Boost your baby’s brain with music
Bouncing your baby on your knee as you listen to music won’t just make him giggle, it could also give his brain a boost.
A study found that brain regions key to music and speech were sharper in nine-month-old boys and girls who had attended musical play sessions.
This could make it easier for them to learn to speak and, eventually, even to learn foreign languages.
The US researchers said that exposure to the rhythms of music may make it easier for youngsters to make sense of the ever-changing world around them.
Study author Patricia Khul said: ‘Infants experience a complex world in which sounds, lights and sensations vary constantly.
The baby’s job is to recognise the patterns of activity and predict what’s going to happen next.
‘Pattern perception is an important cognitive skill, and improving that ability early may have long-lasting effects on learning.’
Music-themed play sessions, such as Monkey Music, are popular in Britain with middle-class parents keen to give their babies the best start in life.
However, until now, there hasn’t been clear evidence that they are beneficial.
Dr Khul, of the University of Washington, studied 39 babies who attended three play sessions a week in her lab.
Half played in time to music, with their parents bouncing them on their knees or helping them shake maracas or tap a drum.
The others played with blocks, cars and other toys in sessions that were active and sociable but didn’t involve music.
After a month of music or play classes, the youngsters underwent a test designed to show how well they processed sounds.
This involved playing them a series of musical and speech sounds as they sat in a brain scanner.
The sounds followed a set pattern but occasionally, the notes or syllables were disrupted.
Scans of brain regions involved in processing sound, attention control and pattern detection showed that both groups of babies noticed when the patterns changed.
However, the brains of the babies in music classes reacted much more strongly, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
This, say the researchers, suggests the musical play made it easier for them to detect patterns in sounds – something that could be useful in learning musical instruments and foreign languages as they grow up.
Dr Kuhl said: ‘Music experience has the potential to boost broader cognitive skills that enhance children’s abilities to detect, expect and react quickly to patterns in the world, which is highly relevant in today’s complex world.’
She added that while various studies have linked playing an instrument to a boost in brainpower, it was possible that children with certain wiring are more likely to become musicians.
The latest research shows that being exposed to music brings benefits – whether or not a child has a musical talent.