Laboratory of comparative musicology and anthropology of music

Transcultural analysis of lullaby performance

Transcultural analysis of lullaby performance

This research project intends to close a gap in transcultural comparative data concerning the relationship between mother and child through singing. Songs that are sung to children are systematically different to those sung in a normal performance. Singing is slower, has a higher pitch, and is more affected in the presence of the child than in its absence (Trainor, Clark, Huntley, & Adams, 1997). Recent anthropological research has done sociological and contextual analysis of lullabies from certain specific cultures (Unyk, Trehub, Trainor and Shellenberg, 1992) while psychology of music has preferred to analyse the timbre and dynamic of this type of singing only in a western context (Nakata and Trehub, 2004). Neuropsychology, on its part, has tried to account for the consequences of maternal singing upon the newborn, and to determine the traits that distinguish lullabies from all other types of song (Shenfield, Trehub, & Nakata, 2003). There are but a few premises regarding the similarities that can be found between lullabies from different cultures, but these experiments have always been carried out with western listeners (Peretz 2007-2009 at the BRAMS laboratory “Reconnaissance du chant dirigé vers les enfants”). Up to the moment, no research project has attempted a systematic transcultural comparative study of lullaby singing founded on intrinsic musical features.

This research project analyses performance features such as melodic contours, rhythms, tempi, voice timbre, dynamics, scalar organisation (scales and modes), intonation, breath management and lyric articulation. All of these are related to specific maternal purpose and an expectation/reaction principle. This research is carried out throughout Québec with recently immigrated women and also in different regions of the world (Central Africa and Asia). The children are always in a prelinguistic state.

Another of the project’s goals is the development of a specific methodological apparatus, and the continuation of research on music and emotion.

  • Fieldwork


  • New Publication


  • Members