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The Effects of Music on Infant Development

author image Linda Tarr Kent
Linda Tarr Kent is a reporter and editor with more than 20 years experience at Gannett Company Inc., The McClatchy Company, Sound Publishing Inc., Mach Publishing, MomFit The Movement and other companies. Her area of expertise is health and fitness. She is a Bosu fitness and stand-up paddle surfing instructor. Kent holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Washington State University.
The Effects of Music on Infant Development
A toddler with headphones on listening to music off a digital device. Photo Credit: deucee_/iStock/Getty Images

During your child’s window of development from birth to age 1, music can serve a variety of important purposes. People across cultures and from the earliest known history have used lullabies to soothe infants. In modern times, researchers have studied the effect of music on infant development, including the “Mozart Effect.” This popular but controversial theory is based on the belief that listening to classical music will enhance intelligence. Whether or not music actually makes your infant smarter in the long run, it may enhance your child’s early processing skills, according to Hayne W. Reese’s “Advances in Child Development and Behavior.”

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Mozart Theory

Under the “Mozart Effect” theory, by playing classical music you provide your infant sensory stimulation that enhances his central nervous system development, according to “General Music Today.” The enhanced development may be due to the way in which music and spatial imaging are both processed within your infant’s brain. Enhancements in spatial-temporal ability following 10-minute Mozart music listening sessions are reported by several--but not all—researchers, according to a report by J.S. Jenkens for the “Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.” Dissension regarding the scientific research on the “Mozart Effect” exists in part due to the methodology of the original study, which relied largely on anecdotal evidence, according to the Regional Educational Library Northeast and Islands of Newton, Massachusetts.

Understanding Speech

Infants can understand musical patterns prior to understanding words. In essence, music allows your infant to practice “listening ahead” and anticipating what will come next based on her prior experience. This skill is vital for making sense of the complex stream of sounds in speech, according to “The Blackwell Handbook of Infant Development,” by Gavin Bremner. Speech is made up of strings of sound that constantly change. Most children learn to understand your speech sounds as symbols that make up a language code by age 1, with repeated listening leading to this understanding.

Emotion Regulation and Communication Skills

When you sing to your infant face-to-face, he can associate oral movements with sound perception and can gain other details via your facial expressions. This helps him learn critical communication skills. These include learning to associate sounds with emotions, events and objects. The singing interaction also teaches him to regulate his own emotions, according to “General Music Today.” Live singing is significantly more effective than recorded music for keeping your infant’s attention, and promotes attending and imitation.

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