Music and the Baby’s Brain: Early Experiences
Donna Brink Fox
Report by: Shauna Garelick
This article addresses many of the misconceptions and assumptions that have been made about research that has been done on music and the developmental brain. Not only is their discussion regarding the baby’s brain, but results from studies about adult brains are examined as well. Fox clarifies that while many believe that music has a direct relationship with academic achievement, the reality is that there is no sound scientific research that supports this claim. Furthermore, the fact that there is so little research done on music and the baby’s brain is discussed. However, the research that exists based on adult brains seems to result from music education that began before a specific age. Questions that arise in this article exist from parents who wish to know how to approach music education for their child in an attempt to support their cognitive and academic development. There is a discussion that exists about the innate musical abilities that is recognized cross-culturally and identifies the similarities present among the interaction between mother and baby.
This is an eye-opening article for music educators who base their claims and music advocacy statements on the premise that “music makes you smarter.” I think that the author did an excellent job putting these ideas into perspective, helping everyone to see that the research does not necessarily reflect what is being drilled into the heads of everyone involved in music education. The author however, did not seem to cover a cohesive review of the research. I had recently read that those who studied music before age 7 did have a different brain structure in that the fibers that connected the two hemispheres of the brain were stronger and there were more of them. Another piece of information where I have found a discrepancy is in the claim that babies have an innate musical ability. However, I believe that there is no substantial scientific evidence that confirms that humans have an innate musical ability. While the statement might be true, the rejection of other claims earlier in the article because they were not a result of grounded scientific research sets the tone for the article and seems that it loses its integrity.
I have spent a great deal of my music education being told that music makes you smarter. This was an attempt to advocate for music education. I generally rejected the idea that it was necessary to advocate for music in terms of its external rewards that have nothing to do with music making. This article reinforced this. I also realized that scientific research in music education is hard to come by in terms of how exactly music can affect the brain in terms of its structure and development at all ages. All we can do is believe in what we feel it does because it seems to be successful if we look at narratives from those involved in music. The fact that it has the potential to engage individuals of all ages and that performs similar roles across cultures demonstrates that yes it is likely that there is something about music – perhaps not the music specifically, but something inside it that humans have a predisposition to be a part of. If we are at a point where the only thing important has nothing to do with a person’s own emotion, then what is the point?
Fox, D.B. (2000). Music and the Baby’s Brain: Early Experiences. Special Focus: Music and the Brain. P. 23-27: MENC