Music seems to have a strong effect on a person’s behavior and mental state. A cranky baby can easily be pacified by a soothing lullaby, a stressed teenager can find solace in listening to her song list in Spotify, and an anxious adult can find comfort with a classical chorale. Much has been said about letting babies listen to Mozart and Bach so that they grow up to be intelligent. Is this true, and if so, what does classical music in particular have to do with a baby’s brain development?
A baby’s brain rapidly develops within the first few years of life, with a set of billions of brain cells called neurons forming connections with each other. As babies explore their environment, certain connections in the brain become stronger, i.e. a baby who grows up listening to her mother singing will easily respond to the songs her mother sings, and will eventually be able to sing along with her. In fact, children who thrive listening to music actually showed structural music-related changes in the connections in the brain.
As some of these classical music pathways or connections are shared by certain thinking processes, these music pathways therefore affect the way we think. This was explored in a small study in 1993 looking at college students who listened to Mozart sonata while taking an IQ test. The study concluded that listening to classical music seems to transiently improve spatial reasoning for a short time. This is in contrast to learning to play an instrument, which may have a more sustained effect on certain thinking processes. A child with good spatial reasoning or ability can do spatial tasks more quickly, such as solving a Rubik’s cube or forming a jigsaw puzzle.
Although this does not exactly equate to higher IQ, research has suggested that music training also enhances nonmusical cognitive and executive function skills. Learning to play an instrument engages three components of executive function: inhibition, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. These executive function skills are essential core skills in learning and behavior. As these pathways are primed and ready to be used, it facilitates learning. Additionally, researchers suggest that new brain pathways are formed with music training.
What makes classical music different from other types of music? Classical music, which most people associate with works by Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven for example, has a more complex musical structure. It is this characteristic that experts attribute the priming of the brain to solve spatial problems faster. Babies, as early as in the womb, respond to classical music. But in general, listening to any kind of music creates stronger music-related connections in the brain.
Activities such as playing music for your baby, singing to your baby, or signing with your child help nurture love of music. Furthermore, starting music lessons early and incorporating music in your child’s learning will significantly impact a child’s coordination and creativity.
1. Habibi et al. Music training and child development: a review of recent findings from a longitudinal study ANNALS OF THE NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES Special Issue: The Neurosciences and Music VI REVIEW. 2018
2. Moreno et al. Short-term second language and music training induces lasting functional brain changes in early childhood. Child Development, 86(2), 394-406. 2015
3. Bales D. Building Baby’s Brain: The Role of Music. Circular 1053-06. Revised June 2019.
About The Expert
LOUDELLA V. CALOTES-CASTILLO, Child Neurologist
Dr. Louddie is active in both academe and clinical practice. She believes in work/life integration and is unceasingly learning and re-learning the amazing brain from her four little rascals and her extended children (her patients).
She completed her Pediatric Residency and Fellowship in Pediatric Neurology at the University of the Philippines - Philippine General Hospital. She took further specialty training in Neuromuscular diseases in children at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne Australia and completed a Summer School of Myology at the Institut de Myologie, Pitie-Salpetriere, Paris France.
She is currently a Clinical Associate Professor and an attending physician of the Division of Pediatric Neurology, University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital. She is also a guest faculty of the Ateneo School of Medicine and Public Health where she teaches both basic and clinical neurosciences. She has served as a Board of Trustee of the Child Neurology Society of the Philippines from 2017-2018.
Dr. Louddie is affiliated with various hospitals such as The Medical City, St. Luke’s Medical Center - Global City, ManilaMed, and National Children’s Hospital. In MedMom – Institute of Human Development, as their child neurology consultant, she collaborates with other medical specialists and allied health professionals in the care of children with special needs. She has empowered the Muscular Dystrophy Association of the Philippines (MDAP) as they launched the First Muscular Dystrophy Run in the Philippines.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.