So . . . What Can Those Babies Do?

By Gari Stein

Even after all these years of working with infants, I often hear: You work with babies (hee-hee). What CAN babies do?

My answer is always the same. Plenty! Research tells us that hearing is the second sense to develop in utero and that babies, once born, can recognize music they heard while in the womb.

Even though she hated it, one of my moms played classical music while she was pregnant. Receiving no reaction from baby, she played one of her favorites, Miles Davis. Baby was kicking and jiving right along with her. As a young boy, he was drawn to jazz, and years later, I learned he was playing jazz in his school band.

One time, I arrived at the University of Michigan Child Care Center for our weekly music class, and I learned that the preschoolers had gone on a field trip, and I was asked if I would I work with the infants -- for 30 minutes. Unprepared, I froze, and then thought about all the melodies I learned from Dr. Edwin Gordon.

Dr. Gordon founded the Early Music Learning Theory. His work is based mostly in sounds and melodies versus words. Simply put, he uses bahs, bums (often baby’s first sounds) and yah-dee-dahs in different tonal and rhythm patterns. It might seem silly at first, but this methodology really speaks to babies.

When I entered the infant room at the Child Care Center, I got that look from providers. I could feel their thoughts: Do you really think you can keep these babies occupied for 30 minutes? I checked the time on the clock, asked the adults to just let the babies be, and started singing every melody I knew.

Babies were everywhere, held in arms, creeping on the floor, climbing up furniture and up one another -- each and every one stopping from time to time to look and listen. My heart was pounding, as truly, I wasn't sure I could sustain their attention. But lo and behold, 30 minutes passed. Just like that!

When working with parents, teachers, and care providers I encourage them to try this approach, suggesting they go in the closest, give it a try, and come out when they are ready. Okay, this gets a big laugh, but it also piques their interest.

Often melodies are presented with pauses, creating silence. The silence is where the learning happens. Once babies become familiar with the melody, when the pauses occur, they kick their legs in anticipation. They are listening!

And this can carry over into everyday life. Instead of constantly chatting to our babies, we can allow for pauses and silence. After all, everyone needs time to just be, and often, this is where the thinking comes in.

Look at your baby, make up patterns chanting "bahs" and singing "bums," pausing in between. One day, baby will "bah" or "bum" back to you. It’s a thrill. You can create a whole conversation back and forth.

Babies are musical. They can listen, anticipate tempo change, and recognize familiar sounds and melodies. Babies are competent. Put baby on the floor and observe the wonder as he or she observes and explores. Everything is new. They don’t need toys to keep them engaged.

So next time you might want to ask me, what CAN babies do?

Well . . .

Don’t get me started.

For Further Reading

Retro Baby: Cut Back on all the Gear and Boost your Baby’s Development  

Anne H. Zachry

Talk, Read, Song: Five Songs for Parents

Music Listening Preferences in Early Life

To find out more about Gari Stein’s classes, family & student concerts and in-service training, visit her website at or get in touch with her at 734-741-1510 or

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Posted on October 30, 2014 and filed under Parenting, Children, Music.