Compared with passive music classes, participatory music classes make babies more tuned to music appropriate for their culture and more responsive to musical pitch and tone, according to the findings of a small study from Canada. Active music classes also appear to lead babies toward greater social success.
To demonstrate the effects of musical training on sound processing in the brain during the first year of life, the researchers randomly assigned 38 infants aged 6 months to either active music classes, in which parents and babies participated in movement, singing, playing percussion instruments, and learning lullabies and action songs, or to passive classes, in which parents and babies listened to CDs while they played at art, book, ball, block, and stacking-cup play stations.
After 6 months of classes, the babies in the active course developed earlier musical “enculturation,” which researchers define as a sensitivity to the tonal pitch and rhythmic structures of the musical system used in the culture—in this study, Western tonality. These infants showed larger and earlier brain responses to musical tones compared with infants in the passive classes.
Babies in the active classes also demonstrated more prosocial behaviors. They showed less distress to limitations and to confrontations with novel stimuli; they smiled and laughed more; and they were easier to soothe than infants from the passive classes.
The researchers note that although previous studies have shown that musical training enhances brain development in older children, their study is the first to show that very early musical training also benefits infants in the first year of life.
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