Do Infants and Toddlers Need Music?
Lilly B. Gardner, MS, MS, MPA, DPA
The News and Views are for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat or diagnose.
In an earlier post, the positive effects of music therapy in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) were discussed. It was noted a number of studies conducted in this environment demonstrated the ability of music to sooth infants and aid in their care during their stay (1,2,3).
Similar effects have also been reported in infants and toddlers from newborn to three years. These studies cover a diverse and wide variety of effects, and will be discussed in three sub-topics. The first deals with the music behaviors of infants. Next, research data dealing with the effect music has on the feeding and calming of stress in infants will be discussed. Finally, studies investigating the effectiveness of music on child development will be cited.
To begin, many researchers have observed that infants as young as four months of age develop a sensitivity to music. Others contend that an unborn infant can respond to music six months in utero (4, 5). Investigators also report the unborn child not only hears music but also responds, interacts, differentiates and even has preferences. Others report the heartbeat of the fetus increases, suggesting a simple form of learning has occurred (6).
Selecting sounds and music for the unborn should consider the type of music the mother had been listening to pre-birth along with the baby’s response to it. Familiar sounds provide a feeling of safeness and listening to slow soft music has been shown to help infants relax . Breathing becomes deeper and slower and heartbeat will follow the tempo of the music. In addition, certain music may actually help the infant produce endorphins, resulting in improved mood, a real plus at bedtime (5).
Although classical music has been the focus of much of the research into music’s effect on intelligence and learning, numerous findings indicate that variety is also important. Because each child is an individual, he/she will respond more to certain types of music over others.
From birth to about six months babies show a preference for songs sung by familiar voices. They respond to what they hear with full body movements and wiggles or by turning away. Even at such an early age babies show a marked preference for soothing music over harsher rock beats (7).
During the period from birth until the end of the first postnatal year music has been shown to serve multiple purposes. These include sensory stimulation, promoting, attending, imitation, arousal modulation, and exploration of the environment (8). From six months to one year infants are able to shake a rattle and become aware they can create noise. Hand clapping should be encouraged in response to music. Older children become physically involved with the music by dancing and singing to their favorite music. Hearing music at specific times during the day helps establish routines (9).
As noted above, music also provides an inexpensive, non-invasive way to assist fragile infants in NICU. Premature infants in NICU show that soothing music from the Baroque period can lower blood pressure and stress hormones and appears to help them to gain weight. Listening to classical music that is slow and soft has been shown to help babies to relax. According to the American Music Therapist Association (AMTA), classical music can reduce pain, improve mood, and promote healing. For more information on these effects please refer to http://www.musictherapy.org.
Much has been written on the effects music has on a child’s brain. (10). The many positive effects have been demonstrated by studies that indicate music can help develop fine motor skills as well as gross motor skills. Vocal, speaking and listening skills are also improved (5,11). Other researchers have shown that an infant’s familiarity with pitch, accent and rhythm are increased when exposed to music. This, in turn, helps prepare the baby for understanding speech (5).
During the infant’s development of neurological networks music helps the infant to make sense out of sounds and words. This then causes the linguistic synapses to be stimulated and signals the brain to prepare these pathways for future use (12). The sooner the infant hears and feels music the better.
Music does not have to be classical to be beneficial. Researchers suggest parents and those close to the infant try different selections of music. Instrumental pieces offered to the infant should be well ordered, complex and be rhythmic without being overwhelming or overly dissonant. It has been shown that listening to the complex patterns of classical music can help a baby learn to distinguish between similar sounds and helps the baby to develop auditory memory and improve ability to decode auditory data. Volume control is very important so as to ensure no harm is done to the infant’s hearing (5).
It has also been noted that the same music is not necessarily beneficial to both infants and toddlers. Most infants respond well to well-structured complex music and have been observed enjoying Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto 5, 2nd movement, Brahms Symphony No. 3, 2nd movement, Mozart’s Laudate Domium, and Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major (13).
Toddler music is not designed for an infant. When encouraged, young children quickly realize that they can express feelings and ideas whether singing or dancing. Toddlers are on the move, so music selections for this group should be fun and encourage movement and participation. Jazz, country-western, classical and multi-cultural styles provide opportunities for the toddler to learn the feeing of rhythm, establish a beat, and have fun (14).
Parents and child-care providers have numerous opportunities to develop a love of music in their children and charges. It isn’t necessary to play an instrument well or sing in tune to help a child appreciate musical sounds. Recommendations include: playing a variety of musical genre for the baby; singing for and with the child; and encourage toddlers to learn to play musical instruments.
For specific information regarding fostering the love of music in young children log onto the Internet for a listing of organizations and research centers. The National Association for Music Education offers support on its Web page. Among the tools offered are articles about the latest research findings with regard to the importance of including music in each of our lives. Other sources for current research include the Journal of Music Therapy and a new and easy-to-read resource on music/brain information, the 2nd edition of Dale Taylor’s Biomedical Foundations of Music as Therapy (Nov. 2010) available from both West Music Company and from Music is Elementary.
1. Cevasco, AM. Grant, RE. Effects of the pacifier activated lullaby on weight gain of premature infants. Journal of Music Therapy. 2005 Summer; 42(2); 123-39.
2. Standley, J. The effect of music-reinforced nonnutritive sucking on feeding rate of premature infants. Journal of Pediatric Nursing. Volume 18, Issue 3; 169-173.
3. University of Western Sydney (2006, February 14). Rockaby Baby: Research Shows Gentle Singing Soothes Sick Infants. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://cts.vresp.com/c/?LisemEnterprises/ace7e18c40/TEST/51bf621a81
4. Leeds, J. The Power of Sound. Healing Arts Press. ©2001 Jeshua Leeds. (http://www.sound-remedies.com) .
5. England, A. Benefits of Music for Infants. Feb. 15, 2008. angelaenglandsuite101.com/benefits-of-music-in-infants-a44783.
6. James, DK., Spencer, CJ., Stepsis, BW. Fetal learning a prospective randomized controlled study. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2002 Nov; 20(5):431-8.
7. Lerner, C. Ciervo, L. Getting in Tune: the Powerful Influences of Music on Young Children’s Development. http://www.zerotothree.org/site/DocServer/music.pdf?declD=961.
8. Del’Etoile, F., Teaching the youngest learners. General Music Today; vol. 22; Issue 1. p.35, ERIC document #J810 366.
9. Edwards, LC., Bayless, KM., Ramsey, ME. Toddlers’ Response to Sound and Movement. Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall. (http://www.education.com/partner/articles/pearson/)
10. Human Intelligence: Historical influences current controversies, teaching resources. RELNEI:Music and Infant Development. Reference Desk Response No. 458. Effects of Music on Infant Development. 2/17/10.
11. Rauscher, FH., Shaw, GL., Levine, LJ., Wright, EL., Dennis, WR., Newcomb, RL. (199710. Music training causes long-term enhancement of preschool children’s spatial-temporal reasoning. Neurological Research, 19, 2-8.
12. National Association for the Education of Young Children. (1997). Music appreciation: a universal language for all ages. http://www.kidsource.com/education
13. Johnson-Green, D., Custodero, LA. (2002). The toddler top 40: musical preferences of babies, toddlers, and their parents. Zero to Three, 23(1)47-48.
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