Rocking and tapping in time with music may help with your baby’s brain development, according to a new study from the University of Washington. Researchers at the UW’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) believe that play sessions with music can help babies learn to process rhythms in both music and in speech.
The researchers studied how learning musical rhythms would affect young children’s ability to recognize differences in rhythms in speech.
"Infants experience a complex world in which sounds, lights and sensations vary constantly," said study co-author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of I-LABS.
"The baby's job is to recognize the patterns of activity and predict what's going to happen next. Pattern perception is an important cognitive skill, and improving that ability early may have long-lasting effects on learning."
The I-LABS study included 39 babies, all approximately nine months old. All the children and their parents participated in a month-long series of 12 play sessions that were each 15 minutes long.
Twenty babies were assigned to the music group. In each play session, researchers guided the parents to help their baby tap out the beats in time with recordings of children’s songs.
The researchers chose songs with beats grouped in three’s like a waltz, because they believed that rhythm would be more difficult for the babies to learn.
The remaining 19 babies and their parents participated in play sessions that required coordinated movements, but did not include music. Play objects included toy cars and building blocks.
"In both the music and control groups, we gave babies experiences that were social, required their active involvement and included body movements -- these are all characteristics that we know help people learn," said lead author Christina Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher at I-LABS. "The key difference between the play groups was whether the babies were moving to learn a musical rhythm."
Within a week after the study ended, all the babies came back to the lab to have their brain responses measured using magnetoencephalography.