It doesn't take too long into parenthood to realize baby music classes and even baby language classes are among the trendiest things to do with your new baby these days. But are they really as beneficial as they claim to be?
I did all the research for you and I don't mean magazine or random google research, I mean internationally published papers in well-known and respected psychology, language and child development related journals and this is what I found...
Getting real about baby music classes: A research-based answer
So there are many specific areas that have been studied in relation to early music exposure and its effects in the brain, the social and psychological world of the kids and regarding language development. To make it easier I have classified the findings in the main different areas that have plenty of publications that show similar results. But one common trend that I found among all studies including neuroscience, psychology, social and language journals has been that there is a big difference between playing music at home or in the car versus participating in an active class. Moreover, participation of parents with the child in the music class also throws different results.
Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy your informative reading of the day!
Music & Brain development
Studies that focus on brain changes when exposed to certain stimuli are mostly made with animals for obvious reasons, but these animals show a similar DNA and development stages as human beings and these results have been later tested with similar results in children and adults who were exposed to similar stimuli on their own.
In a study made with rats, researchers Feng Xu et al.1 discovered that a specific protein that is part of certain neuronal receptors developed significantly more in rats that were exposed to music during their first month of life. In ordinary words, neuronal receptors are like electrical outlets. The more outlets you have, the more devices you can plug in and use. The same applies for neuronal receptors. The more receptors, the higher connections the brain can develop to increase activity in the future, and music exposure during infancy has proven to increase the number of neuronal receptors in the brain.
Thus, music exposure during early stages of life does have a big impact in neuronal development taking into account that humans develop more neuronal synapsis during the first 5 years of life than in all the following years combined.
The above means that music can actually develop the brain to be able to create more neuronal connections, aka more abilities that will allow higher intelligences (problem solving, space, mathematical, arts, social, etc.) when it is provided during the first months and years of life.
Cognitive Development & Memory
There have been many studies that have tested the effect of parent-child weekly music classes at during early ages on children’s development and memory.
One of them was conducted by Bilhartz, Bruhn and Olson2 who tested memory and cognitive development in children 4 to 6 years old who participated in a 30-week parent-child music class just like MamaCanta. Children who attended the program had statistically higher scores not only on the Young Child Music Skills Assessment, but also on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (SB), and on the SB memory subtest.
A similar study3 showed that skills in puzzle solving, memory, block building and other special-temporal tasks had a significant improvement after 4 months of exposure and even higher after 8 months of exposure to weekly music classes.
Thus, weekly parent-child music programs have a very beneficial effect on cognitive skills including spatial-temporal reasoning, memory, mathematical skills, musical skills, etc. the above are only two of very many other studies that have shown similar results through the last 40 years!4,5
Music, Social & Psychological (and Emotional) Development
In 2012 a group of experts in Neuroscience and Behavior 6,7 decided to test the impact of active participatory music exposure (aka parent-child music classes for infants) on 6-month-old babies versus passive exposure to music (aka listening to music from radio and such, not an active class like MamaCanta).
They found that active classes accelerated the acquisition of culture-specific knowledge of tonality. More important, babies who attended the classes had a superior development of social behavior and also paralinguistic communicative gestures making it easier for caregiver to understand their cues. In simple words, 6-month-old babies attending active classes had a higher social, musical and language development than babies who only listened to music without participating in a class which corroborates the neuronal changes mentioned in the first paragraph happen also in human babies and not only in baby rats.
More importantly, research shows that music classes where parents are involved have a huge impact on the emotional wellness and psychological development of children. Parent engagement in parent-child music programs for infants foster parent-child interactions that are essential for a baby’s healthy development8. The same applies for older children but the impact is greater on children under 5 years of age.
During these kind of classes, repetition allow children to understand social and community rules. This will increase their participation in helping with daily tasks at home and also increase tolerance to frustration
Music & Language Development
For a long time, music has been considered a secondary tool and skill in the scientific word. However, this started to change during the last decade when psychologists started noticing that music hearing and ability is essential to language acquisition8. In fact, music now occupies a central place in our understanding of human development8.
I also found a vast collection of research papers that prove over and over the huge influence of active music classes on language development and second language acquisition. These are extended studies with plenty of complicated wording and long pages but to sum it all up, one of them reads: “children who undergo musical training have better verbal memory, second language pronunciation accuracy, reading ability and executive functions”9 This research was done with 6-month-old babies who participated in a parent-child music and movement class.
But what if we take a step further and combine music classes with a foreign language. What are the effects of music classes in a foreign language during the first months and years of life?
Read the answers here or, even better, experience it for yourself!
Early exposure modifies GluR2 protein expression in rats’ auditory cortex and anterior cingulate cortex: Feng Xu, Rui, C. et al. Neuroscience Letters, Volume 420, Issue 2, pp 179-183, June 2002 DOI:10.1016/j.neulet.2007.05.005
The Effect of Early Music Training on Child Cognitive Development: Bilhartz, T., Bruhn, R. and Olson, J. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, Volume 20, Issue 4, December 1999, Pp 615-636. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0193-3973(99)00033-7
Cognitive Processes of Children Engaged in Musical Activity: Rauscher, F., Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education No. 142 (Fall, 1999), pp. 35-47
The Development of Musical Experience in Children of Pre-School Age: Moog, H., Sage Journals, Volume 4, Issue 2, October 1976, pp: 38-45.
Active music classes in infancy enhance musical, communicative and social development: Gerry, D., Unrau, A., Trainor, L. Developmental Science, Volume 15, Issue 3, May 2012, pp: 398-407 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2012.01142.x
Becoming musically enculturated: effects of music classes for infants on brain and behavior: Trainor, L., Marie, C., Gerry, D., Whiskin, E., Unrau, A., ANNALS of The New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 1252, The Neurosciences and Music IV Learning and Memory, 2012 pp. 129-138 DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2012.06462.x
Music and the Baby’s Brain, Early Experiences. Do children benefit from early childhood music instruction? Here is a research based answer: Brink, D., Special Focus Music and the Brain, Volume 87, Issue 2, September 2000, pp. 23-50 https://doi.org/10.2307/3399644
Music and Early Language Acquisition: Brandt, A.,Gebrian, M.,Slevc, R., Frontiers in Psychology volume 3, September 2012, pp 327 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00327
How musical training affects cognitive development: rhythm, reward and other modulating variables: Miendlarzewska, E. and Trost, W. Frontiers in Neuroscience, Volume 7, 2013, pp. 279 https://dx.doi.org/10.3389%2Ffnins.2013.00279
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