YO MAMA: The hierarchy of kid’s music
The very first jingle my son took a liking to was the CBC News intro. He would do a perky little dance every time that staccato tune — daah-daah-daaaaaah — came on.
It was neat to see him starting to recognize short patterns of music. This was around nine months of age, and other favourite “songs” included the oh-so-lyrical melody that came on when you started the dishwasher, the “ding-ding-ding” of car keys left in the ignition, and of course, doorbells. A button with a little ditty, what more could a baby ask for?
Thankfully, as he matured, so did his music tastes.
We started off by introducing him to all the classic nursery rhymes. His favourites were This Little Piggy and Eensy Weensy Spider, both of which sent him into fits of laughter. With most other nursery rhymes, I would sing precisely one line from the original (all I could remember) and ad lib the rest with goofy commentary of our day.
All around the house we go,
Picking up dirty laundry,
The baby thought it was all in fun,
Now we’re in a quandary!
When all you have to compare it to is a radio jingle, this is basically a private rock concert.
Singing nursery rhymes on repeat for months on end makes you start reflecting on the lyrics. And some of those lyrics are pretty dark and sometimes creepy.
Rock-a-bye-baby, for instance — hello, that baby just came falling out of a tree. Three Blind Mice is pretty violent, and I don’t even like mice. And Georgie Porgie, who “kissed the girls and made them cry,” just hasn’t aged well.
Around a year, an amazing thing happened: he started liking the same music we did. He would happily listen to everything from classical music to The Misfits. His mind was open to new genres and artists. He was like a sponge, soaking up new sounds.
Around two years, a very different phenomenon occurred: he developed his own taste for music.
Suddenly, he wanted specific songs. He could delineate “our music” from “kid music.” Raffi and Fred Penner were broadly accepted in our household — neutral ground, you could say — but somewhere along the line he’d discovered those high-pitched, fast-talking, hyperactive musicians like Cocomelon and The Kiboomers. Since we mostly listened to music on our record player — and Cocomelon isn’t on vinyl — these songs were reserved primarily for the car.
His ultimate favourites were any songs that referenced tractors or heavy duty machinery. Bonus points if the song employed the use of authentic engine noises. I routinely rolled up to the grocery store with windows down, sunroof open, blasting “Tractor Ted.”
It was around this time that I discovered Spotify has playlists for pretty much any vehicle a little boy could dream of. I combed through these playlist to create our very own collection of Tolerable Tractor Jams, and found myself discovering country music like I never had before.
That’s when the kid decided he wanted “weeeee-oooh-weeee-ooooh” songs AKA “fire truck songs” instead. So much for my carefully curated tractor playlist. His musical tastes were evolving faster than I could favourite a song.
Let me tell you, fire truck songs for kids are the worst of the bunch, unless you like the grating sound of synthy emergency vehicles. It is anything but melodious. Boy was I glad when that phase ended.
We fell into a routine where we’d get into the car and I’d ask him what songs he’d like to listen to and he’d give me a subject to search for. We went through phases of “bus songs”, “farming songs” and “plane songs.” Many of the tunes were complete garbage, but we ran into some great ones along the way, including winners like Woody Guthrie’s “Car Song” and Corb Lund’s “The Truck Got Stuck.”
Then we landed on train songs for a long time. Unlike fire trucks and tractors, the train genre had some seriously decent folk songs. Finally, we’d found something we both genuinely liked. It felt like we were two pals on a road trip.
In two years, his musical journey had taken us from a three second radio jingle to the very niche genre of train songs.
Through his lyrical likings, I was beginning to see his own personal preferences take shape, along with his willpower to assert what he wanted to listen to. His changing interests were reflected in the songs he requested, and he was starting to take ownership of the music he liked.
We didn’t always agree on what to play, which naturally led to lessons in compromise and turn taking. Through music, we found connection and dialogue. As the famous children’s songwriter Ella Jenkins crooned, “I’ll sing a song, and you’ll sing a song, and we’ll sing a song together.”
— Charlotte Helston gave birth to her first child, a rambunctious little boy, in the spring of 2021. Yo Mama is her weekly reflection on the wild, exhilarating, beautiful, messy, awe-inspiring journey of parenthood.
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