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Music to Bond By

If you've ever soothed your fussy baby with a quiet lullaby, you know the magic of music. But even though babies are sophisticated listeners  -- research shows they can understand sounds and patterns, remember melodies, and detect changes in tempo and rhythm  -- their love of music really stems from the way it's delivered, explains Sandra E. Trehub, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. When you sing to your baby, she isn't simply hearing the lyrical, rhythmic tones of the song, she's also seeing your loving face and enjoying the warm, close feeling of being held or rocked. Here's how to maintain that mood:

• Sing to your baby. You don't have to deliver an award-winning performance  -- you just need to share the joy of music, says Trehub. If you don't like singing, chanting will work  -- babies love the recitation and repetition of nursery rhymes delivered in a maternal (or paternal), singsong way.

• Move with your baby. As you sing or chant to her, move her body to the music by rocking or swaying her or moving her hands. You can also tap or pat parts of her body (knees, hands, head) in a gentle rhythm. When she's older, play musical games, such as Itsy Bitsy Spider or Ring Around the Rosy. Be sure to balance active musical play with quiet time.

• Imitate your baby's sounds. Babies love to experiment with their voice. "Sing" along to reinforce her early verbal and musical skills.

• Use instruments. When your baby is old enough to hold a rattle, have her shake it to music. Pint-size pianos, xylophones, and drums are great for babies 9 months or older.

• Tailor your music. Basing your selection on your baby's mood  -- sometimes a calming verse of "Rock-a-Bye Baby"; other times a rousing rendition of "Old MacDonald"  -- adds up to a powerful emotional experience that can set the stage for a lasting love of music, says Trehub.

If your baby-song repertoire is limited or you want some new ideas, join an infant music class or check out some of these great starter CDs: Singable Songs for the Very Young (classical favorites and rhyming and counting songs by Raffi), The Planet Sleeps (lullabies and folk songs), The Mozart Effect (classical music for the youngest set), and 40 Winks (soothing end-of-the-day music by Jessica Harper).

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