Gently bounce a baby while you sing, and you'll
usually get squeals of glee. But it's not just fun:
Feeling the beat helps wire babies' brains to hear
rhythm. So says new research that tested moms and
babies doing what comes naturally dancing
Everybody knows babies love music. Around the globe,
parents sing to their infants in a special way,
with a distinctive high pitch that's soothingly
slow for a lullaby and elaborately bright at playtime.
Babies catch on quickly, able to perceive aspects
of melody and recognize different beats at just
a few months of age.
As psychologist Laurel Trainor studied how babies
perceive music, she noticed that parents hardly
ever sing to them without bouncing or rocking or
playing with their feet. She wondered if that movement
was important developmentally.
Her research shows it is: Using multiple senses
helps the brain learn about rhythm how we
move indeed influences what we hear Trainor
reports in Friday's edition of the journal Science.
"It's wiring the sensory system," said Trainor,
of Canada's McMaster University. "That early experience
that parents do naturally is probably really important
for learning down the road."
Consider it an early step toward learning to make
music, or at least to really appreciate it, said
infant development specialist David Lewkowicz, a
psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University.
"It's a very clever kind of study," said Lewkowicz,
whose own research also shows that stimulating multiple
senses is important for brain development. "When
babies are learning about their world, we should
never lose sight of the fact that they are learning
in a ... multisensory context."
Trainor and colleague Jessica Phillips-Silver tested
16 healthy 7-month-olds by having them listen to
music made by a snare drum and sticks that had an
ambiguous rhythm no accented beats. Mothers
bounced half the infants on every second beat, in
a march-like rhythm, and half on every third beat,
in a waltz-like rhythm.
Then the researchers played the music again, this
time with the beats accented in either the march
or waltz pattern.
The babies preferred to listen to the pattern that
matched how they'd been bounced. (Trainor measured
preference by how long the babies looked at speakers
playing the different selections.)
Watching someone else bounce to the music didn't
do the trick. In a series of tests, the babies picked
out a rhythm only if they'd been moved to that beat
while listening to the original, nonaccented tune.
Nor was vision necessary. Blindfolded babies picked
out the rhythm, too, as long as they'd been bounced.
So what if you don't boogie with your baby?
No one needs continual bouncing, and passive listening
certainly isn't bad. "But they're not getting the
full experience that they would naturally get in
most human cultures" without some bouncing along,
says Trainor, whose research was funded by the Canadian
government. "It suggests that you're better off
to do music in an interactive way.
"It probably doesn't matter if you listen to Mozart
or a rock band or jazz," she adds. "All those kinds
of music and concurrent rhythms go to wire up the