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On the use (and abuse) of music for your baby

Thursday, July 24, 2008 - 01:28 PM

Is anybody REALLY surprised to find that babies respond to music? I don’t mean the so-called “Mozart effect,” which has been pretty well debunked at this point – even though lots of unscrupulous producers continue to market Classical Lite recordings to gullible parents. I mean the recent studies that show, through the use of brain mapping technology, how different parts of the brain are activated by exposure to music. After all, any parent has probably noticed that the best ways to calm a squalling or sleepless infant involve rhythm. Bouncing a baby, for example, is an almost-instinctual response for most parents.

When I became a dad, we lived in an apartment that had a little saddle between the kitchen floor and the living room floor – just to ease the transition between the two, since the kitchen was marginally higher. But I soon discovered that I could put my daughter in her little stroller and roll the stroller back and forth over this bump, and voila – she would quiet down, and the rhythm of the movement over this bump would often lull her to sleep. Of course, singing to babies is a natural, instinctive thing to do – and many’s the night I spent trying to get my daughter to sleep and keep myself sane by running through all the Peter Gabriel songs I knew the words to. It never seemed to matter what the songs were – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer in the sticky heat of a July night was as serviceable as anything else.

The surprise is in learning how all these neural connections are being made – aural pathways being cleared – in the baby’s brain when that baby is exposed to music. EEG technology has made it possible to watch that process happening. And that is, quite frankly, freaking me out. What if I chose BAD songs? What irreparable harm have I done to my girls? I mean, I didn’t realize is I was BUILDING THEIR BRAINS!!!

If you’re a parent, tell us how used (or abused) music and rhythm with your baby.


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Comments [5]


Hi there, I just saw your blog and thought you might be interested in a new program that really helps put babies to sleep. I work for a company who has developed a product called sounds for silence, and that is exactly what happens when you practice this technique with your baby. It truly is amazing! Basically, Sounds for Silence is a program that was developed by a pediatrician with over 25 years of experience and is apart of a technique known as SMS. SMS is simply a combination of security (swaddling your baby), movement (engaging your baby in repetitive movements) and sounds (rhythmic, consistent and low frequency noises). In fact, we’ve asked moms and dads to try it out and have found 96.8% of babies were soothed by Sounds for Silence and that over half of babies were settled in less than 60 seconds. It really is quite amazing. To find out more, check out the website

Oct. 29 2008 04:01 PM
Joel Jupp

As a musician myself, it's a secret hope of mine that my daughter will be musical as well, so I try to expose her to music whenever I get the chance. Some of it is actually kind of strange -- songs that I improvise on the spot -- but I figure that it may help her be creative in the future. I also beat box, so that she gets a good sense of rhythm. Of course, all of this is crazy, but I get a lot of enjoyment out of it, and maybe it will pay off in the long run. (By the way, I LOVE the show! Feel free to check out my tunes at

Jul. 29 2008 09:31 PM
Gord Fynes

Hey John et al,

When my son was a newborn, he was (we believe) struck with colic, which made calming him all the more challenging. As a drummer, I used to perform human beatbox impromptus while rocking him with some faux soft-shoe moves. A drive in the car would also be calming; Pink Floyd's "Bike" became one of the first car songs he learned to ask for before he could talk.

As for the traditional kid songs, I used to pace the midnight floors with him, softly singing "There once was a lady who swallowed a fly..." to the point where I started adding nonsensical items in the chain ("...she swallowed the fridge to catch the desk..."). Colic can do strange things to a dad.

I take full responsibility for his warped sense of humor. That's my boy!

Jul. 26 2008 10:07 PM
Suzan Benezra

I am a Turkish jewish living in the U.S. now.I always felt very lucky to be exposed to different genre of music due to rich culture in Turkey.I love to listen to Turkish classical music, Balkan music, Sephardic music which is an old version of spnaish called ladino,chansons, of course classical music.I grew up going to classical concerts every single week with my family and I also had the privilege of enjoying Istanbul music festival with multinational artist and I do the same to my kids.They listen Beethoven, Mozart as well as Goran Bregovic, Abba,Yassou N'dour,Alabina,Al di Meola and so on.Music is very important for me and family in our multicultural background and expose kids to diffrent cultures.

Jul. 24 2008 02:38 PM
patti crisafulli

We started with Baby Mozart and are now at the point of leaving NPR or QXR on all night for our 5 year old. We have had a great time with Broadway - starting from infancy. WE have gone from Guys and Dolls, King and I through Wicked, Little Mermaid and Mary Poppins. What is interesting is that our daughter by 3 1/2 has a good ear for similar themes - she recognizes Stephen Schwartz's style; or that Glinda (Wicked)sounded like Sally (Charlie Brown). It is a lot of fun for all of us - although we quickly realized that the Hair soundtrack was not appropriate beyond Hair and Age of Aquarius.

Jul. 24 2008 02:28 PM

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