Engaging infants in daily musical play has been shown to boost their cognitive skills and enhance their learning skills. A study done on nine-month-old infants found that regular play sessions involving musical activities improved their ability to process speech sounds and musical rhythms. The study is now following up on these infants at age two and a half to see whether those musical experiences at nine months of age were beneficial for their language development.
In the sessions babies and their parents listened to various renditions of the waltz, and tapped out the rhythm on toy drums or simply with their feet. The goal was to see whether music experience would train a broader cognitive skill – pattern recognition – and the results suggest that it does,’ said Patricia Kuhl, who led the research at the University of Washington in Seattle. When you learn to recognise auditory patterns, you can predict future sounds, and that’s helpful both to music and speech.
The study involved 47 babies divided into two groups; they all participated in twelve play sessions involving games and activities that were almost identical, except one group was musical and the other was music-free. Researcher then measured the infants’ brain responses to patterns in sounds four weeks later. The results showed that babies in the musical group displayed more neural activation than the non-musical group when musical and speech sounds were disrupted.
When we hear someone speak, or listen to music or even hear a door slam, our cognitive pattern detectors know what’s coming next: each word gives a hint to the next one. Each note provides a clue or the one coming next, and a door closing leads the brain to expect footsteps, said Kuhl. ‘Babies listening to music learned the tempo of the waltz, and when that tempo was changed, they noticed right away. We know the music babies became better at patterns generally because they were better both at music and speech,’ she added. Infants got better at detecting patterns and predicting what’s next.
What could be better in such a complex world?
Music has been proposed not just to be a by-product of language, but a crucial foundation from which infants learn and built their language skills. Anthony Brandt and others scientists at Rice University in Houston, state that when infants hear speech, they listen to the patterns of sound and the rhythm of the language. The meaning of the words themselves and the emotional content comes at a later stage. For this reason, they have concluded that music is central in understanding human development.