- The Washington Times - Friday, June 3, 2005

Gently bounce a baby while you sing, and you’ll usually get squeals of glee. But it’s not just fun: Feeling the beat helps wire babies’ brains to hear rhythm.

So says new research that tested moms and babies doing what comes naturally — dancing around together.

Around the globe, parents sing to their infants in a special way, with a distinctive high pitch that’s soothingly slow for a lullaby and elaborately bright at playtime. Babies catch on quickly, able to perceive aspects of melody and recognize different beats at just a few months of age.

As psychologist Laurel Trainor studied how babies perceive music, she noticed that parents hardly ever sing to them without bouncing or rocking or playing with their feet. She wondered if that movement was important developmentally.

Her research shows it is: Using multiple senses helps the brain learn about rhythm — how we move influences what we hear — Miss Trainor reports in today’s edition of the journal Science.

“It’s wiring the sensory system,” said Miss Trainor, of Canada’s McMaster University. “That early experience that parents do naturally is probably really important for learning down the road.”

Consider it an early step toward learning to make music, or at least to appreciate it, said infant-development specialist David Lewkowicz, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University.

“It’s a very clever kind of study,” said Mr. Lewkowicz, whose own research also shows that stimulating multiple senses is important for brain development. “When babies are learning about their world, we should never lose sight of the fact that they are learning in a … multisensory context.”

Miss Trainor and colleague Jessica Phillips-Silver tested 16 healthy 7-month-olds by having them listen to music made by a snare drum and sticks that had an ambiguous rhythm — no accented beats. Mothers bounced half the infants on every second beat, in a marchlike rhythm, and half on every third beat, in a waltzlike rhythm.

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