Interactive Music Classes Improve Babies’ Social Development, Communication

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Past research has found that infants even as young as a few months old respond positively to music. A new study has discovered that interactive musical training can improve communication and social development as well as increase certain brain responses.

Music has so many positive benefits for both body and mind. Listening to a song triggers certain parts of the brain responsible for such aspects as memory and vision. Music can also lift your mood and help you concentrate.

Music Education programs has benefits in categories such as success in society and life, success in developing intelligence, and success in schooling. The Children’s Music Workshop cites these benefits of early musical training:

• Early musical training helps develop brain areas involved in language and reasoning.
• There is a link between music and spatial intelligence (the ability to perceive the world accurately and to form mental pictures of things). This is critical to the sort of thinking necessary for everything from solving advanced mathematics problems to being able to pack a book-bag with everything that will be needed for the day.
• Recent studies show that students who study the arts are more successful on standardized tests such as the SAT. They also achieve higher grades in high school.
• Music study enhances teamwork skills and discipline.
• Music performance teaches young people to conquer fear and to take risks.

While most studies of the past have focused on older children, researchers at McMaster University felt that the infant brain would be particularly responsive to musical exposure – even before they can walk or talk.

Laurel Trainor, director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, and David Gerry, a music educator and graduate student, grouped babies and parents together to participate in one of two types of weekly music instruction for six months. One class was involved in interactive music-making and learning a small set of lullabies, nursery rhymes, and songs with actions. Parents and infants also learned to play percussion instruments. The second class listened to “Baby Einstein” music recordings in the background while playing at various toy stations.

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The one-year-olds who were interactive with the musical lessons were found to smile more, communicate better, and show earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to musical tones. The infants were also easier to soothe and showed less distress when things weren’t going their way.

“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.”

"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."

Psychologist Jodi Mindell offers parents some tips on how to integrate music into your child’s play time:

• Sing, even if you think you have a terrible voice. Your baby will only love the effort and attention. Stack a tower of blocks and knock it down while singing “London Bridge.” Dance, wiggle, or make hand gestures to songs such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes”
• Buy children’s versions of percussion instruments such as drums and xylophone. They will enjoy the action as well as the sounds they make. Kiddie pianos are also fun instruments. As they get older, there are recorders, play guitars, harmonicas, tambourines, and many other different instruments to introduce children to a variety of sounds.
• Play music frequently in your home. It doesn’t have to be just classical music, anything with a good melody will do. Even your favorite pop songs can be fun for children.
• Lullabies to soothe children for sleeping are also still a great way to exposure children to sounds and rhythms.

Journal References:
1. David Gerry, Andrea Unrau, Laurel J. Trainor. Active music classes in infancy enhance musical, communicative and social development. Developmental Science, 2012; 15 (3): 398 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2012.01142.x
2. Laurel J. Trainor. Musical experience, plasticity, and maturation: issues in measuring developmental change using EEG and MEG. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2012; 1252 (1): 25 DOI:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06444.x

Additional Resources:
Children’s Music Workshop: Twelve Benefits of Music Education
Baby Center LLC: Music and Your Baby

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