Published September 26, 2007
Turn up Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” or Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” for your baby because classical music makes babies smarter. Right?
It’s a belief called the “Mozart Effect,” which claims that when pregnant if women play classical musical for their unborn child, it will make them smarter. However, there is no medical evidence proving that classical music helps pre-natal babies.
Although studies throughout the past 15 years have proven that listening to classical music has improved the intelligence during test-taking and other logic and spatial skill tests, there’s minimal evidence that music can improve intelligence in infants.
However, if parents introduce their children to classical or other complex music like jazz at an early age, it does help them with early development of one of their senses, according to Bonnie Ward Simon, music educator, author and president of Magic Music Maestro, a Washington-based multimedia company, which produces classical music story CDs for children.
Simon, whose husband Stephen is a conductor and produces the Magic Maestro CDs, was surprised when her son was little and put a piece of honeysuckle to his nose. She quickly realized that children need to activate their senses early on, whether it’s scent, visuals or oral communication.
“Think about developing the senses,” she said. “You want to have them listen to interesting music to develop their oral sense. Parents have to make sure that visuals don’t overtake them. The visual sense does take over very quickly. There’s too much look and not listen today. If you have a child listening early on, they develop that sense and a sense of imagination. Children are getting to school at ages 5 and 6, who are unable to formulate pictures in mind, because pictures have been preprogrammed for them for so long. Give them a story with visuals.”
Dr. Victor Strasburger, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico said no one knows whether classical music does much for the intellect of babies. “What we are learning is that exposure to TV and baby videos is potentially harmful but not music,” he said. “We don’t know about music.”
A Little Help from Mozart?
The term “Mozart Effect,” first described by French researcher, Dr. Alfred A. Tomatisin his 1991 book “Pourquoi Mozart?” explored the music of Mozart and 30 years of research on its ability to help learning disabled children. There have been some studies on this effect, but very little proof. One of the first occurred in 1993 and studied 36 college kids who listened to 10 minutes of a Mozart or silence before performing several spatial reasoning tasks. In one test, the students who had listened to Mozart seemed to have improved performance.
“There are studies now that do show this,” said Simon. “Original studies that made news played four different kinds of music before people went in to take tests. Some had silence and 20 minutes of other music while others had classical music. Those who heard Mozart did better on the test. It’s kind of like warming up the brain. Brain is a muscle that needs to be exercised. Classical and more complex music are better for the brain.”
A study this year, published by the German Research Ministry, analyzed music and intelligence, and concluded that “passively listening to Mozart — or indeed any other music you enjoy — does not make you smarter. But more studies should be done to find out whether music lessons could raise your child's IQ in the long term.”
In researching whether classical music can make babies smarter, you have to look at what kind of parents are exposing their children to classical music. More than likely, according to Strasburger, they are brighter parents who are appreciative of classical music and will produce smarter babies. “Pre-birth, if a mother listens to classical music, they are more likely to be relaxed,” he said. “I would think that produces a happy and healthy baby. If you have a happy mother, you have a happy baby, but it’s anybody’s guess.”