The first few months of a baby’s life is all about discovering how to control body movements, how to manipulate objects and how to interpret communication. What you might not have known is that babies start brain development while still in the womb, particularly beginning with responsiveness to sound.
Even as an adult, music has a powerful effect on our emotions. A sublime chorus with heartwarming tones can make you swell up. A quiet, gentle lullaby can soothe a person
under great stress. Music can also have a big impact on the way we think. A person can relate language with the rhythmic and repetitive patterns, allowing them to remember verses or a series of steps through music. For example, the ABC song is one of the first songs a child learns that associates music with fundamental language. Some studies even suggest that listening to classical music seems to improve our spatial reasoning, at least for a short time. And learning to play an instrument may have an even longer effect on certain thinking skills.
Parents can help their child’s brain development by exposing them to music and languages as early as in the third trimester of pregnancy. One study done by Swedish researchers found that when a mother spoke to her unborn child, that child was able to recognize the difference in Swedish vowels compared to unfamiliar vowels of foreign languages after birth. Newborns are considered language universalists, as they are able to easily learn any sound in any language. Some use the analogy that infants are a blank canvas, there is no limit to their ability to absorb and differentiate dialects, phonetic sounds and tones. Adults are known as language specialists, this makes it harder to perceive speech sounds that is not their native tongue. For example, a New York Times article explains that ‘Japanese infants are able to hear the difference between English sounds like “la” and “ra”, but an adult cannot because their language does not contrast those sounds.’
Before a child actually understands language, ‘talking’ sounds like music, by a flow of rhythmic or repetitive vowels that create an interpreted meaning from emotional tones. Dr. Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington stated that “motherese” or ‘by speaking in high pitch, exaggerated intonations and clear pronunciation, parents are able to help mold babies phonetic understanding which are building blocks to language’.
So what can you do to help nurture your child’s language and communication skills through music? Here is a list of tips for communication development with music from an article developed by Dr. Diane Bales, Professor and Extension Human Development Specialist.
- Play music for your baby- expose your baby to many different styles of music- different tones and patterns to establish a variety of learned sounds.
- Sing to your baby- this not only allows your baby to recognize your voice- but it teaches them language notes that may help them learn dialects. Babies love patterns and rhythms of songs, they can even recognize specific melodies once they’ve heard them.
- Start music lessons early- developing brains are equipped to learn music, and may build a lifelong love of music.