Bouncing your baby to the beat of his favorite lullaby may save him from years of embarrassment on the dance floor later on.

A new study shows that movement, such as bouncing a baby on your knee or rocking in a chair, plays a critical role in how infants learn to “feel the beat” or rhythm of music.

Researchers found that babies paid attention to and listened longer to music that had the same beat as the music that they had been bounced to earlier.

They say the findings provide evidence that the experience of movement plays an important role in musical perception. This ability allows people to sense the weak and strong beats in a rhythm and eventually allows them to move and dance in time with the music.

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Movement Helps Infants Feel the Beat

In the study, which appears in the current issue of Science, researchers tested how movement influenced the perception of rhythm in a group of 7-month-old infants in a series of experiments.

In the first, adults holding half of the infants bounced the babies on every second beat in a march-like rhythm and the other half bounced the babies on every third beat in a waltz-like rhythm while listening to music with no apparent rhythm pattern.

The researchers played music with various rhythm patterns for the infants. They show that the infants chose to listen longer to music containing the march or waltz rhythm that they moved to earlier.

In another test, researchers bounced to the beat while the babies watched. But without moving to the music themselves, the infants expressed no interest for any particular rhythm pattern.

Researchers say the results show that the delight infants express in being rocked or bounced to music represents a critical stage in the early development of musical perception.

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By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCE: Phillips-Silver, J. Science, June 3, 2005; vol 308: p 1430.