23 June 2017

Music for Babies

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We often hear of expectant mothers mentioning the effect of music on their unborn child.

Whether this is because the music has a calming effect on the mother which is passed on to the child, or whether the child picks up the sound of the music itself, is debatable. My daughter-in-law experienced a distinct calming effect on her child, during pregnancy, whenever the music of Vivaldi was put on. One thing is certain: music can have a calming effect on children from a very early age, and it is quite possible that this could occur during the latter months of pregnancy when the foetus is both physically and sensorally developed.

There are music tapes available which have the sounds of the womb super-imposed to induce relaxation. The manufacturers claim that this surrounds the baby with the reassuring sounds of the mother's body and heartbeat - although one wonders whether these sounds are altogether appropriate to a baby after the birth. It may also be, of course, that these sounds are not quite so enjoyable for parents!We tend to forget that music itself is a language.

It is quite possible that we begin to understand the language of music before the development of words and meaning. We know that for centuries mothers all over the world have sung lullabies to their babies to get them off to sleep. It is not the words that get them to sleep but the language of the music: the rhythm and the rhyme, the repetition of phrases and sections, the rise and fall of melody and, of course, the use of silence.

There are now CDs available that provide lyrics and a simple accompaniment to favourite lullabies. Of course, the music need not be limited to songs. The sound of simple music played on a musicbox, for instance, is equally sleep-inducing.

There is something very effective about the mechanical sound of a musicbox gradually unwinding until it comes to a halt. The style of the music does need to be carefully considered. It is extremely unlikely that babies or young children would enjoy listening to heavy metal or dramatic opera for instance.

Far preferable would be music that was sweet, soft and simple. Music with pattern and contrast: both busy and sparse. Short pieces that catch the interest and 'tell a story'. The music of Mozart has been proved to have a beneficial effect on children's concentration when played as a background in the classroom.

This 'Mozart Effect' could well be because the music of Mozart, like Vivaldi, is stimulating without being overpowering. Both composers wrote their music with restraint, as a richly woven tapestry of sounds with the instruments of the orchestra delicately mingling together. Both composers strove for simplicity and sheer enjoyment in their music.

A mobile hung above a babies cot will stimulate the mind with shapes, space, colour and movement. Music can do the same. A simple CD Player (available these days for under 30) can become part of the nursery equipment, bringing a whole new world of sensory stimulation if the right music is chosen.

The composer Zoltan Kodaly believed that music education began nine months before birth.

There are lots of lullaby CDs available. By searching the internet you will find a whole world of children's music to choose from, but many of these are jolly nursery songs which sound somewhat hyper-active. These will, of course, find their place later on in the child's development - with nursery songs and communal activity which is lots of fun, but hardly relaxing to listen to.

Amongst the best are lullabies sung by Judy Collins and also instrumental music that has been specially arranged for tender ears. Babies like music that is soothing.

There are also CDs in the 'Relaxation' category that can be suitable, but be wary of hypnotic music that sounds too synthetic. The sounds that babies like are sweet and tinkling. A tiny mobile of metal chimes, birdsong, glockenspiel, celeste, mandolin, hammered dulcimer, Celtic harp - these are sounds that will appeal to little minds. Fisher Price make a particularly sweet-sounding clockwork mobile which sounds like a musicbox although, of course, it regularly needs rewinding.

What babies need to listen to is music which will capture their interest and take their minds on a journey. Music that has been delicately put together.

Feel free to experiment by choosing certain tracks of recordings you like and note the effect they have. You may even want to record a special compilation tape or CD yourself for your baby.

These days we have the technology to do so much and, if used creatively, we can eavesdrop on baby's reaction to music through the baby monitor. By selecting good music for your baby's CD player, monitoring your baby from the sitting room can become a pleasure because you find yourself listening to the music too.

When you think about it, music makes the listener aware of all sorts of things: shape of melody, phrasing, use of repetition, rhythmic pattern and meter. The bitter-sweet relationship of major and minor (happy and sad) is a contrast that is experienced emotionally.

The language of music tells a story and takes the listener on a journey with statements, pauses, moments that are sometimes unresolved, sections that are repeated or contrasted, moments of joy or sadness, loud and soft, fast or slow, leading to an ending where everything resolves itself. It is a living experience in real time and is put together like a puzzle, in sections.

Perhaps that is why the experts believe that simply listening to music can help to make neural connections in the brain. Playing music to babies could also develop a lasting love of music itself. Time will tell.

Perhaps one of the greatest effects of music is the wonderful way it can get babies off to sleep. It gives the mind something to focus on at the end of a tiring day - a lovely distraction that will eventually coax even the most active little mind into sweet slumbers. Give it a try.


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