The Truth Behind The “Mozart Effect:” Does Classical Music Make Babies Smarter?

Does listening to classical music make babies smarter? Or is the Mozart Effect just a myth? Find out here – plus, learn the benefits of music for babies.

You may have heard of the Mozart Effect, or the theory that playing classical music for your baby increases their intelligence. Unfortunately, the Mozart Effect isn't real – listening to classical music isn't proven to make a baby smarter.

But there is good news. Exposing your baby to music of all kinds does have several benefits (just not the ones you may be expecting).

Today, we'll explain how the idea of the Mozart Effect came about, and why it's just a myth. We'll also go over the real benefits music can bring to babies and young children.

The Mozart Effect Myth: How Did It Start?

In 1993, a psychologist named Frances Rauscher had college students take a spatial reasoning test after listening to 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata. She also tested college students with the same type of test after 10 minutes of listening to someone speak in a monotone voice, and after 10 minutes of silence.

The students scored higher on the test after listening to Mozart, but the positive effects only lasted around 10-15 minutes. And they only applied to one very specific type of spatial reasoning, not intelligence in general.

But these results were blown out of proportion when the media found out about Rauscher's test. The media reported, in general terms, that listening to classical music makes people smarter.

They disregarded the very short length of time that the effects lasted. And they completely ignored the fact that Rauscher only tested performance in one area of spatial reasoning.

Soon, people started making claims that listening to Mozart makes young children more intelligent, even though Rauscher tested college students and not children.

The myth only spiraled from there. People started believing that playing Mozart for babies and young children – and even babies still in the womb would lead them to score higher on intelligence tests and standardized tests later in life. But all of this was completely unproven by science.

The myth of the Mozart Effect led to companies dedicated to selling classical music especially for babies. And for a short time, some state governments even gave out free Mozart CDs to the parents of babies born in the states.

This just led more parents to believe that classical music makes babies smarter, even though no study really showed that.

The Truth About The Mozart Effect: All Music is Stimulating

There is one thing to keep in mind about Rauscher's study, though. It did show that music is more stimulating to the brain than listening to someone speak in an uninteresting way, or sitting in silence. And as later studies showed, that applies to any type of music that someone likes – not just classical music.

Again, these results were seen in adults, not young children. But it's true that music can be very engaging for young children, assuming that they like the music they're hearing. Music may not make baby smarter or help them score higher on tests later in life, but it definitely doesn't hurt.

Benefits Of Music For Babies

Even though playing classical music for baby isn't proven to make baby smarter, engaging babies and young children with music (of any type) does have several benefits.

So, play music that you and baby will enjoy together. (If classical music isn't your thing, that's ok, because it isn't about the type of music they hear. Playing many different types of songs is best.)

And be sure to sing to baby often. After all, baby loves the sound of your voice – that's especially engaging for them!

Even better, find ways to have baby participate in music, whether that's moving to the music or giving them something they can use to play along as they wish.

Here are just a few benefits of music for babies:

Music and movement helps motor development. When young children hear a song they like, it gets them moving. This can help them develop fine and gross motor skills, as movement strengthens the muscles. You can support this music-movement connection by dancing around with your baby or moving their arms and legs to the beat. Music and movement help your little one's body and mind work together!

Music helps speech and language development, especially when paired with movement. One University of Washington study has shown that 9-month babies in a music and movement setting were better able to process new speech and musical sounds than babies who played without music.

Also, we know that music with lyrics exposes babies to new linguistic sounds, words, ideas, and patterns (like rhythms and rhymes). Often, babies will even try to mimic the sounds they hear in music as soon as they can.

So, engage baby with nursery rhymes that include motions – like "Itsy Bitsy Spider." And help them make related motions when you're singing or playing any song. For example, move their hands around to show ideas like "high," "low," "big," and "little" when they are mentioned in music. You can also use storybooks of songs, so baby can see pictures of what the song is talking about. Or, use related toys or pictures – bring out the stuffed animals you're singing about during Old MacDonald, for instance.

Music helps stimulate baby's brain. Yes, we did establish that music isn't proven to make baby smarter. But brain stimulation is different from raising intelligence. Music can help baby form new brain pathways, because it stimulates your little one's brain in the moment. This is especially true with speech- and language-related development, as we covered above.

Music is one way to bond with your little one. Singing to, and dancing with, your little one helps bring you closer. Think of how your lullaby or quiet singing helps soothe your little one, or how baby already loves to hear you sing to them throughout the day. Yes, talking and playing bring these bonding benefits, too, but singing brings in more variety – especially when it's paired with movement.

Engaging Your Little One With Music

Remember that actively engaging in music is best for young children. Singing, playing music, and moving to music is more enriching than just listening.

As they grow, encourage baby to play along by giving them age-appropriate toy instruments. For instance, have baby beat a toy drum, shake toy maracas, or plink on a toy piano as they wish.

Once they move into toddlerhood, encourage them to start singing the words in songs by repeating songs regularly. As they get older, this will help them use different words thanks to the continued exposure. Some time after their second birthday, many toddlers will start singing lyrics. You can also ask older toddlers (age 2-3) to beat a toy drum, shake an instrument, clap, or stomp, to beat out the rhythms of the songs.

And no matter how old your little one is, dance with them and encourage them to move with the music. Be sure to get excited if your little one babbles and sounds like they're trying to sing along!

Even though listening to classical music isn't proven to make your little one more intelligent, engaging them with all kinds of music brings benefits not to be missed. The earlier you start exposing them to many kinds of music, the better.

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