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The Trick to Teaching Kids to Walk? Playing the ‘Mission Impossible’ Theme Song

But you've got to make sure you're playing the original version.

If you’ve got a toddler who is just taking their first steps or is hesitant to do so, I’ve got a weird piece of advice for you: Find a recording of the original soundtrack to the 1967 Mission: Impossible show and play it while the kid tries to go bipedal. In my experience — limited to one child, but still striking — the percussion-heavy jazz turns a crawler into a walker at speed. 

Because she’s only 14-months-old, my daughter has never seen a Mission: Impossible movie or a single episode of the classic TV show. She has no opinions about the relative difficulty of Tom Cruise stunts and no hot takes about that one film John Woo directed (My wife and I are pretty strict about screen time so we’ll wait, I don’t know, a year or two). However, she does love the theme song, which was famously written by Lalo Schifrin in three minutes flat. Why does it inspire such a singular reaction? Hard to say. My daughter really likes music, so I’m it’s not surprising she’s receptive. However, it remains baffling that the song makes her want to walk every time we put it on the turntable.

The version of the song that we listen to in our house, I think, matters. The original is a jazz number. Sure, there’s something deliberate and specific about this piece of music, but the original version features a meandering, jazzy interlude before winding its way back to re-stating the main themes again. Plus, the incidental music composed for the show that immediately follows the theme on the original record is great, too. Do all kids love jazz? I don’t know, but I know my kid loves jazz that seems to tell a story.

Perhaps more importantly, Schifrin composed the theme to Mission: Impossible in quintuple time or 5/4 time, which means there are literally 5 beats each measure. Jokingly the composer said this kind of music was “for people who have five legs.” The reality might not be too far off. Researchers suspect that adults like to jog to music written in 4/4 time because there’s some sort of natural resonance. I think — and you shouldn’t trust me on this, it’s just a theory — that my daughter, being a very small person, has a slightly different resonance. The 5/4 time makes her want to move.

I should note here that the theme also makes me want to move a bit. I think this is universal and also the point of the music. It is propulsive. It propels.

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And when I drop the needle on my 1967 Mission: Impossible vinyl, the action begins. My daughter not only struts around like she’s on a secret mission, but she smiles like a fiend, flapping her hands in excitement. Again, she’s never seen any images associated with the series so she’s definitely not mimicking anything. The music simply moves her. She walks faster when we crank Schifrin than when we play, say, Bach. It lights the fire in much the same way that disembodied hand in the old credits lit the fuse.

I can’t promise that this will work with your cruiser, but it’s worth giving it a shot. Worst case scenario, the kid perks up 20 years from now when that old bassline comes to life and geriatric Tom Cruise puts his motorized scooter into fifth gear.

The original 1967 Mission: Impossible score is available digitally on iTunes right here.  It’s also available in vinyl form on Amazon.