Playing music to babies may help them learn language skills faster, a new study claims.
Researchers at the University of Washington suggest that listening to music with a waltz-like rhythm and tapping out the beats with their parents, improved babies’ processing of music patterns and speech sounds.
Researchers randomly assigned 39 nine-month-old babies to be exposed to music or serve as a control group. Nineteen babies in the control group played with toys during a dozen 15-minute sessions over a month. The other 20 babies listened to “recordings of children’s music played while an experimenter led the babies and their parents through tapping out the beats in time with the music,” lead study author T. Christina Zhao said, according to HealthDay. All the songs were in triple meter, such as waltzes, which were chosen because they’re relatively difficult for babies to learn.
The following week after the play sessions ended, all babies underwent brain scans.
“While sitting in the brain scanner, the babies listened to a series of music and speech sounds, each played out in a rhythm that was occasionally disrupted,” Zhao said. “The babies’ brains would show a particular response to indicate they could detect the disruption.”
The researchers found that the brains of the babies in the music exposure group were better able to respond to disruptions in speech and music rhythm.
Accordingly, the study results add another twist to the debate over whether music can make babies smarter. The researchers did admit that it is not clear how long the effect of listening to music may last or how much exposure to music is needed to make improvements in music and speech-pattern processing. But Zhao and her colleagues hope to learn whether or not the apparent effects from listening to music are lasting and how much exposure might be needed.
Previous research, known as the ‘Mozart effect’, looked into how music in early childhood might have a positive impact on young children’s brain development. But such theories are controversial and research into the relationship of sound and music for cognitive function and various physiological metrics has had no definitive results to date.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.