How Music Affects Your Baby's Development
Music is ubiquitous in our society. We are surrounded by it constantly; it shapes the way we understand things and the way we feel. This is true for babies just as much as it is adults.
Ever wondered where baby talk came from? Why we all take on that annoying high pitched tone and melodic phrasing when talking to babies? It’s instinctive in us all, but why?
Adult speech directed towards babies typically takes on that all too common elevated pitch, slow rhythm, pause-filled way of speaking because these are all melodic contours, which help in communicating with babies. Like we said, music is ubiquitous, whether we realise it or not. Melodic contours allow babies to understand and respond to messages, and, in time, acquire language.
You might be wondering how you can speak musically without realising it. Well, melodic contours are used and understood intuitively and spontaneously. You might not even be a musical person, but they establish a musical communicative code. A 2006 study from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México proposed that these melodic contours are a natural source of musical stimulation, and this is evidence that music helps in the linguistic development of babies and young children.
Simply put, even before babies can understand words, their brains can form musical connections and react to the tone of different kinds of music. Musical activities that are repetitive, rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic are suggested to be the most effective in advancing linguistic development. Hence the baby talk.
Links can be drawn between babies listening to and engaging with music and their social development, cognitive development, and physical development. Basically, music can help your baby develop social skills, mental processing skills, and make them more skillful with their hands.
As part of a five year study, neuroscientists from the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found evidence to support these positive impacts of music, particularly in the form of musical training, on the development of auditory processes of young children.
Children who received musical training as part of the study had a greater ability for pitch perception and production, and enhanced maturation of the auditory pathways (the way the brain processes sounds). Plus, positive associations between musical training and cognitive skills were found. Children who received musical training demonstrated an improved working memory and inhibitory function, as evidenced by greater brain activation in the brain during tasks requiring executive function skills.
So it makes sense why your school tried to make you play the recorder. And why your mum tried to make you go to piano lessons. If you’re wishing you hadn’t quit them after a term, you’re not alone.
The study was reported on in 2016, 2 years into the study. This means that the children involved that were given musical training saw these benefits in the first two years. Given that the areas of the brain that saw improvements are similar to those that are engaged in language development and reading skills, this serves as further evidence that musical training may benefit children in acquiring language.
It’s also interesting to note the effect that music plays in the development of babies that are born prematurely. A 2013 study published by the Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics showed that musical interventions improved the breathing, heart rate, feeding and sleep of premature babies.
It’s also suggested that actively engaging in music with infants fosters group cohesion and social bonding. That is, your bub will understand the dynamics of a group better, and be able to form bonds with people faster. A study in 2014 from the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University on musical behaviours between strangers and infants found that moving in rhythm to music functioned as a social cue, with infants significantly more likely to ‘help’ a stranger who danced in rhythm to a song with them than they were a stranger who danced out of time or a stranger who didn’t dance with them at all.
This means that actively engaging in music with your baby, for example, rocking with them as they listen to a lullaby, can help to foster a social relationship. So if you want your baby to know they should give you your pen back, like the researchers did, dancing with them might be the answer.
However, don’t feel bad if you’re no musician. Singing to or speaking to your baby rather than playing them music, taking them to music groups and getting them lessons isn’t still enough to foster learning and bonding. Evidence shows that babies are able to remember melodies they heard while in utero, as well as specifically recognising their mother's voice. So sing like no one can hear you, because your baby will. And they won’t be old enough to be embarrassed by it either!