For years, studies have explored the importance of music for children. Some studies indicate music boosts sleep and feeding in premature babies. Others suggest musical sounds have a positive and long-term impact on overall brain development, and still others conclude it offers no cognitive benefits at all. Now, new research from investigators at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle seems to support the notion of the hidden power of music. Results from the group’s small and brief study suggest that babies who engage in musical play early in life may have an easier time processing both speech sounds and music.
Here’s how the experiment worked:
Scientists recruited 39 babies—all nine months old—and assigned them to 12- to 15-minute play sessions over a one-month period.
One group of babies spent the time pounding out a beat to a variety of musical rhythms and styles while they sat with parents. The remaining cuties racked up the same amount of time playing with trucks and toys, but had no exposure to rhythm and musical sound. The chief difference between the groups was that one played sans tunes.
Researchers said that play sessions with music hiked babies’ brain processing of both music and new speech sounds. In brain scans that followed, tots in the music-based group showed stronger responses in parts of the brain that control attention and detect patterns. Lead study author Christina Zhao call the study “the first in young babies to suggest that experiencing a rhythmic pattern in music can also improve the ability to detect and make predictions about rhythmic patterns in speech.”
“This means that early, engaging musical experiences can have a more global effect on cognitive skills,” she said.
While research continues, and scientists learn more about the music-speech connection, you can help your cutie get a boost from music at home.
Try these ideas:
Bust a tune.
Choose a simple song, such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Sing it to the end first, and later leave out the last note in a line to encourage baby to coo. As you sing, tap baby’s feet or clap his hands to the rhythm. That will help him connect what he hears and feels in a playful way. Worried your voice will make him cringe? Relax. Babies prefer familiar voices (like yours) and will love the attention you’re giving and the effort you’re making. Experiment with different rhythms, tempos, and musical styles.
Strike up the band.
Once baby can grasp an object, introduce a safe, simple, and rhythm-friendly toy—like a rattle. As your little musician swats at the air with the rattle, she’ll learn about cause and effect: shake this, hear that. Two more ways to make music: Wrap a few rubber bands around a box, and voilà, you have a banjo! Banging out a beat with wooden spoons and plastic containers makes pretty cool sounds, too.
Tap your feet.
Play some of your favorites to dance to, but don’t go wild and amp up the volume. Almost all music is tot-friendly, but you’ll have more fun dancing with your child if you play what you and he like. Hold your baby as you sway to the beat. If your cutie can stand, hold his hands and move to the music to help him connect the rhythm and sounds.