In the last few years, a wave of high quality research has come out showing just how profoundly positive exposure to music and music education is for babies and developing brains.
Much of this new study has focused on premature babies, especially babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). As one researcher pointed out, preemies can close their eyes in response to lights that are too bright, but they can’t close their ears, so music and noise stimulation play an important role in their time in NICU.
One study, for example, found that music therapy in the NICU helps “improve function” for the baby at the same time it reduces anxiety in parents. Other researchers have found that lullabies can improve a preemie’s heart function and breathing, as well as feeding behavior and sucking patterns. Music even encourages these most delicate babies to be more alert while they’re awake and listening, especially to the sound of their own parents singing to them.
As babies age, scientists continue to find benefits from music. One recent study found that music playing in the pediatric emergency room makes it easier for babies and infants to tolerate IV placement. Others have found that music helps children during invasive nursing procedures, doctor’s visits, and even when dealing with pain.
By toddlerhood, the focus of this new research shifts to the benefits of learning music. It turns out that music training has a profound effect on the way a toddler’s brain develops. It’s been shown to increase working memory and help toddlers learn how to pay attention. One particularly fascinating study linked language development to rhythm and showed that toddlers and children who have better understanding of rhythm are able to form more complex sentences earlier.
The moral of the story? Researchers are proving what parents and cultures have known for millennia: music is a powerful part of the human condition that helps emotional and intellectual development.
Reviewed by Sara Connolly, March 2020
- New research is showing that music benefits babies’ brains at every stage.
- In the NICU, music reduces anxiety and soothes.
- In toddlers, it helps children learn language.
- In the emergency room and doctor’s office, music makes it easier for babies.