Babies' brains benefit from music lessons, researchers find

After completing the first study of its kind, researchers at McMaster University have discovered that very early musical training benefits children even before they can walk or talk.

They found that one-year-old who participate in interactive classes with their parents smile more, communicate better and show earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.

The findings were published recently in the scientific journals and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

"Many past studies of musical training have focused on older children," says Laurel Trainor, director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind. "Our results suggest that the infant brain might be particularly plastic with regard to musical exposure."

Trainor, together with David Gerry, a music educator and graduate student, received an award from the Grammy Foundation in 2008 to study the effects of in infancy. In the recent study, groups of babies and their parents spent six months participating in one of two types of weekly music instruction.

One music class involved interactive music-making and learning a small set of lullabies, nursery rhymes and songs with actions. Parents and infants worked together to learn to play percussion instruments, take turns and sing specific songs.

In the other music class, infants and parents played at various toy stations while recordings from the popular Baby Einstein series played in the background.

Before the classes began, all the babies had shown similar communication and social development and none had previously participated in other baby music classes.

"Babies who participated in the interactive music classes with their parents showed earlier sensitivity to the pitch structure in music," says Trainor. "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 to musical tones."

The non-musical differences between the two groups of babies were even more surprising, say researchers.

Babies from the interactive classes showed better early communication skills, like pointing at objects that are out of reach, or waving goodbye. Socially, these babies also smiled more, were easier to soothe, and showed less distress when things were unfamiliar or didn't go their way.

While both class types included listening to music and all the infants heard a similar amount of music at home, a big difference between the classes was the interactive exposure to music.

"There are many ways that parents can connect with their babies," says study coordinator Andrea Unrau. "The great thing about music is, everyone loves it and everyone can learn simple interactive musical games together."

Citation: Babies' brains benefit from music lessons, researchers find (2012, May 9) retrieved 14 October 2019 from
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May 09, 2012
Music is an appropriate start for a baby's brain to adapt to outside of his or her mother's body. The best kind of music is the one which most closely approximates the mother's heart beat. This is soothing and provides comfort and security feelings to the child.
But I would like the researchers to do a follow up research as to the childrens' sense of logic and common sense as they get older, as it is known that music and its rhythm or cadence is an outgrowth of logic and common sense when the rhythm is slower, which mimics a calmer and more even heart beat. Whereas, a faster rhythm and cadence is more a mimic of emotional unevenness and may be much less conducive to higher informational absorption and learning. Of course, there may be other factors in play that would affect the childrens' performance, whether beneficial or not as the children age. Depending on the outcome, it might be clear indication that cadence and rhythm of music produces big effect on learning and sense of logic.

May 09, 2012
The basis of our affinity for rhythm is the same as for harmony - modulation and resolution of factor-of-two symmetries, be it in the temporal or spatial domains, and the reason is that this is how all multicellular organisms process all information, in all modalities. The most stimulating music for infants is nursery rhymes - upbeat, short and sweet. To a toddler, Mozart's greatest achievement is "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", whereas "The Marriage of Figaro" would be incomprehensible background noise... appreciation of larger structures is built on that of smaller ones. What's developing, from a cognitive point of view, is our ability to organise and stack the contents of ever-larger temporal integration windows on top of eachother, so training attention span and thus capacity.

May 09, 2012
The old cannards about rhythm being reminiscient of our mother's heartbeat, or harmony of her cooing and 'baby talk' are wishy-washy hand-wavy woo. Our propensity for music is very much more fundamental and innate, and has more to do with cellular geometry, thermodynamics and information theory than mere culture.

Besides, a beat isn't a rhythm any more than a tone is a harmony. And not only is faster music easier for kids to track, but, by virtue of more happening in less time, has a higher, not lower information content.

A more promising avenue follow up research would be to take basic rhymes such as "Twinkle, Twinkle" and make some simple pure tone variations in which the melody resolves at ever-larger time scales; so instead of resolving as usual on the 6th bar, have it do so on the twelfth, and then have a further version which doesn't resolve until the 24th - test the nippers with these and they'll be all the brighter, i'd bet...

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