MUSIC AND THE BABY'S BRAIN EARLY EXPERIENCES
Do young children benefit from early childhood music instruction? Here is a research-based answer.
In recent years, popular understanding of the importance of the early childhood years has increased dramatically. Studies such as the Perry Preschool Project, which followed children in different preschool programs from age three through adulthood, have shown us that these early educational experiences significantly impact the long-term direction of children's development.(1) Documentation of the role of early intervention through compensatory programs such as Head Start has prompted the federal government and other funding sources to consider how best to direct resources to the care and development of our nation's youngest population.
Along with this increased awareness of the fluidity and flexibility of these early childhood years has come recent information on brain development, providing a seemingly new rationale for the support of early experiences. A 1996 conference on "Brain Development in Young Children," sponsored by the Families and Work Institute, brought together one hundred and fifty leading brain scientists, experts in child development and early education, business leaders, and policy makers. This cautionary statement appeared in the conference's final report: "New insights into early brain development suggest that as we care for children in the first years of life and as we institute policies or practices that affect their day-to-day experience, the stakes are very high. The research tells us that the `quiet' crisis of America's youngest children may have even more serious, lasting consequences for children and families, and for the nation as a whole, than we previously realized."(2)
In response to these types of seemingly authoritative statements, politicians have created legislation and public figures have produced commercial music materials that provide families and educational centers with recorded music for babies, and the Florida legislature recently approved a requirement for playing recorded music in early childhood centers.
Just what is happening here? What evidence suggests that music is actually involved in any kind of brain development? Is there published research that tells us whether the strategies recommended by these public projects have real potential for changing the musical lives of America's children?
First, and most important, the actual research evidence on music and the baby brain is very limited. Most of the statements that are made in support of these initiatives are generalizations from research with college students and conjecture based on studies of adults. For example, consider this line of research inquiry that moves from animal research to adult investigation, and then proposes a probable link to early behavior: Animal studies have shown that learning can increase the area of the auditory cortex that responds to behaviorally important sounds. Researchers decided to extend this line of inquiry to humans by using functional magnetic source imaging, a brain scanning technique that can pinpoint responsive areas of the brain. Researchers compared the overall area of the brain that responded to piano tones with the area that responded to noninstrumental pure tones of similar frequency and loudness. Researchers found that the area of the brain...