Music to His Ears: Your Young Child and Sound
Incorporating music into your household is an enjoyable and often natural occurrence—and one that offers wonderful opportunities for you, your baby-to-be, your newborn, or your young child.
Sound in the Womb
Scientists once believed that the womb was a quiet, peaceful place, but we now know that the womb is actually awash with sound: the noises from Mom’s own body—the beating of her heart, the hum of blood pumping through her arteries and placenta, the flow of air in and out of her lungs, and her voice; and then there is the outside noise that filters through to Baby though the abdominal wall and the amniotic fluid.
Dr. Robert Abrams, MD, a fetal physiologist in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Florida says, “noises from outside your body are more muffled but they also make it through surprisingly clearly.”
In her book Super Baby: Boost Your Baby’s Potential from Conception to Year 1, Dr. Sarah Brewer, MD, says a baby’s ears “are fully formed around the twentieth week of development, and your baby’s brain will begin to show electrical responses to sounds heard outside the womb before 24 weeks of development.” Deep, low-frequency sounds reach baby better than high-pitched ones—so men’s voices come through clearer than women’s, and music is also more audible.
It is incredible to think that a baby can actually learn stories and music he hears in the womb. Researchers have found that babies will breathe in time to music they enjoy—and they can remember and prefer music heard before birth over a year later! The study, carried out by the University of Leicester in the UK, demonstrated that one-year-olds recognize music they were exposed to up to three months before birth, and the preference was shown by the amount of time spent looking towards the source of the music.
Newborns and Music
It is the same with newborn babies: if those who were prenatally stimulated hear familiar music, they usually turn their heads in the direction of the music. Dr. Gabriel F. Federico, MD, in his article Music Aids Development in the Womb, says that “babies can change their facial expressions while listening to these rhythmic sound variations, perhaps even smile and increase their sucking. Their pupils might dilate and eyes begin to stare for four to 10 seconds. They will stretch their small fingers and toes, trying to catch the stimulus.” He also says babies’ heart rates will likely slow and their breathing becomes regular.
According to Dr. Brewer, research shows that musically stimulated babies seem to develop more quickly, talking up to six months earlier, and have improved intellectual development. This development refers to the increase of spatial understanding needed to complete such tasks as jigsaw puzzles. Spatial intelligence is also imperative in activities such as higher brain functions of mathematics, music, and chess.
The Mozart Effect
Some experts believe that classical music, in particular, primes our brains for certain kinds of thinking. The classical music pathways in our brains are similar to the pathways we use for spatial reasoning, and what we consider to be classical music has a more complex musical structure than other types of music such as rock or country; however, listening to any kind of music will help to build music-related pathways and stimulate the brain (especially the right hemisphere).
Although it is commonly believed that the Mozart Effect is just playing the music of Mozart to your baby, either in utero or after birth, this is not the case. According to the Mozart Effect Resource Center in St. Louis, Missouri, “The Mozart Effect is an inclusive term signifying the transformational powers of music in health, education, and well-being. It represents the general use of music to reduce stress, depression or anxiety, induce relaxation or sleep, and also improves memory or awareness.”
Even if a parent doesn’t pointedly play Mozart for her baby, she likely has an innate sense of her child’s love for music and rhythm. Parents speak to their infants in lyrical, sing-song voices that children respond to, and many parents incorporate rocking a baby to sleep while singing lullabies into baby’s bedtime routine. Baby doesn’t mind that the music isn’t Mozart; he is just glad to have Mom or Dad’s attention in song and motion.
An additional benefit of allowing a baby to become familiar with certain music or tunes is that it may help to soothe him once he is born or is very young, acting as a trigger and helping him settle down or fall asleep.
Marcelle Falconer found this to be true with her 14-month-old daughter, Maxine. “Max won’t sleep without listening to music, and if she is crying, as soon as I put on her music she keeps quiet and puts her head on my shoulder and calms down,” she says. “It is incredible how well it works—like a sleeping tablet without the drugs.”
Falconer did not play music to Maxine while she was in utero but says she puts the “blame” firmly on the neonatal unit where Maxine was kept for two weeks after being born six weeks prematurely. “She was right next to the radio and they had music playing 24 hours, day and night. When I took her home I tried to wean her off the music, but . . . it has proved almost impossible. Every time she went into the hospital and the unfamiliar surroundings it became increasingly difficult to settle her so we decided to try the music trick again—and, bingo, it worked.”
Teaching Children Music
Not only is listening to music an effective tool to enhance your baby’s brain power, but music instruction has also been proven to develop children’s motor skills, help build their confidence, and increase oral and memory skills.
Research by psychologists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong proved that hours spent practicing piano scales helps develop the left side of the brain, where both musical ability and memory connected with words are centered. They found that children who had been taught to play classical music for up to five years scored significantly higher scores in verbal memory tests than children with no musical training. A follow-up study a year later revealed that the boys who gave up music could no longer match the verbal memory of those who continued, but neither had they had lost the verbal memory advantage gained before they dropped out.
It is not imperative that your child have formal music instruction and play an instrument to receive the full benefit of music; informal dancing and singing are good for kids too, serving as a natural outlet for their boundless energy. Because most children inherently love music and rhythm, as soon as they are able, children move to the beat of music they hear.
Singing with your child is another way to help him or her learn the patterns of music and language in general, but perhaps even more importantly, singing is fun. Toddlers often make up songs, even with nonsense words, and children love learning the actions to songs—both made up or well-known nursery rhymes. Songs with finger plays, for example, help children associate words with actions.
Exposing children to music regularly from a young age enriches their lives and can trigger numerous positive changes in their development. Adding music to your child’s life has an added bonus, it brings you the benefits as well!
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