Music and baby talk


As one of those moms who started her kids on classical music shortly after birth, I don’t need to be sold on the importance of music, but it’s always nice to have one’s educational priorities validated. 

Music’s legendary charms don’t just soothe the savage breast; they also stimulate the language centres in the brain, which may not sound as romantic, but it’s perhaps more important in the long run. As Science Daily informs us:

Contrary to the prevailing theories that music and language are cognitively separate or that music is a byproduct of language, theorists at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) advocate that music underlies the ability to acquire language. 

That makes perfect sense, music being the universal language after all. Music is also a first language for baby. Though all new mothers certainly talk and coo to their babies, most also spend a great deal of time singing to and for their newborns, or playing recorded music. The lullaby as a genre wouldn’t exist if music didn’t have a significant impact on the infant brain and consciousness.

“Spoken language is a special type of music,” said Anthony Brandt, co-author of a theory paper published online this month in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience.

“Language is typically viewed as fundamental to human intelligence, and music is often treated as being dependent on or derived from language. But from a developmental perspective, we argue that music comes first and language arises from music.”

I find this rather vindicating, since it’s always been my view that music is not, as some school systems seem to think, “icing” on the educational cake (and therefore expendable when it comes to budget cuts), but foundational to our intellectual (and, I would argue, emotional and spiritual) development.

Written By: Mariette Ulrich
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  1. My son as baby seemed to enjoy “Eine kleine Nachtmusik ” and ” Pictures at an exhibition” he had an IQ measurement at seven giving a value of 149.
    Did listening to classic classics as a three to eighteen month child effect such a high IQ?
    Some people think so!

  2.  For those who seek a means by which the dogma of Islam might undergo moderation over time, as has happened to many christian sectarian doctrines, this seems to offer a possible beginning, perhaps already begun.

    A major influence exerted by the west over previously sequestered primitive communities has been that of music, through the web. The younger generation in some Sunni and Shiite areas are familiar with and supportive of a culture where music making is not gender based and restricted by ludicrous edicts.

    The uses and status of music are currently dictated by tone-deaf, joyless mullahs. Let’s hope they are hit by the fans the way the big music corporations have been hit by Rock & Roll and social change in the west.

    Does anyone remember when music was taken out of the hands of accountants by the ‘permissive generation’ of the sixties? (yes, that’s what they tried to label it; smug fascists)

    Mothers singing to their babies might become the cradle not just of language but of a more open society generally.

  3. Am I the only person that thinks the author of this article is making a huge leap?

    The co-author of the paper said, “We conclude that music merits a central place in our understanding of human development.”

    He did NOT say, “We conclude that music merits a central place in the development of human understanding.”

    Isn’t there a big difference between the two?

  4. music helps them reacquire language

    If I recall correctly, it is way easier for patients to sing what they want to say.
    My kid’s kindergarten class had everyone memorize their address by singing it via
    ‘Old McDonald’ tune.  It worked well. 

    Remember the ‘Baby Einstein – Mozart’ controversy?  There was argument that youngsters listening to classical music does not a scholar make. But it certainly exposes them to the best music, and that ain’t bad!

    Yes, it is discouraging about music being cut; there are some after school programs for music (usually violins)available for kids.  Seems they do better in math while participating.

  5. No I’m with you too R[A]Y. 

    I also especially like the way that “classical” music is always assumed to be the best. More work needed, lots less presumptions, more critical thinking and much more rock and roll.

  6. thanks matsa, didn’t notice your post before I aired my pet peeve with the “classics.”

    Also bluebird – Help! You are not the arbiter of good music, stop indoctrinating children – let them rock (or whatever they want – free from your prejudices)!

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