19 February 2008

Do you improvise upon lullabies? Talk amongst yourselves.

Tim's "hack" is really more of a sweet example of how our kids can inspire us:

Part of my toddler's bedtime routine is a song. Somewhere along the line, I forgot the actual lyrics to "Hush, Little Baby". This led to the realization that this particular lullaby is great for improvisation. My son loves our silly rhymes so much, this has become the only thing he wants to hear. We often foul up when doing this on the fly, but here's an example:

Hush, little baby. Don't you cry. Daddy's gonna sing you a lullaby.

If that lullaby sounds funny, Daddy's gonna give you a chocolate bunny.

If that chocolate bunny melts, Daddy's gonna buy you some beaver pelts.

If those beaver pelts make you itch, Daddy's gonna give you a ball to pitch.

If that ball is too hard to hit, Daddy's gonna make you a banana split.

If that banana split tastes good, Daddy's gonna chop down a pile of wood.

If that pile of wood falls down, you'll still be the sweetest little boy in town.

I'm sure we've all fudged the words on Hush Little Baby! What are some of your favorite improvisations? Mine (on This Little Piggy): "This little piggy ate tofu, and this little piggy had none."

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I aways had a problem with the words to Rock-a-bye, baby - seemed a little scary with the cradle falling and no one catching it — I always tweaked the words when I sang it to my boys:

Rock-a-bye, baby
In the treetop
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
But mommy will catch (insert child's name)
Cradle and all

My husband was quite good at remembering the lyrics to "Hush Little Baby" whereas I stick to shorter songs like "Twinkle Twinkle" (I blame it on the sleep dep). But I love making up new word to "This Little Piggy, however. I like it to mirror the little one's day--for example:

This little piggy went to daycare
This little piggy stayed home
This little piggy had chicken soup
This little piggy had none
And this little piggy
(add suspenseful pause of varying lengths)
went wee wee wee all the way home!

In my case, the lullabye ends too soon, and my 9-week old baby will give an involuntary start if I finish the song too early. So instead of singing the traditional 2nd-to-last verse:

"And if that dog named Rover won't bark,
Daddy's gonna buy you a horse and cart."

I sing:

"And if that dog named Rover won't bark,
Daddy's gonna buy you a meadowlark."

"If that meadowlark don't sing,
Daddy's gonna buy you a diamond ring.... (repeat from the top)"

Since this means the song can loop until I'm ready to stop, I can actually get to the point where I've turned my brain off and just keep singing until my little one stops fussing.

Funny, I blogged about this very thing (and the same song!) a couple years ago. I would sing the entire line except for the last word and let my son complete the line. And I still remember one of his versions to this day!

1. You mean that we weren't the only family to substitute tofu for roast beef!

2. Our twins used stuffed bugs as cuddlies. My stock rock-a-bye was "Rock-a-bye buggy", with some biologically correct changes to the rest I don't recall right now. It got a laugh. . . and sometimes put them to sleep!

When it's 3:30 AM I tend to improvise on 'Hush little baby' just talking about my day to the tune, not a chance I would begin to remember the correct words at that time :-)

My kids won't even come close to peaceful sleep with standard lullabies. The only thing that puts them out is when I sing "Me and Bobby McGee" by Janis Joplin. It makes it awfully hard when Nana and Poppy babysit! :)

that's great! i did that with hush little baby too:

hush little violet don't say a word
mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird
and if that mockingbird won't sing
mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring
and if that diamond ring won't shine
mama's gonna cut you an ivy vine
and if that ivy vine won't root
mama's gonna sew you a velvet suit
and if that velvet suit ain't right
mama's gonna build you a paper kite
and if that paper kite won't fly
mama's gonna bake you a pumpkin pie
so hush little violet, don't say a word
you're the sweetest baby in the whole wide world

For This Little Piggy, we change slightly and add a line, "this little piggy had roast beast, and this little piggy had none, because he was a vegetarian..."
And since we are potty training right now, I've personalized Twinkle Twinkle Little Star into:
Tinkle, tinkle little Beatrix,
How I wonder when you'll pee-a-trix.
Up above the potty so high,
Soon you'll wear panties my oh my..."
My 2 year old HATES it when I change the words, though- she wants me to "sing it right!"
Shauna, I love it that Me and Bobby McGee is your standard lullaby! My stepdaughter's favorite, which I sang every night for two years straight, was Don McLean's American Pie. It's the longest song I know, and verses are easily added or subtracted.

We have altered a couple of songs

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star became

(Child's name) (Child's name) little boy,
you bring your family lots of joy
mommy loves you, yes its true
daddy loves you with his whole heart too
(Child's name) (Child's name) little boy,
you bring your family lots of joy


(Child's name) (Child's name) little girl,
you are as precious as a pearl
mommy loves you, yes its true
daddy loves you with his whole heart too
(Child's name) (Child's name) little girl,
you are as precious as a pearl

Rockabye became a song to sing while swinging:

Rockabye baby in the tree top
When the wind blows the tree branch will rock
When the branch rocks the baby will swing
and he/she will have fun just doing his/her thing.

I can't remember where I read it first, but we stole someone's idea of singing, "Go to sleep, go to sleep, or I'll sell you on eBay..."

Years ago I created the Yuppie Version of Little Piggies:

This little piggie went to the mall,
This little piggie stayed home,
This little piggie ate cheese quiche,
This little piggie had none, ...

Sleep depravation creates lyrics like these:

Stinky Stinky little feet
Ten little piggies taste so sweet
Down beneath your but so low
they're the things that make you go
stinky stinky little feet
ten little piggies taste so sweet


I'm a little sweet pea,
short & cute.
Here are my dimples,
here's where I toot.
When I get excited hear me hoot,
I like kicking in the tub
in my birthday suit.

Go to sleep
Go to sleep
Go to slee-eep my baby
It is night time
It is dark
And it's time for you to sleep
Go to sleep
Go to sleep
In the morning you'll wake
For to play
For to play
In the light of the day

Sean and Kate: You have given me my laugh-a-day plus some!

Usually I'm unable to remember lyrics anyway, so each time I make up new ones differently. However, some have stuck. I've always been reluctant to share this b/c it's so special to my family, but for Parent hackers, I will:

to the tune of Rock-a-Bye Baby
Somebody's sleeping
Somebody's tired
Somebody needs to close his eyes.
Somebody wants
To join slumber land.
It's my baby _____,
My little man (or lamb).

I don't think they'd sleep without it. We also love to sing the Beatles (Ringo's) "Good Night".

As a preschool teacher, I made up songs for each color word. For example, to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle:
P I N K That spells Pink
P I N K That spells Pink
or to Jingle Bells
R E D, R E D, R E D spells Red
I made a (cassette) recording of them and it has since been lost.

I say "this little piggy had fried tofu." Yours sounds healthier. Dang.

I sing:
Rock a bye baby
on the tree top
When the wind blows the cradle will
Rock a bye baby
on the tree top...
(repeat ad nauseum.)

Our little piggies have clam chowdah!

Our little piggies eat roast beet-I love seeing what all the piggies eat!

a long time ago, being a geek, I memorized the alphabet backwards. Once i had kids this made the alphabet song last twice as long :). Only now the ending in my house is, "now I know my z y x.. Next time won't you...do something that rhymes with x." i memorize better than I improvise.

I can NEVER remember the lyrics to this song, so inevitably, I always make them up and usually it becomes a stretch after awhile.

hush little baby don't say a word
mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird
and if that mockingbird won't sing
mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring
If that diamond ring won't shine,
mama's gonna buy you a car so fine,
and if that car so fine won't run,
mama's gonna buy you a cinnabon,
and if that cinnabon's too hot,
mama's gonna buy you a silver pot,
and if that silver pot does rust,
mama's gonna buy you some fairy dust,
and if that fairy dust runs out,
mama's gonna buy you some tile grout.

The choices are endless really. What baby wouldn't want tile grout? C'mon!

I also made up new verses to Hush Little Baby.

Recently someone gave me a new book titles Humpty Who? It has the words (& a CD) to so many songs that I have forgotten the words. Pretty funny to compile them into a book.

I love it! What's up with turns brass anyway?

Here's my version that stuck through two boys. The ounce thing at the end.. don't ask. From my days doing food analysis.

Hush little baby don't say a word
mama's gonna buy you a mocking bird

and if that mockingbird don't sing
papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring

and if that diamond ring don't shine
papa's gonna buy you a porcupine

and if that porcupine don't stick
papa's gonna buy you a candlewick

and if that candlewick don't burn
papa's gonna buy you a little earthworm

and if that little earthworm don't crawl
papa's gonna buy you a soccer ball

and if that soccer ball don't bounce
papa's gonna buy you a single ounce

and if that single ounce don't weigh 28.35 grams
papa's gonna buy you a lullaby by brahams

This little piggie went to yoga.
This little piggie stayed home.
This little piggie ate tofu.
This little piggie ate none.
And this little piggie said 'om' all the way to enlightenment!

Okay, that's just silly, this is what I sing to my little darling:

To the tune of "Go to sleep little babe" as seen in "Oh, Brother Where Art Thou?"

Go to sleep little babe
Go to sleep little babe

You and me and daddy makes three
You're gonna be our ever lovin' babe


Your daddy has gone with his black boots on
He's gonna bring a bottle for the babe


Your grandma wants to play with you all day
She wants to spend her time with the babe


Grandpa leaves in the morn for the beans and the corn
But he'll be back to talk with the babe


Mama's gonna stay with you all day
I'm gonna keep my eye on my babe


The clouds have come to hide away the sun
So close your eyes little babe

Kate and Sean both made me laugh out loud!

I have my own variation on Hush little baby, or the Mockingbird song as we call it.

Hush little Zachy don't say a word
Mama's gonna buy you a mockinbird

And if that mockingbird don't sing
Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring

And if that diamong ring don't shine
Mama's gonnna buy you a porcupine

And if that porcupine gets stuck
Mama's gonna buy you a fire truck

And if that fire truck don't go
Mama's gonna take you to a Broadway show

And if that Broadway show's no good
Mama's gonna buy you a cord of wood

And if that cord of wood don't light
Mama's gonna buy you a high flying kite

And if that kite don't fly very high
Mama's gonna buy you an apple pie

And if that apple pie's not sweet
Mama's gonna buy you socks for you feet

And if those socks don't keep your toes warm
Mama's gonna buy you a bumblebee swarm

And if those bees don't make any honey
Mama's gonna give you a whole lot of money

And if that money don't buy anything
Mama's gonna buy you a mockinbird that sings...

Repeat from the top. My older song would make it through 3 or 4 rounds of this very long song made up by my husband, but thankfully my youngest rarely makes it all the way through before he's begging for his crib.

One other is a take on Frere Jacques:

Alexander Alexander
what is wrong, what is wrong
why are you so fussy, why are you so fussy
wah wah wah all day long

Absolutely! All songs are ripe for improvisation, and it's a great way to connect the songs you sing with your baby or child to the world they know. I always encourage parents in my Ready for Reading programmes to do this.

As for me, I often add new verses to lullabies to make them longer. Douglas Mountain can take extra verses nicely, for example, or I just make up my own words entirely to old songs like Brahms' Lullaby.

a sample:
Go to sleep, Pumpkinpie,
Your mommy is tired
It's been a long day
and a hard day
and I'm ready for some sleep!

A good way to get some of my whining off my chest without really subjecting anyone to it - it sounded lovely to her ears as a baby!

When we first sent our daughter to school, we changed the words to Itsy Bitsy Spider (her favorite):

The Itsy Bitsy [name] went to school
She played with her friends and they were very cool
She played with the toys and then took a nap
And soon her dad picked her up and she came home...

the song has 9 or 10 variations now - including a beach version, an airplane version. It's out of hand!

I improvise slightly different versions of most of these songs, too, (and loved reading all of yours!) but my favorite alternate version of hush little baby we received as a gift in book form, by Sylvia Long:


The lyrics start off:
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,

It's a really nice version that is all about things in nature or at home, and doesn't include the whole "buying you" thing, which I prefer.

I highly recommend the book!

We had too many toys that played the "Rock-a-by Baby" song not to improvise some lyrics that didn't have the baby falling out of the tree at the end:

Rock-a-by Baby (insert name), on the tree top
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bow SWAYS, the cradle WILL TOO,

such a better ending!

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn't know what to do,
So she gave them some broth, without any bread,
Then KISSED them all soundly,
and sent them to bed.

Not universal because of the name rhyme (but I'd bet you creative folks could adapt it), is my "Hold yer horses, I'm gonna nurse you" song:

(Frere Jacques)
Are you hungry, are you hungry,
Little Drew, little Drew?
Come and see your mama (or "be a little patient")
Come and see you mama
I'll feed you.

I never knew all the words to the Mozart lullaby but loved the melody, so we've created an animal-based set of lyrics for it.

Sleep little one go to sleep
Darkness is calling you sweet
All of the bears are asleep
And all the bison are too
Nighttime is calling to you
And to the buffalo too
Everything's dark at the zoo
Sleep little one go to sleep

Repeat ad nauseum changing the animal names each time. Sometimes all barn animals or zoo animals, sometimes one verse for each letter of the alphabet, etc.

Oh, now I'm worried that my family is too weird.

Instead of singing lullabyes, we sing the songs we tend to enjoy. I'm partial to "Sweet Baby James" (James Taylor) and "Better" by Toby Lightman.

My husband is a huge Frank Zappa fan. FZ had a song that goes

Baby, take your teeth out,
Try it sometime
Baby, take your teeth out,
You will be mine
Baby, take your teeth out,
There ain't nothing left to talk ABOUT....

To encourage our son to change his clothes, he'll sing

Jacob, put your pants on,
Try it sometime.... etc.

We have done things like Little Piggies, but ours eat Roast Beast (a la Suess).

JT, I sing Sweet Baby James to my babysitting charges! I like to add in their names too, ie:

"goodnight moonlight ladies,
rockabye sweet baby James
and baby Madeleine
deep greens and blues..."

my other favorite: Power of Two by the Indigo Girls. But anything can work, if it's enough of a routine--my dad's standard lullaby when I was little was Take me out to the Ballgame!

I had trouble with my first child not going to sleep without extensive singing, so I gleaned extra "wheels on the bus" verses from multiple sources and made up several of my own. Wheels on the bus makes a decent lullaby when sung slow and low:

The wheels on the bus go round and round...

The wipers on the bus go swish swish swish...

The lights on the bus blink on and off...

The engine in the bus goes vroom vroom vroom...

The signal on the bus goes dink and donk...
[that's my personal favorite - when I was a kid we called the turn signal the "dinker-donker"]

The steering on the bus turns left and right...

The horn on the bus goes beep beep beep...

The brakes on the bus go screech and stop...

The doors on the bus snap open and shut...

The money on the bus goes jingle jingle jingle (or the passes on the bus go swipe swipe swipe)...

The driver on the bus says move on back...

The windows on the bus slide side to side...

The people on the bus bounce up and down...

The kids on the bus sing la la la...

The baby on the bus cries wah wah wah...

The parents on the bus say sh sh sh...


To alert my daughter that I'm on the way upstairs to spring her from her nap (this helps stop the post-nap cry before I get into the room, and prevents her from being startled when I open the door) I modified Frere Jacques:

Where is [kids' name]
Where is [kids' name]
[Kid's name] boo?
[Kid's name] boo?
Where's my darling [kid's name]
...(open the door)...
There's my darling [kid's name]
I see you
I love you
(or I've got you)

I should explain that her nickname is "Bitsy Boo" so the "boo" works out.


And last but not least, my personal favorite moment of sleep-deprived parent lyrics

To the tune of "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story:

I smell poopies
Lots of poopies
And the poopies are spread all around
So lets clean you, and then I will put you right back down.

Kelfin, oh that's just too funny... I actually found myself singing it this evening while cleaning up the same mess.

Like Sara I've never liked the shallow buying your child's affection slant in hush little baby... combined with some 3 am memory issues, I've come up with a number of alternate verses that I string together, some of my favorites, that I've managed to remember:

... and if that ___ doesn't ____, papa's going to bake you a pecan pie.

and if that pecan pie's not right, papa's going to make you a peach delight.

and if that peach delight's not right, we'll just have to make a trip down to Georgia some night.

'cause they know how to grow them peaches just right, to make a really good peach delight.

but if that trip's not to your liking ....

(I had heard "Peaches" by "the Presidents of the United States" on the radio that afternoon... the lyrics stuck in my head for weeks.)

I tend to sing whatever my brain can find when my 10 month old is restless, so sometimes it's Disney, sometimes it's Tom Waits. Usually I just make stuff up to familiar, easy to sing tunes. But I have 2 personal versions of old songs. (BTW, as will be evident, we sometimes co-sleep.)

You are my sunshine
My little sunshine
You make me happy
When skies are gray
You'll always know, dear,
How much I love you,
'Cause I'll show you
Every day.
The other night, dear,
While I was sleeping,
I dreamed I held you
In my arms.
When I awoke, dear,
you were beside me,
so I kissed your head
and I smiled.(refrain)
The other day, dear,
While we were driving
I heard you laughing
in your seat.
I looked back at you,
and you were smiling,
and your smile,
it was so sweet.(refrain)

The other is Go Tell Aunt Dinah, which I think is Go Tell Aunt Rhody in other parts of the country. Anyway, the original is all about a dead goose. I think mine is better:

Go tell Aunt Dinah
Go tell Aunt Dinah
Go tell Aunt Dinah
That her pie is done.
The one she's been baking
The one she's been baking
The one she's been baking
To share with everyone.
I hope that it's cherry
I hope that it's cherry
I hope that it's cherry
But I like apple, too.
Go tell Aunt Dinah
Go tell Aunt Dinah
Go tell Aunt Dinah
Thanks and I love you!

I don't by any means think that these are great poetry, but I do look forward to "having" to make up lyrics so that I do a little something creative with my brain!

I heard this tune from one of my daughter's teddy bears and I made up my own little diddy that I have sung to her every night since she was born. She's now 15 months -

Go to sleep and goodnight
Have sweet dreams my Kaylee,
Go to sleep and goodnight
Go to sle ee eep
Go to sleep Kaylee Girl
Go to sleep and have good dreams
Go to sleep Kaylee Girl
Go to sle ee eep.

It varies from night to night and I can sing it as long or as short as I want and when I'm really tired I'll hum the rest of the song for her and that works fine as well :)

(really late answer...)

I haven't improvised much on lullabies, but on almost any other song. Most are untranslatable (we're Swedish), but two of my (and my daughter's) favourites are originally in English and our versions are easily adapted. I'm surely not the first to sing...

If you're happy and you know it brush your teeth (wash your hands, go to bed, wear your pants...)

It's even more fun in Swedish, since the third line is about how to make other people happy by [the suggested activity].

The other favourite is the song from Dora the Explorer:

Come on, vamonos.
Everybody let's go.
Come on, let's get to it.
I know that we can do it.

Where are we going?
To daycare! (or the grocery store, or the library...)

This sometimes turns the whole walk into a Dora-inspired adventure. For example, we might have to figure out the numbers and letters on the license plate of the car parked next to the zebra crossing before we can cross the road (we're not always that learning oriented, sometimes the "tasks" are just silly).

Lullabys are not that hot when I was young so I vaguely remember the lyrics. I make up my own. My boy loves the tune of "the Saints go Marching in". I have a few versions, and it changes according to the 'flavour of the month'. So I have,

Oh when the Superman
Oh when the Superman
Oh when the Superman comes flying in
He will be wearing his red red underwear
Oh when superman comes flying in

Then I have
Oh when the dinosaurs (x3)
comes roaring in
I will be hiding with my mommy
oh when the dinosaurs comes roaring in

Oh when the Spiderman (x3)
comes swinging in
he will be crashing into some buidlings
oh when the Spiderman comes swinging in.

For Hush my baby,The original lyrics are way too long... so my short version to sing to my boy when he is little is
'Hush baby Lucas don't you cry
Mommy's right here by your side
Dry your tears now don't you weep
Close your eyes now go to sleep.'

I don't want to have to rack my brains for lyrics in the middle of the night. :P

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

So they called back the horses
Along with the women,
Who fixed him so well
The next day he went swimmin'!

A little girrl power and a happy ending ;-)

Both of the Vikings have a modified song with their names:

Flicka's is a modified "Father Abraham" (5 syllables like her first and middle real name)

...and Pojke's is "Frere Jacques" with his full real name.

Yep. My son listens to a cd of lullabies at bedtime. When he was an infant, I needed to sing to pass the time, which could go up to an hour, so I started trying to encourage him to go to sleep with Brahms Lullaby that starts out like another one posted here:

Go to sleep
Go to sleep
Go to sleep, my baby
Go to sleep
Go to sleep
Go to sleep, my love
Go to sleep, little boy
and mommy will hold you.
Go to sleep, little boy
and mommy loves you.

I still sing that to him every night as part of our routine and he's 4 and a half. He LOVES it!

I feel I've deprived my two little ones not improvising to the standard lullabies. Being a brand new mom and not knowing many baby songs, my first was sent to sleep with The Star Spangled Banner every single night. At age 4, he now tells me it's his favorite song. With my second I picked Rockin' Robin and substituted my son's name, Rockin' Andy.

I'm SO stealing the "sell you on eBay" lullaby.

I think we may have too many improvisations to mention them all, not that I would remember every one of them anyway. I will say that watching the Backyardigans has provided a whole new repertoire of improvs for daddy and I. And, like many of the previous posters, our sing-song silliness is not limited to bed time.

As far as unusual lullabies go, Jimmy Buffet's 'Margaritaville', Feist's '1,2,3,4', and Madonna's
'Secret' all make regular appearances here.

To the tune of the Alvin and the Chipmunks "Christmas Don't be Late" song:

I love [child's name], yes I do
Even when he smells like poo
He is cranky,
Sometimes stanky,
But I love him so.

My son's nickname is Bubsie (yeah, yeah, don't ask), so my husband sings this to him, to the tune of "The Tennessee Stud":

Well the Arkansas Bubs was short and fat
If you dropped him on the floor he would make a splat
He had the cute and he had the chub
And there never was a baby like the Arkansas Bubs

Seems like there were a lot more from the early days when we walked the floor so much, but remembering things requires sleep, so most of them are completely gone now. Sigh.

I havea few improvissions as well:

for the lullabye:
Go to sleep, little one
Close your big sleepy eyes
Go to sleep
Go to dream
And you'll sleep right through the night

I sing that and hum the next time and sing, then hum, you get the idea

and for little piggies, well mine has a local flavor:

This little piggie went to Mardi Gras,
This one had to stay home.
This little piggie had a-2-fay (how it is said, not spelled for those of you not from louisiana)
This little piggie had none.
And this little piggie went we we we all the way to the river.

I know, it is a bit strange, but if you are from here.....

Hugs to all your little ones

Our unusual lullaby was Weezer's "Holiday."

Let's go away for a while
To a strange and distant land...

I have always sung to my children to put them to sleep and have considered making a cd of myself singing them. Sometimes I sing the right words and other times I improvise. I don't have the best singing voice but I am okay and they love to listen. I was curious if anyone else would be interested in putting their lullabies on a cd and making a collection of songs sung by moms and dads? Let me know if you would be interested!

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