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The ‘Mozart effect’ Will classical music really make your baby smarter?

Just about every parent who had already come of age in the 1900s has probably heard about the so-called “Mozart Effect” or “Baby Mozart,” which is one of the commercial interpretations of this idea. In essence, the Mozart Effect refers to positive cognitive results of listening to music written by the legendary Austrian composer. This idea grew out of a 1993 research study conducted by Professor Frances Rauscher of the University of Wisconsin; the study involved a piano sonata composed by Mozart and a group of college students who listened to it during a state of relaxation.

After the students listened to the sonata, they were asked to complete a cognitive test on logic, reasoning, and spatial awareness. The test subjects were not aware that a test would be forthcoming, thus they did not prepare for it, but they performed far better than expected after listening to Mozart. A control group of students who did not listen to any music also took the test, and they were far from acing it.

News media outlets completely ate up the results of Professor Rauscher’s study, which is how it came to be known as the Mozart Effect. Since we all like to think that simple solutions such as listening to Mozart could be the key to unleashing our intellectual potential, we assumed that playing the works of Wolfgang Amadeus to our babies would work like magic. Rauscher never suggested as much; in fact, his study clearly states that the cognitive advantage only lasted about 15 minutes.

Baby Einstein is Essentially Baby Mozart

It did not take long for clever entrepreneurs to profit from the Mozart Effect. In 1996, Julie Aigner-Clark launched the Baby Einstein line of VHS tapes designed to expose babies to Mozart as well as other great composers such as Ludwig Van Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, and others whose body of work include lullabies and whimsical sonatas that may appeal to the rapidly developing minds of babies. Music was just one part of the Baby Einstein experience; each VHS tape also included:

* Poetry
* Colorful animations
* Spoken word
* Phrases in various languages
* Toy scenes

Baby Einstein proved to be irresistible to babies. The fact that some parents called it Baby Mozart was likely a conflation that recalled the Mozart Effect from a few years before Baby Einstein became popular. By the time Baby Einstein expanded into a small media empire in 2001, the Walt Disney Company came knocking on Aigner-Clark’s door and Baby Mozart became a brand.

The Mozart Effect Controversy

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As incredible as it may sound, Baby Einstein became a minor politically-charged scandal in 2006. A certain lore began to emerge around the Mozart Effect and Disney’s marketing of the brand, and this resulted in a complaint filed with the United States Federal Trade Commission. Although the complaint mostly revolved around false advertising and a particular interpretation of recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics with regard to how many videos babies should be watching, the Rauscher study was often brought up and questioned.

It only took a year for the FTC to review the complaint and make recommendations about how Disney was supposed to market Baby Einstein claims; basically, Disney was told to avoid outlandish statements such as “your baby will become a little Einstein with these videos.”

What We Really Know About Music and Learning

At Prodigies Music, we love children. We love music. We love the idea of children growing up in a musical learning environment. We understand how the Mozart Effect worked in the Rauscher study, and we also understand why parents would love to see their children getting the most out of listening to Mozart and other artists.

Let’s focus on the Baby Mozart brand and the thought of boosting the brainpower of babies through classical music. When we consider the parameters of the Rauscher study, we find that the test subjects are college students who would have likely scored differently on the spatial reasoning tests they took had they been told about them beforehand. Let’s assume that the students do not dislike Mozart. With these two factors in mind, it is not surprising to learn that they scored well on their tests after a listening session.

What if the students had listened to other music instead of Mozart? For example, they could have listened to:

* Mr. P.C. by John Coltrane.
* Entre dos Aguas by Paco de Lucia.
* An instrumental blues jam by Bonnie Raitt.
* Skylab by Electronic System.

What do the pieces above have in common? They are masterful instrumental compositions that challenge the mind and the ear for an extended period. They are not throwaway pop songs; they all have the power to engage your intellect, and they do not feature lyrics that may confuse you.

Enhanced Learning Through Developing the Senses

The whole Baby Mozart idea is based on the premise of introducing babies to complex music from an early age. Instead of “Pop Goes the Weasel,” why not let your baby listen to the soothing sounds of waltzes by Strauss? Why not Miles Davis “Kind of Blue?” How about an Enya album?

With babies, senses must be developed before their intellects, and this is when the Mozart Effect comes into play. It is better to let your baby listen to gentle Mozart sonatas as she goes to sleep; this will help her develop her senses and spark her imagination better than visuals. Now, let’s imagine that this baby girl eventually comes to like Mozart as she grows up. Let’s say her parents insist on playing music by other great composers in the house. If this girl later shows interest in learning music, the Mozart Effect has worked better than expected.

Perhaps you have heard about surgeons playing Beethoven in the operating room. Some auto mechanics play Brahms and Kraftwerk in their shops. Infantry and cavalry units are known to play Wagner and heavy metal instrumentals as they prepare for combat. These are all examples of the Mozart Effect; these are professionals who want to improve their performance through music.

When we talk about musical training in and of itself, there is no question that cognitive function is enhanced because learning music is an all-encompassing activity similar to foreign language acquisition. When children learn music from an early age, they soak up more than just knowledge; they engage the senses and begin to understand culture.

Finally, we should also mention the idea of exposing babies to Mozart in utero. This is when many parents become understandably skeptical about the Mozart Effect, but there is in fact an expanding body of research on this subject, and it does makes sense; after all, listening is the most active and effective human sense in the womb, and it can be developed prior to childbirth.

Parents who talk to their babies in the womb are accomplishing two things: They are stimulating the senses and planting an early intellectual construct that will become a pleasant memory in the future. You know how babies sleep very comfortably on their mother’s bossom? The reason is because they can hear and feel her heartbeat just as they did for several months in the womb. Those early smiles that come about when babies hear the voices of their parents? Those are voices they already recognize and can now see and touch.

High Information Music theory as related to the Mozart Effect is providing babies in utero something nice to listen to. This is very early learning; it is almost like giving babies a musical puzzle that they will need to solve after they are born. If you plan on playing Mozart or other sophisticated music for your children, you may as well start before they are born. Your baby will associate music with sounds he or she heard in the womb, and this could very well mean the beginning of a musical learning experience.

In the end, the Mozart Effect makes perfect sense when you complement it with early music education. A single sonata will not make your baby smarter through some kind of magic, but it will certainly help towards building a solid musical foundation.

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