Baby's Brain: The Role of Music
By Diane Bales, Ph.D.
believe that musical training
actually creates new pathways in the brain."
has a powerful effect on our emotions. Parents know that a quiet,
gentle lullaby can soothe a fussy baby. And a majestic chorus can
make us swell with excitement. But music also can affect the way
recent years, weve learned a lot about how the brain develops.
Babies are born with billions of brain cells. During the first years
of life, those brain cells form connections with other brain cells.
Over time, the connections we use regularly become stronger. Children
who grow up listening to music develop strong music-related connections.
of these music pathways actually affect the way we think. Listening
to classical music can improve our spatial reasoning, at least for
a short time. And learning to play an instrument may have an even
longer effect on certain thinking skills.
Music Make Us Smarter?
Not exactly. Music seems to prime our brains for certain kinds of
thinking. After listening to classical music, adults can do certain
spatial tasks more quickly, such as putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
does this happen? The classical music pathways in our brain are
similar to the pathways we use for spatial reasoning. When we listen
to classical music, the spatial pathways are turned on
and ready to be used.
priming makes it easier to work a puzzle quickly. But the effect
lasts only a short time. Our improved spatial skills fade about
an hour after we stop listening to the music.
to play an instrument can have longer-lasting effects on spatial
reasoning, however. In several studies, children who took piano
lessons for six months improved their ability to work puzzles and
solve other spatial tasks by as much as 30 percent.
does playing an instrument make such a difference? Researchers believe
that musical training creates new pathways in the brain.
The music most people call classical--works by composers
such as Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart--is different from music such
as rock and country. Classical music has a more complex musical
structure. Babies as young as 3 months can pick out that structure
and even recognize classical music selections they have heard before.
think the complexity of classical music is what primes the brain
to solve spatial problems more quickly. So listening to classical
music may have different effects on the brain than listening to
other types of music.
doesnt mean that other types of music arent good. Listening
to any kind of music helps build music-related pathways in the brain.
And music can have positive effects on our moods that may make learning
Can You Do?
Parents and child-care providers can help nurture childrens
love of music beginning in infancy. Here are some ideas:
music for your baby. Expose your baby to many different musical
selections of various styles. If you play an instrument, practice
when your baby is nearby. But keep the volume moderate. Loud music
can damage a baby's hearing.
to your baby. It doesnt matter how well you sing! Hearing
your voice helps your baby begin to learn language. Babies love
the patterns and rhythms of songs. And even young babies can recognize
specific melodies once theyve heard them.
with your child. As children grow, they enjoy singing with you.
And setting words to music actually helps the brain learn them more
quickly and retain them longer. Thats why we remember the
lyrics of songs we sang as children, even if we havent heard
them in years.
music lessons early. If you want your child to learn an instrument,
you dont need to wait until elementary school to begin lessons.
Young childrens developing brains are equipped to learn music.
Most four- and five-year-olds enjoy making music and can learn the
basics of some instruments. And starting lessons early helps children
build a lifelong love of music.
your childs school to teach music. Singing helps stimulate
the brain, at least briefly. Over time, music education as a part
of school can help build skills such as coordination and creativity.
And learning music helps your child become a well-rounded person.
Fagen, J., Prigot, J., Carroll, M., Pioli, L., Stein, A., &
Franco, A. (1997). Auditory context and memory retrieval in young
infants. Child Development, 68, 1057-1066.
F. H., Shaw, G. L., Levine, L. J., Wright, E. L., Dennis, W. R.,
& Newcomb, R. L. (1997). Music training causes long-term enhancement
of preschool childrens spatial-temporal reasoning. Neurological
Research, 19, 2-8.
D. (1998). Music on the Mind. Education Week, April 8, 1998.
W. T. (1994). Memory for music: Effect of melody on recall of text.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition,
of the "Better Brains for Babies" Collaboration.
by the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences
"Strengthening Georgia Families and Communities" Initiative.
The University of Georgia, a unit of the University System of Georgia,
is an Equal Opportunity/ Affirmative Action institution. The University
does not discriminate with respect to employment or admission on
the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap
or veteran status. If you have a disability and need assistance
in order to obtain this fact sheet in an alternative format, please
contact the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at (706) 542-7566.
Bales, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor and Human Development Specialist,
Department of Child and Family Development. Reprinted with permission
from the University of Georgia. Bales, D. (1998). Building Baby's
Brain: The Basics. Athens, GA: University of Georgia, College of
Family and Consumer Sciences.