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Music Enriches The Language Learning Environment

Learning to discriminate musical rhythm helped 9-month olds process language information

Music is a natural part of our interactions with children. Many parents instinctively use singing to calm their infants, to entertain them, or to enliven play situations. Even those who do not sing typically speak to their infants in “motherese” or “fatherese” – a way of speaking that exaggerates intonation and rhythm, thereby mimicking many aspects of music. Why is this so? Are there specific benefits to including music in the everyday lives of developing children? Many parents imagine that playing classical music to their child will foster optimal brain development. This conception probably stems from the infamous Mozart effect study that showed improved performance in a cognitive task after listening to Mozart.

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This is interesting in itself, but many may wonder, is there any benefit from the augmentations that result from music training?
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The infants in the control group attended the same amount of free play situations in the lab but without any music. Before and after the intervention, the infants took part in a MEG measurement where their brain responses to changes musical and language stimuli were recorded. The infants were presented with repeating sets of musical tones in triple meter or three syllables interspersed with infrequent sounds that deviated from the standard sound series in terms of rhythm. The brain responses to these deviations in rhythm would indicate how well the infants had learned to discriminate changes in musical and language stimuli.

According to the results, the brain responses to deviations in music as well as language stimuli were larger in the infants in the musical intervention group compared to those in the control group. This means that being exposed to and synchronizing with music in triple meter made these infants more adept at detecting changes in such musical rhythm. Interestingly, learning to discriminate musical rhythm also facilitated the processing of this information in language! The results imply that from very early on, musical activities can shape the infant brain and enhance capabilities of processing acoustic features. Not only that, this type of musical activity can also transfer to the domain of language, perhaps supporting the acquisition of important language skills. Importantly, this type of facilitation does not seem to require special training but is something any caretaker can provide: enrich the learning environment with music, and listening and moving together to music in the midst of play.


Written By Ketki Karanam

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1. Zhao, T. C., & Kuhl, P. K. (2016). Musical intervention enhances infants’ neural processing of
temporal structure in music and speech. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
201603984. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1603984113

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2. Putkinen, V., Tervaniemi, M., Saarikivi, K., & Huotilainen, M. (2015). Promises of formal and
informal musical activities in advancing neurocognitive development throughout childhood.
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences,1337(1), 153-162. DOI:10.1111/nyas.12656