Music has been a therapeutic for the soul seemingly since the beginning of time. Every person either makes music, dances to music, or listens to music, and sometimes all of the above. But have you ever contemplated whether or not music may aide in the development of babies learning actual language?
Patricia Kuhl, who heads the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, and Christina Zhao, a lead researcher from the Institute, believe that music patterns and beats aide babies in language progression.
A study was conducted in Seattle regarding this subject. The team organized 47 nine month old babies from English-speaking families. They were split into two groups; one, a musical intervetion "play group," and another, a general baby play group, where babies and parents played with non-musical items, such as blocks. All of the babies were in the range of meeting their milestones, but had not started speaking. The purpose of this study was to seek data supporting the idea that music helps babies learn language.
The babies arrived for twelve music sessions (or play group sessions for the control group) and they lasted 15 minutes each. During the musical group, parents would tap along with baby with the body or with instruments, like maracas, or they would move to the rhythm of the music together. Researchers chose a waltz-type beat due to its complex patterns. The control "play group" would engage in physical activity together by moving objects, playing with cars and stacking blocks. The tots were then analyzed using a state-of-the-art technique, called magnetoencephalography (MEG).
The MEG can measure an infant's neural responses without the child requiring to remain still, like during an x-ray or MRI. The MEG can also pinpoint the exact part of the brain where changes come from in real time. Zhao states, "MEG has extremely high temporal resolution that allows us to observe brain activities at the millisecond level as well as excellent spatial resolution that allows us to measure where the brain activity is occurring." This helps researchers identify the areas of the brain that are affected when music is played, and if babies recognize changes in rhythm when the music, like a waltz, skips the beat of the pattern.
During the study, beat changes and recognition were identified. Associations were made between the prefrontal cortex regions of the brain and also showed enhanced neural activity with the music infant group, as opposed to the control group. Researchers at the Institute believe the correlation between music and language are derived from the patterns of complex sounds, like syllables, compared to predicted beats. Music beats, tempos and pitch model after the timing of sounds and emotion of language.
"We know that babies learn rapidly from a wide range of experiences and we think music can be an important experience that may influence their brain development." In the future, researchers intend to expand on this data to show added proof that music aids in an infant's ability to comprehend language faster, as well as to show others the relevance of music as a therapeutic and front line learning tool for all ages. Studies like these help back up and support the cause for communities to understand that music therapy, and extracurricular and mandatory activities, are vital to develop skills, virtues, and understanding.