A new study from the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington (UW) has shown that a series of play sessions with music improved 9-month-old babies’ brain processing of both music and new speech sounds, which adds credence to previous recommendations from baby experts to expose babies to music early. The new findings take those recommendations a step further by highlighting the importance of rocking babies in sync with music to boost their brain function in relation to music and speech.

“Our study is the first in young babies to suggest that experiencing a rhythmic pattern in music can also improve the ability to detect and make predictions about rhythmic patterns in speech,” said lead author Christina Zhao, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at I-LABS. “This means that early, engaging musical experiences can have a more global effect on cognitive skills.”

In an article published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Zhao and co-author Patricia Kuhl, PhD, explained that infants experience a complex world in which sounds, lights, and sensations vary constantly, and a baby’s job is to recognize the patterns of activity and predict what’s going to happen next. “Pattern perception is an important cognitive skill, and improving that ability early may have long-lasting effects on learning,” said Kuhl.

“Schools across our nation are decreasing music experiences for our children, saying they are too expensive,” Kuhl said. “This research reminds us that the effects of engaging in music go beyond music itself.

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