Music Lessons Benefit Babies

One year olds smile more and communicate better if they participate in interactive music classes with their parents.

May 11, 2012
Jef Akst


Music heals the souls, and it can also affect the brain, especially when experienced at a very young age, according to a study published in Developmental Science. One-year-old babies, not yet able to walk or talk, showed positive response to interactive music classes, smiling more, communicating better, and showing altered brain responses to music.

“Many past studies of musical training have focused on older children,” Laurel Trainor, study author and director of the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind, said in a press release. “Our results suggest that the infant brain might be particularly plastic with regard to musical exposure.”

The study placed babies into one of two groups—those that participated in an interactive music-making classes where they and their parents learned to play percussion instruments and sing lullabies, nursery rhymes, and songs with actions, and those that spent that time playing with toys while listening to recordings from the Baby Einstein series. After 6 months, babies who participated in the interactive classes “showed earlier sensitivity to the pitch structure in music,” Trainor said. That is, they preferred music that stayed in key. Babies who had been playing with toys did not show such preferences. “Even their brains responded to music differently,” Trainer said. “Infants from the interactive music classes showed larger and/or earlier brain responses to musical tones.”

The two groups of babies also showed differences in non-musical skills. Those that had participated in the interactive classes showed better communication skills, like pointing at objects and waving goodbye, and smiled more. They were also easier to calm and seemed less distressed in unfamiliar situations.

“There are many ways that parents can connect with their babies,” study coordinator Andrea Unrau said in a press release. “The great thing about music is, everyone loves it and everyone can learn simple interactive musical games together.”