie en Rose
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:04 PM on August 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral. My mom sang this to my son quite often.
posted by Lucinda at 2:16 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Out of my mother's large repertoire of lullabies, my favorite was always Music Alone Shall Live. She sang it quite a bit slower than the examples I can find on YouTube; even as a tiny child I found it hauntingly beautiful.
posted by frobozz at 2:20 PM on August 19, 2014

Some nice stuff on here: Over The Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Album
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:25 PM on August 19, 2014

My mom rocked me to Battle Hymn of the Republic, which if sung softly actually has a beautifully soothing, regular rhythm. The Coventry Carol and All the Pretty Little Horses can both be a little morbid, but beautiful.
posted by theweasel at 2:32 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Gold star for lullabies in French.

Les Petits Poissons.
posted by trip and a half at 3:22 PM on August 19, 2014

I don't like Linda Rondstadt's music normally, but this CD was on constant play to help our first two kids fall asleep. It's a selection of regular songs sung in a lullaby style and we love it.

Here's a sample of one of the songs if you want to hear one.
posted by tacodave at 3:24 PM on August 19, 2014

I really like--as did my kids--a number of songs from O Brother, Where Art Thou?
- Down to the River to Pray
- I'll Fly Away
- Big Rock Candy Mountain (despite, or maybe because of, its "inappropriate" lyrics)
- Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby
- I'm Weary Let Me Rest
posted by cocoagirl at 3:28 PM on August 19, 2014

CTL-F is telling me no one has mentioned "Hush, Little Baby", the Mockingbird song? If I missed it, please forgive.
posted by trip and a half at 3:29 PM on August 19, 2014

Billy Joel's "Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel)" is one of my favorite. I listened to it a lot when I was working with a therapist on inner child stuff.
posted by kathrynm at 3:30 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I keep thinking about your question.

The Count Your Blessings song from White Christmas is wonderfully sweet, and I can't get all the way through it without bursting into tears (it's my most sentimental favorite):

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep
Counting my blessings

When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep
Counting my blessings

I think about a nursery and I picture curly heads
And one by one I count them as they slumber in their beds

If you're worried and you can't sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you'll fall asleep
Counting your blessings

posted by mochapickle at 3:34 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Malaika is a traditional Swahili lullaby/love song - if Miriam Makeba's version doesn't do it for you, Angelique Kidjo's might.
posted by ChuraChura at 3:47 PM on August 19, 2014

Raffi sings a version of Good Night Irene that is much more lullaby appropriate than the original.

Foxes sleep in the forest
Lions sleep in their dens
Goats sleep on the mountainside
and piggies sleep in pens

Irene goodnight, Irene goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dream

Whales sleep in the ocean
Zebras sleep on land
Hippos sleep by the riverside
and camels sleep on sand


Coyote sleeps in the canyon
And birdie sleeps in a tree
And when it's time for me to rest
My bed's the place for me.


posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:56 PM on August 19, 2014

Best answer: If you'd like to branch out, hereis a Serbian one I loved singing very softly to my babies. The lyrics are:

Jednog zelenog dana, onog zelenog leta,
kada je bela rada odlucila da cveta,
neko je nekom rekao, Najlepši san sam stekao,
podelimo ga na dvoje. Sad pola sna je tvoje...

Spavajmo, sanjajmo,
Spavajmo, sanjajmo...

(I like to repeat the first two verses one more time)

I dovidjenja!

The translation, roughly, would be:

On a green day one green summer
When the daisy decided to bloom
Somebody said to somebody, I had the loveliest dream,
Let us share it. Now half the dream is yours...

Let's sleep, let's dream,
Let's sleep, let's dream,

And goodbye!

Another version here.
posted by Dragonness at 5:22 PM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Don't be afraid;
My love is stronger;
My love is stronger than your fear;
Don't be afraid, my love is stronger;
And I have promised, promised to be always near.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:25 PM on August 19, 2014

Hobo's Lullaby

I generally follow the melody of Arlo Gutherie's version.
posted by otolith at 5:45 PM on August 19, 2014

Acony Bell
I Don't Want To Live on the Moon
Lord, Blow the Moon Out Please

I've always thought this French shanty had a lullabye-worthy tune, but it turns out the lyrics definitely won't fly if there's any francophones around. (Rough translation: "Hooray for the five dollar girls. These girls cost five dollars. Row for shore!" Oh well.)

Suliram! we did it in high school, it is beyond gorgeous

The internet can't seem to decide if its Indonesian or African.

Those lyrics are definitely Indonesian.

posted by nebulawindphone at 6:49 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Songs I sang or rather mostly hummed to my son include: Annie's Song by John Denver. Rainbow Connection. You are my sunshine. Find the River by REM. Lots of old Baptist standards and Christmas Carols.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 7:02 PM on August 19, 2014

Holy CRAP, I cannot believe someone beat me to Battle Hymn of the Republic. It's great for soothing babies, but due to... weirdness factor, one I only sing when we're alone. Totally recommend it, though.

For a little boy, "Beautiful Boy" by John Lennon. Chokes me up bad at
Before you go to sleep, say a little prayer; every day, in every way, it's getting better and better
and then again at
Before you cross the street, take my hand; life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
Plus my son's name rhymes with Sean, which fits nicely into the last line.

Finally, if you need mental exercise, sing "Hush little baby", but ad lib it as you go, and try to keep it going for as long as you can. Bonus points if you can make it different every time.
Hush little baby, don't say a word;
Mama's going to buy you a mockingbird.
If that mockingbird don't sing,
Mama's going to buy you a diamond ring.
If that diamond ring goes brass,
Mama's going to buy you a looking glass.
If that looking glass gets broke,
Mama's going to buy you an ox and yoke.
If that ox and yoke won't pull,
Mama's going to buy you a longhorn bull.
If that longhorn bull gets neutered,
Mama's going to buy you a Razor scooter.
If that razor scooter falls over,
Mama's going to buy you a dog named Rover.
If that dog named Rover won't bark,
Mama's going to buy you Noah's ark.
If that Noah's ark won't float,
Mama's going to buy you a motorboat.
If that motorboat won't speed,
Mama's going to buy you some power leads.
If those power leads shut off,
Mama's going to buy you a Kalashnikov.
If that Kalashnikov won't shoot,
Mama's going to buy you a shiny flute.

[etc, til you get flummoxed or it's time to plop baby in bed.]
posted by telepanda at 7:34 PM on August 19, 2014 [7 favorites]

As mentioned above, A La Claire Fontaine is a beautiful french lullaby. Here is the sheet music.
posted by spec80 at 7:48 PM on August 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up singing a version of this song around the fire at camp and always swore I'd sing it if I ever had babies.
posted by missriss89 at 8:19 PM on August 19, 2014

I second including the child's name, we used to always sing It's a Jolly Holiday with Mary, from Mary Poppins, at the end of the night, substituting our child's name. While not a lullaby it was a big hit and I encourage the use of a song that you alter. For us now that she is older and knows about the movie she still thinks of that as "her" song.

Again, not a classic lullaby, but What a Wonderful World was sung at the end of every library storytime at our really fantastic downtown library and the kids really loved it and it always seemed to calm the room down. It would go from a noisy group of 30 or so pre-school kids jostling for position to this quiet interlude before we filed out. I feel there's a little bit of magic in the song.

If you're interested in alternative lyrics to Hush Little Baby, I always like Sylvia Long's version (she did a book). Her idea was to move away from material objects.

Hush little baby, don't say a word, Mama's going to show you a hummingbird.
If that hummingbird should fly, Mama's going to show you the evening sky.
When the nighttime shadows fall, Mama's going to hear the crickets call.
While their song drifts from afar, Mama's going to search for a shooting star.
When that star has dropped from view, Mama's going to read a book with you.
When that story has been read, Mama's going to bring your warm bedspread.
If that quilt begins to wear, Mama's going to find your teddy bear.
If that teddy bear won't hug, Mama's going to catch you a lightning bug.
If that lightning bug won't glow, Mama's going to play on her old banjo.
If that banjo's out of tune, Mama's going to show you the harvest moon.
As that moon drifts through the sky, Mama's going to sing you a lullaby.
posted by dawg-proud at 8:38 PM on August 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

My mom used to sing me You Can Close Your Eyes, closest to this version from James Taylor & Joni Mitchell. Hearing it these days makes me tear up a bit. My brother was more a fan of 500 Miles.

She also made up a song for us (me really) when I was a newborn.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:09 PM on August 19, 2014

(I completely missed that you were actually looking for lullabies in Serbian. That was a total coincidence.)
posted by Dragonness at 9:11 PM on August 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Classical tradition and French.... Debussy songs?

Sheet music- http://imslp.org/wiki/12_Songs_(Debussy,_Claude)
Recording (with Diana Damrau): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gk0kSlOOnJg

(as an extension of this, http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:Chansons)
posted by SailRos at 2:05 AM on August 20, 2014

I got my niece to sleep on a long car journey by singing Scarborough Fair. Best bit, her mum joined in and I took the harmony part.
posted by greenish at 4:25 AM on August 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

These are my two kids' all-time favourites:

- Ally Bally (Coulter's Candy)
- Molly Malone
- Clementine
- Down by the Sally Gardens
posted by ceithern at 5:27 AM on August 20, 2014

My mom always used to sing "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" to me and my brother, in a much quieter, slower tone than would be used in Finian's Rainbow. It's good!
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:52 AM on August 20, 2014

Response by poster: Major major thanks to everyone who has contributed. Some really amazing options in there and I can't wait to make them my own and add them to my repertoire. More than just your suggestions, you've reminded me of several things that I can already sing that hadn't even occurred to me to use as lullabies. And moreover, you've reminded me of things that my parents sang to me as a child that I'd forgotten! It's been a trip down memory lane!

Extramegamajor thanks to nonane and Dragonness who came up with the fantastic Serbian options. (I'm not sure if katemonster gets or loses bonus points for sending me a Serbian version of "Let It Go" privately.) And bonus points aplenty for the French options. Those will be fun for us to learn, since we both speak French (and want to pass it on to the little one) but aren't ourselves French so we have no personal memory of children's songs in that language.

It's a little unorthodox for AskMe for the Asker to follow up with separate suggestions, but since I plan to look back and reference this thread when the well's run dry and it is 4am and I need inspiration, I figured I'd include some other things that your suggestions reminded me of! Things I remembered while reading suggestions:

- My family is Irish, and so my father used to sing a number of Irish tunes to us when we were kids. Eileen Og, Molly Malone, Paddy Reilly, The Black Velvet Band, and Four Green Fields, and Paddy McGinty's Goat.

- Broadway is ripe for lullaby type songs. Duh! No One Is Alone, Not While I'm Around, You'll Never Walk Alone, Summertime, Look to the Rainbow...

- Art Songs! Oy! Had sort of generally considered that, but wasn't coming up with anything good. But Après Un Rêve, Go Lovely Rose, Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, a handful of Vaughan Williams' songs that I know well and love - Orpheus With His Lute, Sleep, Take O Take, and Silent Noon, and Purcell is totally ripe for this with If Music Be the Food of Love and I Love and I Must. And this even gives me the opportunity to warp our dear sweet unsuspecting children into fans of contemporary/modern classical music, but slipping a little Ned Rorem (Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, a little slower, a little lower) in when she least suspects it.

- And finally, jazz* has so many great options. Black is the Color of my True Love's Hair, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, My Funny Valentine, Embraceable You, A Case of You, etc etc etc...

This particular list could just keep going, but suffice it to say many of your suggestions reminded me of some really great options.

Anyway thanks again and I will mark some best answers, but it'll be hard not to just give them out to everyone.
posted by jph at 9:51 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lullaby for a Stormy Night.
posted by oceano at 10:24 AM on August 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of Peter Paul & Mary, esp. Peter Paul & Mommy
posted by theora55 at 8:14 PM on August 20, 2014

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