Early music lessons may enhance your baby’s brain development way before they can walk or talk.
That’s according to findings of McMaster University researchers — who conducted the study, now published by the scientific journals Developmental Science and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
The findings show that interactive music training introduced as early as infancy, enhances communications skills among one-year-olds, improves their response to various musical tones an even makes them smile more.
According to Laurel Trainor, Director of the McMaster Institute for Music and Minds, previous studies focused on older children, which makes this a breakthrough finding in understanding baby development.
“Our results suggest that the infant brain might be particularly plastic with regard to musical exposure,” says Trainor who is also professor in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience.
What the research says
Over a period of six months, two types of music classes with one-year-olds and their parents were performed. The infants had no previous experience of music training before the class – and showed similar signs of communication skills and social development.
The first class was interactive and included learning how to play percussion instruments, learning lullabies, nursery rhymes and other songs involving hand gestures and other movements. The second class entailed passive listening. Well-known “Baby Einstein” music was played in the background, while the babies played in different toy stations.
According to Trainor, “babies who participated in the interactive music classes with their parents, showed earlier sensitivity to the pitch structure in music.” These babies demonstrated a more sophisticated analysis of music structure relative to the second class.
“Specifically, they preferred to listen to a version of a piano piece that stayed in key, versus a version that included out-of-key notes. Infants who participated in the passive listening classes did not show the same preferences. Even their brains responded to music differently. Infants from the interactive music classes showed larger and/or earlier brain responses to musical tones,” adds Trainor.
Infants from the interactive class showed more refined hand gestures like pointing at far objects and waving good-bye. Results from this group indicated improved communication skills. Furthermore, this group was generally more emotionally developed. These babies were easier to calm, smiled more and cried less.
Even whilst in the womb, babies experience multisensory connections. In 2005, A ZENIT (Roman) news interview with neonatologist, Dr. Carlo Bellieni was conducted about the senses of a fetus in relation to its development as a baby.
When asked about a fetus’s hearing in the womb he answered, “Toward the 25th week of gestation, the fetus has developed hearing. Within the uterus the mother’s voice comes with much greater intensity than another’s voice — or the father’s! — and the fetus gets used to this voice, so much so that several experiments have shown us that the newborn is able to distinguish the mother’s voice from that of a strange voice, just as it is able to distinguish the mother’s scents.”
In his interview with ZENIT, Bellieni also spoke of the research carried out by his team,which suggested that children of ballet dancers that continued dancing during pregnancy, required more rocking when put to sleep.
A previous study by Trainor indicated that babies who move to different rhythms of music learn to develop sensitivity towards the music. Singing to babies while soothing them allows them to build an understanding of movement and sound. Adults show this in a more refined manner when dancing to the rhythm of their favourite songs — a reaction developed before birth as suggested by Dr. Bellieni.
“… this suggests that there are multisensory connections between the auditory system and the movement system,” explains Trainor.
These multisensory connections were tested with two groups of babies. Altogether, the babies listened to an ambiguous rhythm lacking a musical tone or pattern of pitch. Half of the group was bounced on every second beat resembling a march-like movement. In a waltz-like manner, the second group was bounced on every third beat.
The results indicated that depending on the beat to which babies were bounced, this formed their rhythmic preferences. This means that there is a great influence between rhythm development and our interpretation of music.
According to Trainor, “there are multisensory connections very early in life between movement systems and auditory systems. Not only does auditory stimulation make us move, but the opposite is true as well. The way that we move actually affects what we hear.”
Trainor suggests that parents who bounce their babies on their knees to a song, improve their sound and movement recognition skills. As this playfulness is common amongst parents, Trainor suggests that no evidence is available to prove that doing otherwise would hinder your baby’s development.
Tim Griffiths, professor of Cognitive Neurology at the Newcastle University Medical School in England, suggests that through this research, more information about children who experience difficulty with language acquisition, such as autism, may be further analysed. He states that through expanding the knowledge of baby’s perception of different rhythms — this may have beneficial effects on their understanding of the rhythm of sounds which compose language.
According to Griffiths, if language acquisition depends on more than one sense then contribution to one sense may compensate the lack in another sense.
This essentially means that parents have a say in their baby’s development. Initiating interactive music training such as teaching your baby how to play a xylophone (a percussion instrument), to sing nursery rhymes and lullabies combined with fun interactive moves, may improve your baby’s communication and emotional intelligence. This sensitivity towards sound and movement may also refine your baby’s rhythm. So what are you waiting for? Turn up the radio and start dancing with your baby.