Why Play Music?

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Why Play Music - Babies and Preschoolers

According to Sandra Trehub, Professor Emeritus, Infant and Child Studies Center at the University of Toronto, perhaps the world's foremost expert on infant auditory development and the development of music abilities and music perception in children, babies are naturally musical. Studies at the University of Toronto show that infants:

  • Are intensely interested in music
This interest enables babies to perceive nuances and changes in pitch and rhythm of songs in foreign languages that even their parents don't notice.
  • Have precocious listening skills
In many ways infants perceive music just as adults do. They can recognize the same song in a different pitch and tell the difference in songs containing missing or dissonant notes. Like adults, babies remember and prefer pleasant rather than unpleasant music.
  • Have an excellent memory for music
After 1-2 weeks of exposure, infants remember a song they have heard and can distinguish it from unfamiliar melodies. They prefer new music to the familiar though, because they are curious and are stimulated by something new.
  • Live in a highly musical environment
Infants are surrounded by music, even in the musical or sing-song way parents speak to infants. Studies show that infants prefer this style of speech and are more attentive when parents communicate in this way. Parents also sing more to young children and have a special repertoire of songs they use to entertainment or comfort them, namely lullabies and play songs. These kinds of songs have similar features across very different world cultures. These melodies are more emotional, higher-pitched, have a slower tempo and are more intimate. Infants prefer maternal singing to maternal speech and find it more calming.
  • Benefit of Maternal Singing
Infants who are sung to are more content, sleep better and have an overall better sense of well-being.
  • Maternal singing is mesmerizing to infants and tends to catch their attention better than spoken language.
  • Mothers are usually a child's first musical mentor and their singing enhances the bond between mother and infant.
It also eases the burdens of care giving by producing a more content baby and a more relaxed mother.

  • Toddlers often get exposure to new songs through their favorite TV shows, such as The Wiggles. They can identify these tunes easily and relate them to these programs. Toddlers enjoy singing on their own, while they play, and even deaf children will sing independently without prompting.
  • Deaf toddlers with cochlear implants also love music, despite the tones being suboptimal. They also sing along (though often off-key) and get a lot of pleasure from music. While they don't often recognize melodies, deaf toddlers do recognize rhythms.
  • While there are skill differences between infants when it comes to musical perception and abilities, some children receive more exposure to music and may simply be more musical due to that fact. However, interest in the kind of music can definitely affect desire. Structured music may not appeal to some children if it's not customized to their interests or tastes. As a result they lose interest.

Conclusion: Music is innate, universal and part of the human experience from a very early age.

Note: References the Infant and Toddlers sections are taken from a presentation by Prof. Sandra E. Trehub, UTM called "Music in the Lives of Infants." The full presentation can be viewed here.
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