Exploring music and the brain: how your baby’s brain reacts to music
We hope that you would incorporate it into your child’s daily life. Parents and caregivers can certainly help a child tremendously by playing music to them.
Wide networks in the brain, including areas responsible for motor actions, emotions, and creativity, are activated when listening to music
A groundbreaking Finnish study was conducted by Suomen (2011) to explore how the brain processes elements of music when persons listened to real and not simulated music. The researchers studied areas that included musical rhythm, tonality, and timbre or color of the sound.
The study was the first to show that wide networks in the brain are activated when humans listen to music. These areas include those responsible for motor or movement actions; emotions, and creativity.
The results of the study have applications to child-rearing:
– musical pulsations activate motor or movement areas in the brain. Dr. Jessica Grahn and other scientists have found similar results. They are using music to help people with movement disorders to walk.
– Limbic areas of the brain were activated under the influence of music rhythm and musical tones. The limbic area is associated with emotions. This is why music helps humans to feel good.
– When the brain processed the timbre or color of the music, areas of the brain responsible for creativity were activated.
Nine-month-old baby brain responses to music and speech were improved when listening to music
A 2016 University of Washington research study showed that the brains of nine-month-old babies improved processing of music and new speech sounds when they listened to music during playtime (University of Washington, 2016 in Science Daily, 2021). The overall takeaway is that music helps with speech development.
According to Christina Zhao, researcher and lead author of the study:
“Our study is 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.”
Zhao also concluded that:
“early, engaging musical experiences can have a more global effect on cognitive skills.”
Music and babies’ brain – study procedure
The researchers designed an experiment to see if speech rhythm in 9 month old babies would improve if they learnt a musical rhythm.
Thirty babies and their parents attended twelve play sessions each lasting fifteen minues. The babies were divided into groups of about two or three, and guided through the play by their parents.
Twenty babies were assigned to the music group and ten to the group that played without music. The children in the music group listened to childrens’ music while their parents tapped out the beats in time with the music.
All of the songs that the babies listened to were in the triple meter, as the researchers felt that nine-month-old babies would find the beat difficult to learn.
According to Wikipedia (2021), the triple meter or
triple time or ternary rhythm, is a musical meter characterized by a primary division of 3 beats to the bar, usually indicated by 3 (simple) or 9 (compound) in the upper figure of the time signature, with 3. 4, 3. 2, 3. 8 and 9. 8 being the most common examples.
The babies in the control group attended play sessions without music. They played instead with toy cars, blocks, and other objects that required coordinated movements. Researcher Zhao said that:
“In both the music and control groups, we gave babies experiences that were social, required their active involvement, and included body movements — these are all characteristics that we know help people learn … The key difference between the playgroups was whether the babies were moving to learn a musical rhythm.”
How the researchers measured brain activity
Brain responses to music were measured one week after the play sessions ended. The researchers used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to identify the exact location and timing of brain activity.
The babies were assessed while listening to a series of music and speech sounds. Each one was played out in a rhythm that was occasionally disrupted. The babies’ brains would show a particular response to indicate whether or not they could detect the disruption.
The researchers analyzed responses in the auditory cortex (listening) and the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for cognitive skills like controlling attention and detecting patterns.
Results of this music and the brain study
When compared with babies in the non – music playgroup, babies in the music group had stronger brain responses to disruptions in both music and speech rhythm in both the auditory and the prefrontal cortex.
The conclusion is that participation in the play sessions with music improves infants’ ability to detect patterns in sounds. These findings have very important applications for daycare centers and other locations where children live, play, and are cared for.
How does music affect the brains of one-year-old children?
In another groundbreaking study, McMaster University researchers (2012) found that children benefit from very early musical training before they can walk or talk. Their one-year-old subjects participated in interactive music classes with their parents.
These children smiled more, had better communication, and showed earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.
How this study was conducted
The researchers only included babies with similar communication skills and social development milestones. None of them and none had ever previously participated in other baby music classes.
The researchers conducted two kinds of weekly music classes over a six-month period for the abies and their parents. In one music class, the children participated in 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.
Children and parents in the other music class played at various toy stations while recordings from the popular “Baby Einstein” series played in the background.
Babies who participated in the interactive music classes with their parents showed earlier sensitivity to the pitch structure in music. More specifically, they preferred to listen to piano music played in key, rather than a version that included out-of-key notes.
Infants who participated in the passive listening classes did not show the same preferences. Their brains also responded to music differently. Infants from the interactive music classes showed larger and/or earlier brain responses to musical tones.
Babies in the interactive classes also demonstrated surprising non-musical gains
Babies from the interactive classes showed better early communication skills. These included pointing at out-of-reach objects and waving goodbye. These babies also became more socially adept. They smiled more, were easier to soothe, and showed less distress when things were unfamiliar or didn’t go their way. This result points to the effect of music on emotions.
Summary – Music And The Brain: How Your Baby’s Brain Reacts To Music
Music has tremendously positive effects on babies’ brains:
– Research on adult subjects shows that music activates wide networks in the brain. These areas include activation of areas responsible for movement actions; emotions, and creativity. Similar kinds of responses are found in studies done on the effects of music on babies.
– Research conducted on nine-month-old babies shows that “early, engaging musical experiences can have a more global effect on cognitive skills.”
– One-year-old infants who participated in interactive music classes with their parents smiled more, had better communication, and showed earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.
It is evident that babies derive rewarding benefits when they listen to music and participate in early musical training. This site, therefore encourages parents, caregivers, early childhood organizations, churches, and child development experts to integrate music into learning and playtime.
Musicians, songwriters, cartoonists, and others in film and entertainment should also pay attention to this aspect of child development in order to produce individuals who fulfill their purpose on the earth.
Thank you for reading.
McMaster University. (2012, May 9). Babies’ brains benefit from music lessons, even before they can walk and talk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 12, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120509123653.htm
Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland). “Listening to music lights up the whole brain.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 December 2011. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160425161148.htm