21 Jun 2018

The story behind ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’

From Upbeat, 3:28 pm on 21 June 2018

It’s one of the most recognizable lullabies – a go-to for many, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ has been adapted and performed by parents and professional musicians alike.

It’s also been a popular choice for potential lullaby playlists for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) arrives to attend The Queen's Dinner during The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), at Buckingham Palace in London on April 19, 2018.


The music has been around a lot longer than the lyrics. The tune is from the French melody ‘Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman’, written in the mid-1700s.

Mozart composed his twelve bar variation on ‘Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman’ in the early 1780s at the age of 25. His variations are for solo piano and is what we are familiar with today.


Mozart Photo: Public Domain

In the 1806 English poet Jane Taylor wrote the poem The Star which would go on to form the basis of the lyrics for the lullaby.

‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ is usually performed in C Major and contains five verses in total (you can find them at the bottom of this article). It is the same tune as ‘Baa, Baa Black Sheep’ and the ‘Alphabet song’.

It has been sampled by a range of artists including Nicki Minaj, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, The Supremes and Louis Armstrong.

The Supremes

The Supremes Photo: wikicommons

It was parodied by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and adapted by Leonard Nimoy for his 1967 album Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock’s Music from Outer Space.

Research has shown singing to babies – whether its ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ or something else – has great benefits for parents and infants.

Dr Shannon de L’Etoile told RNZ Concert’s Upbeat last year singing to babies helps develop bonding between mother and child and encourages children to self-regulate.

It can also help mothers with postnatal depression and benefit babies with Down syndrome.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star Photo: wikicommons

‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ has also been used in numerous studies as a way to research children’s development in vocal pitch accuracy, perception of intervals, contour and key, to grow self-esteem in the classroom, in music therapy for feeding and sleeping in premature infants, and as a method to encourage children to compose and improvise music.

‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ in Te Reo Māori

Tirama, tirama nga whetu
Kei te pehea ra koutou
Kii runga ake ra
He taimana to rite
Tirama, tirama nga whetu
Kei te pehea ra koutou


Four interesting takes on ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’

The Mozart variations

All 12 of them


Te Reo sing-a-long

Nice work Ruby and Gemma.


Death metal ‘Twinkle Twinkle’


An interesting choice for bedtime.


Nine year old pianist

Yep, we’re adults and still can’t play it.


‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ - all five verses

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When this blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, through the night.

Then the traveller in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark;
He could not see where to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark
Lights the traveller in the dark,
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.