Music has a powerful and usually positive effect on our emotions, which is why fussy babies are very often soothed with a gentle lullaby. But music also has a profound effect on the way our brains work, especially your baby’s brain.
Babies are born with billions of brain cells, just waiting to be nurtured. During the first few years these cells form connections with other cells and start to form the neurological highways that transport information.
Over time, the connections between cells become stronger and easier to access. Children who grow up listening to music have strong music-related pathways, which studies have shown actually affect the way we think. Why is this?
The benefits of growing up with music
Music, especially classical music, can train the brain for certain types of thinking, because the pathways formed in the brain by listening to classical music are similar to the pathways used for spatial reasoning – the ability to recognise patterns or sequences.
This ability impacts on your child’s mathematical and analytical abilities later in life. It is used when your child builds a puzzle, paints a picture and learns to count - all of which are important for his ultimate mental development.
Heidi Twiley, CEO of Kindermusik South Africa, says, “The building blocks that the brain uses to do its work are neurons and synapses. These develop at a phenomenal rate of 50 000 per second before birth. When babies are born, research tells that there are about 200 billion brain cells developed and waiting for stimulation to form connections. These connections can only form by specialised stimulation. When all parts of the brain are stimulated, new connections are formed and brain networks increase in density.”
“Music is the perfect way to stimulate this development.” She adds, “Scientists have also discovered that a child’s brain grows to 90% of its adult capacity within the first two years of life. Brain patterns created during these early years affect individuals throughout their whole life.”
What is the Mozart effect?
The “Mozart Effect” is a term used to describe the increase in brain development that occurs in children under 3 when they have been exposed to the music of Amadeus Mozart, a classical composer from the 18th century.
Where the idea came from
The idea of the Mozart Effect originated in 1993 when physicist Gordon Shaw, and concert cellist and expert on cognitive development, Frances Rauscher conducted an experiment on a few University of California students.
These students were exposed to 10 minutes of music written by Mozart, and showed an increase in their spatial-temporal reasoning. Four years later, Gordon and Frances reported that their experiments proved that instruction in the piano and singing enhance children’s abstract reasoning skills.
Gordon says, “We have this common internal neural language that we’re born with and so if you can exploit that with the right stimuli then you’re going to help the brain develop to do the things like reason.”
Gordon and Frances believe that music stimulates the area of the brain associated with spatial temporal reasoning, which helps with cognitive tasks. This, they say, increases a person’s intelligence for maths, engineering, chess and science.
A further experiment
Another experiment that supports the theory was conducted by Bellarmine College in the US. Their Department of Psychology tested the effect of music on students by having them complete pen and paper mazes of increasing difficulty. There was a marked difference in the students’ ability to complete the maze after listening to the music, as opposed to not having listened to anything at all.
If experiments show that Mozart’s music boosts one’s ability to solve puzzles and that children are stimulated by this kind of music from a young age, there should logically be long-term, beneficial consequences.
Why classical music?
Classical music has a different effect on brain function because it has a more complex musical structure than any other type. In fact, babies as young as 3 months can identify the structure and even recognise classical music that they have heard before. It’s this complex structure that primes the brain to identify and solve spatial problems, like puzzles, easily. Several studies have shown that children who had piano lessons for six months could solve puzzles easier and faster than before.
How to help your baby
There are several ways in which you can begin to nurture a love and appreciation for music in your baby. This will develop pathways in his brain that aid his spatial reasoning. Here are some suggestions:
Try expose your baby to as much music as you can, even of different styles. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to play an instrument, play it when your baby is nearby. Don’t place him too close to the instrument, though, as he has very sensitive hearing and loud music can damage this.
Kindermusik is a well-known therapy, music and brain development programme for young children from birth to age 7. Heidi says, “Kindermusik works with babies from birth, because the first seven years are the most important forming years in brain development in children. Research proves that early integration of music into your child’s daily routine means improving their ability to think, reason, create and express.”
“Each activity during class time exercises and develops a certain part of the brain, and within one lesson, all parts of the brain are stimulated, new connections formed and brain networks increase in density each week. Through repetition of activities during the following weeks, the newly formed connections are strengthened.”
It doesn’t matter how badly you think you sing, you baby loves your voice. Not only will it stimulate those musical pathways, but your baby also picks up the cadence and intricacies of language when you sing, because of the rhyme and rhythm in songs
Once your baby gets older encourage him to sing along with you. Once he begins to set words to music himself, his brain is able to retain those words for longer. This helps in the development of vocabulary. Ever wondered why you can still remember the lyrics to almost every nursery rhyme you sang as a child? This is why
Start music lessons early
You needn’t wait until your child is in primary school to start learning how to play an instrument. Most 4 and 5-year-olds are well-equipped to start learning the basics of some instruments, and most certainly love making sounds!
Encourage your child’s nursery school to play music
Musical education at nursery school or daycare can certainly help with your child’s creativity. Sing-alongs and dance are often a favourite time of a toddler’s school day. There might also be a local, mobile music programme that can go to your child’s nursery school and teach him there.
An example of this is Be Sharp Beetles in Gauteng, which is a music and dance programme that takes instruments into nursery schools so that children can sing, dance and play.
Liesel Grobler from Be Sharp Beetles says, “Music stimulates every aspect of a child’s development – gross and fine motor skills, listening skills, concentration, cognitive development, language ability, social skills and life skills.”
“Rhymes and songs stimulate a child’s language ability. When you couple this with playing a musical instrument your child’s fine and gross motor skills are developed as the right and left hemispheres of her brain are linked up by the interaction of instrument and song.”
Be Sharp Beetles currently services 75 schools around Johannesburg and has a studio in Northcliff. Alternatively, Kindermusik is available around the country for those not based in Johannesburg.
And finally, now that you know how music helps your baby’s brain, it’s time to start singing and playing.
Kindermusik, www.kindermusik.co.za, (018) 468 5243, Heidi Twiley, 082 920 0629
Be Sharp Beetles, Liesel Grobler, 082 922 8161, firstname.lastname@example.org