Infants who play using rhythm and music may be well on their way to learning how to speak!  A brand new research study has indicated that playing to music can improve the way that your infant’s brain processes music and new speech sounds.  A research team from the University of Washington studied 9 month old babies who engaged in play sessions with music.  They found that exposing the infants to the rhythm in music allowed the babies to better detect and make predictions about the rhythmic patterns in speech.  This is really important to helping babies learn how to speak!

One of the important things that an infant’s brain does is called pattern perception.  The brain searches for patterns to help it to make sense of all of the incoming sensory information.  This is a really important cognitive skill and when a baby becomes good at this there may be long term positive effects on their ability to learn as well.

In this recent research, the team had babies come along to play sessions with their parents.  There were twelve 15 minute sessions.  Some of the babies listened to music while they did an activity that involved learning to tap to the rhythm of the music.  Another group of babies played with toy cars without music for the same amount of time. The research team then looked at brain activity in the auditory cortex (which processes sound), and the prefrontal cortex (which controls attention and detects patterns) of the brain. The babies who had learned to tap to the rhythm of the music showed improved brain ability to detect sound patterns.

The improved ability to detect patterns, predict patterns, and respond quickly to patterns is thought to be a cognitive skill that could assist children to learn across a broad range of categories.  The researchers believe that this cognitive skill may suggest the importance of using music and music lessons in our schools and homes.  But remember, you need to go one step further than simply playing music during play.  To gain these benefits you need to play a game that teaches the infant rhythm!

Great example here form Sarah Barry of how it’s done





T. Christina Zhao, Patricia K. Kuhl.  Musical intervention enhances infants’ neural processing of temporal structure in music and speech.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , 2016; 201603984 DOI:10.1073/pnas.1603984113