Sunday, December 30, 2012

Music for Baby in the Womb and Out

Many parents ask about music for babies still developing in the womb.  The idea that playing classical music for baby will make him more intelligent is so widespread that it has even been featured in movies and cartoons.  However, based on what I've read, while it may be good for baby to be hearing classical music throughout gestation and into infant-hood, this is mainly based only on anecdotal evidence.

While, admittedly, scientists can't really agree on what is going on, and scientific studies are inconclusive, there is general agreement that music has a positive impact of some sort - even just to make baby's neurons fire more often. This TED talk discusses babies learning in the womb in general. Many mothers will attest to babies responding to music before and after birth. There was also a study done that was well publicized around 2001 (the actual study is not available in full online) about babies recognizing music they were played while in the womb even at age one, but the study only tested 11 babies and doesn't seem to have had a control so scientists will generally not site it as scientific (and I have to agree). However, that doesn't mean the anecdotal evidence is completely worthless. This article sums up the commonly agreed upon ideas about music in the womb by the general populace - even if it is still theoretical and anecdotal. It mentions the belief that children will remember what they hear in the womb - based on that same study that only tested 11 children. Keep in mind the article is written by some one who wants to sell prenatal music to expectant parents.

This article speaks more about why the sound does not need to be loud for baby to hear it as well as the difference between what anecdotal evidence has told us about gestational music and scientific studies. Again, the anecdotal evidence seems to be there, but scientific study has been inconclusive.
It is important to be careful about how loud the music is. While sounds are muffled (not unlike what you hear of sounds from the pool deck when you swim), amniotic fluid does conduct sound nicely. Baby can hear you when you are just speaking. I've read one article that says no louder than 70 decibels and another that says no louder than 50. The article I linked agrees with the 50 decibel limit.

I recently read in one article, but also remember discussion about Rap and Rock within the context of the conversation. Many believe these genre's of music aren't generally recommended because some believe that exposure to chaotic and discordant music can have a negative effect. I would argue there are examples of classical music that are a bit "chaotic and discordant" while some songs from other genres are not at all "chaotic or discordant." Even Beethoven's second symphony has quite a few discordant notes representing the hiccups and burps he frequently struggled with due to gastrointestinal difficulty. Stravinsky is well known for using discordant combinations in his music. When I was pregnant with my little one, "When September Ends" by Greenday was on the radio a lot, so she heard it a lot while I drove to and from work. I swear she started dancing every time she heard it and she still loves the song.

Use your judgement. Baby can hear you, music and whatever you are playing and doing through much of the pregnancy - even without any specific effort needed. If you want to do the music during gestation thing, try to choose music that is generally peaceful or up-beat - something that relaxes mom - and just play it on your stereo, but don't get particularly concerned about "perfect choices." There doesn't really seem to be strong evidence one or way or another about the music making a huge difference. Most likely, it impacts the child's ability to relax more than how smart or musically inclined they will be if anything at all.

In order to decide upon music for your child and its appropriateness, I suggest the following four criteria:

  1. Is there language in the lyrics (particularly in the chorus or other repetitious portions) that would be embarrassing to teachers, other parents, my spouse, myself and others if the lyrics were repeated in mixed company.  Part of this consideration includes obvious "bad language" considerations, but it also includes listening for any portions that might be "overly educational" about topics inappropriate for very young listeners.  For example, I don't think my very young child needs to be exposed to ideas about suicide, explicit sexual imagery (even when only depicted in words) or themes of violence - Your own sensitivities may be the same or different as those of your neighbor's or child's friends so until my child was old enough to understand that certain topics are only for certain audiences, I was probably overly careful just for the sake of refraining from accidentally educating our neighbor's kids about something for which they were not ready, even if my child was.  If a song you love does include lyrics you think are questionable for your child, consider lyric-free covers for while your child is with you.  Lullaby renditions of . . . and the Vitamin String Quartet have both been great resources for this for me.  Links to both resources can be found here.
  2. Does my kid respond to the music and what kind of response is it?  Music does impact mood - if I notice that a particular piece of music - or genre of music seems to create grumpiness or startle her, I nix the music from the list of things I play frequently while she is around.  Conversely, if my child seems soothed by a certain piece of music I put it in the "soothing" play list, Or if a song is something that brings out a cheerful energy, I'll put it in the "play time" play list.  One or two plays through a song with a more negative impact will not do any sort of lasting damage, just as one or two play throughs of a classical piece will not have any lasting impact on a child's intelligence.
  3. Kids learn from repetition and children's music has a lot of that repetition.  This probably also explains why they tend to like bubble-gum rock and pop so much.  Whatever you do, don't leave Children's music out of the mix.  Old lullabies often come from what was once considered typical music and can introduce your child to old folk themes, stories, characters and literary devices that engage imagination and learning.  Many children's songs are also accompanied with movements to learn.  These movements can be fine or gross motor and are very important in the development of these related skills which will later lead to other skills important in both physical and mental development.  Finally, many children's songs impart important academic information such as the alphabet, days of the week, colors and numbers.
  4. Do I like the song At All?  If listening to the song over and over is going to make me tense and grumpy, it is not in my child's best interest to have it playing.  My bad mood is not conducive to positive and patient interactions with my child.
  5. Variety.  Filling the house (or car) with a variety of genres of music keeps things fresh and introduces my daughter to the wide variety of pleasing sounds available to her.  While the going thought is that Classical Music is best, I guess I interpreted the idea that music not be "chaotic and discordant" differently than many, so I figure if it feels chaotic or too discordant to her, she'll show me it isn't good for her by her reaction to the piece.  Although not classical, Enya, Greenday, Michael Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, The Beatles, The Clash, Metallica and Bob Marley all have examples of perfectly organized and concordant music in their libraries of musical creations.
Further searches  on this site will reveal articles such as "Baby and Children's Music Alternatives" which will help with resources for finding a variety of genres of great music kids can enjoy too, and "Fairy Tale Music Classics" (and other articles like it) to help choose great Classical pieces to use to introduce children to the classical genre in a fun way, and even lists of "musts" such as "A Baker's Dozen Beatles Songs"

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