Sure, Bach, Beethoven, and Handel were gifted musicians. But will listening to their symphonies and sonatas make your baby smarter? In 1998, former Georgia Governor Zell Miller thought so. He gave a free compact disc or cassette tape of classical music to the parents of all babies born in his state's 100 public hospitals.
Miller, an avowed country-music lover, is convinced that music can stimulate brain development in young children. "Listening to music at a very early age affects the spatial, temporal reasoning that underlies math, engineering, and even chess," he says. "And having an infant listen to soothing music helps trillions of brain connections to develop."
The Mozart myth
Hmmm. That's quite a claim. But are there studies to prove this? Not according to Jon Bruer, president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation, and a specialist in cognitive science. "Music and the arts are very important components of education. However, recent discussions in our popular media, such as Time and Newsweek, emphasize the importance of listening to music and music training to improve spatial-reasoning skills. But the research behind all this is very thin. And the results are isolated."
Bruer refers to one study in particular, called the "Mozart Effect." In 1993, researchers Frances Rauscher and Gordon Shaw at the University of California-Irvine measured 84 college students' spatial-temporal abilities, or their ability to form mental images from physical objects or see patterns in space or time. They found that after listening to a Mozart piano sonata for 10 minutes, the students' spatial-temporal reasoning skills improved. However, within one hour, these abilities began to fade. Bruer points out that neuroscientists don't know enough about how the brain works to say why this happened. Even researcher Rauscher says that the "Mozart-makes-you-smarter thing is quite a bit of a leap."
Even if there is no hard and fast research to prove that Bach will increase your kids' brain power, there is some good news, says Bruer. Researchers are beginning to work together to question the assumptions we have about the brain. In the future, their findings might give parents and educators better clues about how our little ones learn. For now, play that music. It certainly can't hurt.