Music and Your Baby

Have heard about the 1993 “Mozart Effect” study?

This study claimed that students showed increased levels of spatial intelligence after hearing Mozart’s music. At the time, many parents took the study to mean that playing classical music for their babies would cause them to grow up smarter. Although the study was later debunked, a psychologist named Dr Frances Rauscher and a neuroscientist named Gordon Shaw found that early exposure to classical music can improve a baby’s cognitive ability. However, just being exposed to music only has temporary benefits, while musical instruction has a more lasting effect.

How Music Affects a Baby’s Brain

A study at the University of Washington found that play sessions with music improved 9-month-old babies’ brain processing. One group of babies simply played with toys that required coordinated movements, such as blocks, with no music in the background. The other group were led in tapping out beats in time to music playing in the background. By the end of the study, the group who attended the musical sessions were better able to pick out patterns in sounds.

Although the beats and timing in music are what helps with pattern recognition, it is also good to simply sing to your baby. Even if you are not confident in your singing abilities, just hearing the words helps babies learn language. Babies also enjoy the patterns and rhythms in songs. As they get older, they will like singing along with you.

For unborn babies, benefits are unclear because it is difficult to observe how they are affected by music. The studies of the positive impacts of music are directed at already-born babies and older children, but there is no indication that playing music could harm a foetus. If you want to play music for your baby while pregnant, don’t put headphones on your stomach. Instead, just play it normally on the stereo. Having the music too close could scare or overstimulate the foetus because amniotic fluid is highly effective at conducting sound.

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Does the Genre Matter?

Surprisingly, the neurological benefits of music are not limited to the classical genre. Dr Diane Bales, an Extension Human Development Specialist working at the University of Georgia, found that any kind of music stimulates a baby’s brain, and other genres besides classical can still help them relax and put them in a positive mood. Furthermore, even young infants have preferences for certain types of sounds, so there is no harm in experimenting to find your baby’s favourite genre.

However, there are merits to using classical music specifically. The complex structure of classical music provides more brain stimulation, building more pathways in the brain. Babies as young as 3 months can recognise this structure and know when they have heard a specific piece of classical music before. Babies can also recognize the same piece of music played at two different tempos. They notice pitch as well, and wrong notes.

Try a Baby Music Class

Once your baby is at least a year old, enrolling them in child-friendly music classes is a great way to build up their mental abilities. Interactive classes that teach them hand motions and allow them to “play” percussion instruments have been shown to help develop communication skills. Researchers who studied babies enrolled in these classes also found that they smiled more and showed earlier, more sophisticated brain responses to music. These classes are so beneficial because music teaches children about patterns and sequencing, counting, and body awareness, as well as boosting their memory.

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