It seems like so long ago now that I was pregnant with my first baby. I was 23 years old, fresh out of college, and had my first real job working in the Pathology Department at a large medical center about an hour away from my house. I had this long morning commute down I-89 in Vermont, all interstate driving, newly pregnant and exhausted. This was back in 2001, pre-children, when I had extra money for things like a real kick-ass stereo system in my car. I would leave my house at the crack of dawn to be at work over an hour away, and I relied heavily on loud music to keep me awake. My favorite CD (remember those?) to listen to at the time: Machine by Static-X.
Fast-forward eight months or so later, I had a new baby girl, all dimples and brown eyes, and she LOVED to listen to Static-X. My own mother would be astonished because there would be times that baby girl would only calm down and sleep when I put Static-X on for her to listen to. Seems a bit ridiculous, right? I’m sure that many of you are thinking two things: What the Hell was I thinking? and Why did that particular music calm her down? Well, she heard it so much in the womb while I was driving back and forth to work that she remembered it, and it was soothing to her.
Before you all decide that I must be absolutely crazy, let me explain why this makes sense to me and worked for all five of my babies.
Reason 1: Baby Mozart Was A Popular Fad, But Proven To Be A Myth
In the early 1990s there was an explosion of marketing to parents about the positive effects of classical music, specifically Mozart, on the brains of infants. The hypothesis was that when babies listened to mathematically complicated music, there was an immediate identifiable effect on their ability to identify shapes and colors. There was also some “evidence” that babies who listened to classical music were happier, calmer and overall more intelligent than non-exposed infants. And BOOM, the major industry marketing classical music in all forms to parents was born.
I bought into this myself, literally. I filled my baby shower registry with Baby Mozart, Baby Einstein and other related trendy products. I was absolutely sure that I would be able to use classical music as a platform on which to build my baby girl’s IQ and ensure that she would be a happy, well-adjusted child. I spent a lot of money on products that were being marketed towards new parents who were determined to produce the best baby that they could.
Well, guess what? The so-called Mozart Effect stemmed from a study that was done in 1993 where the researchers were investigating the effect of music increasing IQ on college students, not infants. They were trying to determine if there was any correlation between test scores and listening to classical music while studying. They did find a positive correlation, but it typically only lasted for 15 minutes following being exposed classical music, and showed a modest increase of about 8-9 IQ points. In 1996, a meta-analysis of 16 different studies on the effects of classical music to the brain was done at Harvard University. This study determined that there was a very brief and modest effect to the brain by ALL forms of music. Another study that did use children as subjects again showed a very small positive correlation between Mozart and children being able to name shapes. This same study, however, also demonstrated that other forms of music, including the band Blur which was popular at the time, had a stronger positive correlation than classical music.
I’m sure you’re asking how Heavy Metal fits in to this discussion (I am using this term loosely to cover a wide range of metal genres). Mozart, and classical music as a whole, is renowned for the complicated mathematics behind the music. Regarding this, there is research evidence that supports the stimulating effect of mathematically complicated music to the brain. However, classical music is not the sole providing genre of mathematically complicated music.
Fun Fact: I was a classically trained Percussionist when I was younger. All through high school, I was part of Youth Orchestras, nation wide music festivals, and was even accepted to perform with the United States Youth Ensemble. I was pretty good, and preparing for college auditions in my senior year when an injury to my arms put an end to my music career. Having been a percussionist, I spent hours upon hours studying tempo, time signature and rhythm. As a Metal lover, I can attest that there are some bands that produce uncommonly mathematically complicated music. Have you ever really tried to figure out the fluctuating time signatures to Schism by Tool? Have you listened to the overlapping layers of syncopation in Do Not Look Down by Meshuggah? It makes my brain hurt trying to map it out! But I love it. It stimulates my brain, makes me really pay attention and draws me in.
Your take away from these findings: All forms of music have been shown to have positive, albeit brief, effects on cognitive functioning.
Reason 2: Lullabies Are Soothing For A Reason- Tempo and Time Signature
Why are lullabies soothing to infants? Well, think about this. Hum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” or “Ring Around the Rosy” to yourself… feel the similarities? Lullabies have a slow, rocking rhythm that makes you want to sway back and forth. Moms, you know what I am talking about. You’re holding your baby while standing, and you unconsciously begin to rock side to side on your feet, slightly twisting at the hips.. You’re thinking about how it feels right now, aren’t you? This motion is what I fondly call “The Mom Sway” and it’s the repetitive motion that is ubiquitous among mothers all over the globe. Why do we do it? It soothes our babies. Why is it soothing? Because it mimics the motions and sensations of being in our wombs. It’s comforting, warm, and safe. Heck, I even like it as an adult when my husband holds me and sways like that!
Lullabies are not the only kinds of music that can make us sway and rock in this manner. There are softer forms of Heavy Metal that have tempos and time signatures very similar to lullabies and that inspire that slow rocking motion. One of my particular favorites when I think of these songs is Empress Rising by Monolord. Another that may be more recognizable to you is When The Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin.
Go ahead, take a listen to those songs and get your Mom Sway on…
Reason 3: What Makes Mommy Happy Makes Baby Happy
Is there anything that your baby loves more than to see you feel joy? What better medicine is there for any child than to share something that their parent loves? My two youngest baby girls in particular are the biggest Metal lovers out of all my five children. The reason for this is that they have spent hours listening to all genres of Metal with both myself and my husband Steve. Music is a huge component in our home; there is always something playing. And nothing makes those little girls happier than to sit with Mommy or Daddy and listen to music that makes us smile and slowly bob our heads.
Babies take their cues from their parents. If they see Mom smiling and enjoying some music, they will build a positive association between happiness and that particular music. Kind of like when you do a repetitive motion and build muscle memory. Remember those studies that I referenced earlier? There was a factor that was identified in all the studies, but could not be really explained, so it wasn’t shared in the results. This was referred to as “enjoyment arousal effect.” Because it couldn’t be quantified and measured in an empirical manner, it was ruled out as a factor of why music had this effect on people. Basically, this positive arousal effect shows us that when we are feeling joy or pleasure, we function at out best overall, even if only temporarily. There can be conclusions drawn that the so-called Mozart effect was not because the music made the subjects smarter, it was because the music made them feel good. People perform better when they feel good. Maybe this is something that can’t be measured, but it can’t be denied either.
So there you go, Mama. Whatever your musical preference, share it with your children. Hold your babies and move those hips. Dance with your daughters and sway with your sons. Your babies will love you for it.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! I would love to hear what kinds of music you listen to with your babies!