According to the Italian pianist and orchestra director Ezio Bosso, music is “real magic”, “it’s no coincidence – he says – that directors have a baton, like wizards with a magic wand”, and children love everything that has to do with magic. When they listen to a refrain or a nursery rhyme that appeals to them, they open their mouth slightly and immediately turn towards the source of the sound they hear, their eyes immediately light up with surprise, one of the basic emotions that promptly triggers listening and attention.
Music during pregnancy
The combination of notes, rhythm, voices and all the various musical instruments creates a world in which children become fully immersed, without any kind of resistance.
For them it’s incredibly simple, they have a natural gift for music and rhythm. When they were still in the womb they listened to the thumping rhythm of their mum’s heartbeat. Dad’s voice, with its low notes, gets through the placenta and can be heard loud and clear, and every musical instrument is stimulating from the very first months of pregnancy, providing a rich source of pleasurable feelings for both the mother and the child in the womb.
Nature never does anything by chance, and if it has laid the foundations of such an innate familiarity with music, then music clearly has a direct physiological advantage for the development of the human body. Recent neuroscience research has in fact shown that from the first months and years of life music fosters multiple skills, including attention, listening, concentration, memory and even language skills (of which music is in some way a precursor).
Why does music nurture children’s wellbeing?
The effects of music are not exclusively associated with brain development but are also strongly linked with WELLBEING. As adults, we are all very familiar with the good sensations we feel from listening to a piece of music we love. Some people will say that a melody makes them feel calm, others that it drives them into action, and others still that music goes straight “to the heart”. Music is therefore something that touches us deep inside and simply makes us feel good.
Neuroscience has once again shown that there is in fact a physiological explanation for this. Kerstin Uvnäs Moberg, a leading Swedish physiology researcher, has spent years studying oxytocin, a hormone and neurotransmitter naturally occurring in the human body which provides significant benefits. She suggests that certain activities, including music, activate the production of oxytocin, which in turn stimulates the “calm and connection system”, a complex neural and hormonal network that allows us to experience a feeling of WELLBEING. This system is present from an early age, so offering musical stimuli from the second trimester of pregnancy onwards not “only” affects brain development, but also provides a sense of wellbeing, an important aspect of the individual’s harmonious growth.
When should we play music to the baby? What music genre should we choose?
The foetus develops the sense of hearing between the 8th and 24th week of pregnancy, initially perceiving sounds as slight vibrations on the skin, and then perceiving them more distinctly as the auditory system develops.
So, from the fourth month of pregnancy you can play classical music to your baby in the womb (Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Brahms, Vivaldi or Mozart) because its harmonious notes can have a relaxing effect. You can also try playing a little game together!
When you are at home or in the car, listen to a piece of music or a song you are particularly fond of which has a pleasing rhythm and appealing tunes, your little one in the bump will “learn” to recognise it, and when they are born they’ll be able to find it among “their memories” and experience a feeling of familiarity and protection from it.
Some mums have even found that a song they often listened to during pregnancy lulled their baby to sleep or calmed them down when they were restless!
Classical music fosters a sense of relaxation, but if mum enjoys other music genres (pop, rock, indie, jazz, folk, dance, ska, reggae, and so on) that’s okay too, because the state of wellbeing experienced by the mother is perceived by the baby, promoting a “harmonious” pregnancy.
One “music genre”, however, beats all the others: mum’s singing.
You don’t need to be a great singer, you just need to improvise, sing a song, make up (why not?) a lullaby, and that’s it!
The mum’s voice can not only be heard from inside the womb, but is also transmitted from the mother’s body to the skin of the baby immersed in amniotic fluid, generating a very pleasant massage for them.
Music is also a powerful means of communication, which is precisely why parents often improvise nursery rhymes and songs that they sing during particular moments in their babies’ daily routine (nappy changing, going to sleep and playing). The shared pleasure that this creates is crucially important, the little ones are enthralled by what they hear (or sing along with!) and, at the same time, mum and dad will mirror the emotions conveyed to them by their little faces.
How can I have a “dialogue” with my child through music?
Music is truly a universal language, and encouraging children to listen to it from birth reinforces a natural human predisposition. Therefore, nothing could be easier for mums and dads: you can sing with your children, emphasising the words of a nursery rhyme with big smiles and changing your facial expressions according to the words of the song, you can play them notes, perhaps from a musical instrument you happen to have at home (live music is appealing from a very early age!), or you can immerse yourselves in nature and enjoy the sounds of flowing water and birdsong.
Through music, you can help your children to “have a dialogue” with you. Your little ones need to feel that mum or dad are close by and ready to connect with them, and music is an alphabet made up of musical notes for which they have an innate predisposition. So, as parents you can use your creativity and have fun creating opportunities to share music that can lead to shared wellbeing and strengthen the relationship with your child.