Early musical training benefits children even before they can walk or talk, says the first-ever study of its kind.
One-year olds who participated in interactive music classes with their parents were found to smile more, communicate better, and show earlier and more sophisticated brain responses to music.
“Many past studies of musical training have focused on older children. Our results suggest that the infant brain might be particularly plastic with regard to musical exposure,” says Laurel Trainor, director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, the journals Developmental Science and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences report.
Trainor, together with David Gerry, music educator and graduate student, received an award from the Grammy Foundation in 2008 to study the effects of musical training in infancy.
In the recent study, groups of babies and their parents spent six months participating in one of two types of weekly music instruction, according to a McMaster’s statement.
One music class involved interactive music-making and learning a small set of lullabys, nursery rhymes and songs with actions. Parents and infants worked together to learn to play percussion instruments, take turns and sing specific songs.
In the other music class, infants and parents played at various toy stations while recordings from the popular Baby Einstein series played in the background. Before the classes began, all the babies had shown similar communication and social development and none had previously participated in other baby music classes.
“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,” he adds.
“Infants who participated in the passive listening classes did not show the same preferences. Even their brains responded to music differently. Infants from the interactive music classes showed larger and/or earlier brain responses to musical tones,” adds Trainor. The non-musical differences between the two groups of babies were even more surprising, say researchers.