Category Archives: Music and development

Music & Neurosciences V – Blog 8 (Music and Infants)

Hello Dear Reader

palaisThe morning of Day 4 of the Music and Neurosciences V conference featured yet another beautiful blue sky. It has rained quite a bit in Switzerland lately so it has been nice to experience a run of pleasant weather. One of the best things about Dijon is the recent pedestrianization of the streets, which means I have had lovely walks every day past the Palais Des Ducs to the talk venue. This pleasant amble will be missed.

Although tired – this was the last day of the conference – I was determined not to miss the final two symposia of the conference. They featured comment along the lines of my new field of interest – music, health and wellbeing.

The first symposium was organised by Marie Cristina Caccuman and featured presentations by Joanne Loewy and Sandra Trehub, both seasoned professionals and highly respected researchers in developmental work.

Joanne has spent 20 years building an amazing therapeutic centre called the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Med Centre in New York. Sandra was recently awarded a lifetime achievement distinction in our field for her contribution to our understanding of musical development in infants.

allstaffJoanne has created an atmosphere of aesthetically pleasing wellness within her hospital setting where, in particular, her research involves assisting premature parents and their infants to cope with the unexpected and often traumatic transition in their lives. Joanne’s centre has other research studies including cancer patients, pain experiences and surgical interventions.

The work she presented at the conference focused on her breakthrough work with premature babies.

She showed a touching video of a mother with her premature baby, a mother who had been taught by the researchers in Joanne’s group about the use of specially created songs and sounds for soothing and modulating the arousal level of her new son.

Joanne sings to babyJoanne’s approach favours live music, which allows for a feeling of reciprocity and permits active entrainment to vital signs.  One thing that I learned from Joanne was her approach termed ‘song of kin’ whereby a song of parental choice is adapted to a lullaby format. This is then used by therapists and parents in the care of the baby. This technique not only benefits young infant but also reduces fear and anxiety perception in new parents.

Sandra gave a talk on a research-based approach to understanding the relative efficacy of singing and speech for arousal regulation in young children. Not premature infants this time, but relatively older children, between 3-5 years.

6543676751_cd9633b51c_zThe first study she presented focused on how long children will attend to different forms of sound.

The result was striking – children listened on average for between 4 to 4.5 minutes to adult directed speech and infant directed speech respectively; this increased to 9 minutes for infant directed singing.

Clearly young children are more engaged, distracted or interested (not sure which) by musical sound, a finding that has intriguing possibilities for learning.

The second study sounded a little cruel but was well controlled and focused on a crucial question – singing attracts a child’s attention but does it actually soothe them once they are already distressed, any more than speech?

Infants first engaged in play with their mother, followed by a short period where the parent stopped playing and remained passive in front of them: just sitting staring, basically. Quite quickly the infants became a little distressed by this situation.

2171285963_a476f0f782_bOnce they showed the first signs of distress the mother began the ‘reunion phase’ based on either soothing speech or singing. The researchers took measures of the child’s reaction – the clearest was the skin conductance response, which measures anxiety. After 30 secs of singing children showed recovery from their distress however, with soothing speech, anxiety continued to rise for another minute after reunion had commenced.

Sandra had many insights into why singing was a much more effective communication for reducing anxiety in a stressed infant, including the distraction and engagement triggered by the increased rhythmic aspects of the sound. She also pointed out that it is easier for a mother to sing a song that continue speech at the same consistency and rate.

Also, singing may be more comforting for the mother as an action, and this may be perceivable by the infant.

All in all – a fascinating start to the morning. There was no break before the next session but I was happy to hear from the next symposium as it covered one of my favourite topics – music and memory…


Christmas music and music psychology queries

Hello Dear Reader

Once again I am in the position of making apologies for my absence of late. Most of my time the last few weeks has been devoted to the completion of my baby – my book. I am pleased to say that other than a few tweaks we are now finished with the manuscript and it will soon be heading to the printers.

51yajgwLnDL._In total it has been 18 months from the day I started writing to the day I sent off the final proofs. A long time, but a wonderful experience. I feel like I have consolidated so much of what I have learned over the last ten years of music psychology study. It has been an enlightening journey and one which I will always cherish, whatever happens with the book from this point.

And my baby has a due date – March 6th!

On top of this I see that I am already on discount in Amazon - gosh, my colleagues and I had a good laugh when we saw that. But I am a Yorkshire girl so have no qualms about being good value for money :-)

I am running behind with my work commitments as a result of a rather obsessive final few weeks of reading the manuscript, so I am afraid that I don’t have a normal blog about a paper for you today. Instead I thought I would share a couple of audio files with you.

It just so happens that I have completed two interviews recently, one which focused on questions of Christmas music and one which was a broader interview about lots of issues in music psychology, including development, emotion and of course, the ubiquitous earworm questions! I thought you might like access to them, so have placed them in this blog.

Christmas musicThe first interview was conducted by the lovely Madeleine Richards, who works for Brigham Young University Radio. are a nationally broadcast radio station featured on Siriux XM 143 and iTunes Radio. She was interested in doing an interview with me on music psychology, specifically on Christmas music and the hotly debated topic of when is too early to begin playing Christmas Music. Here is the link to the interview.

The second interview was with the charming Charlie McCarron. According to his website Charlie “…writes and produces music, videos, and the podcast Composer Quest“.

On his website Charlie can be found “...nerding out about music composition, production, sound, and psychology“.

I really like Charlie’s podcasts as his interviews are always insightful. For example, in the past he did a great one with Diana Deutsch about music illusions, which I have often used as class materials for my students:

In my interview Charlie posed the following questions, amongst others:

baby musicWhy do babies have an innate sense of rhythm?
Why did Clive Wearing, a severe amnesiac, retain his ability to perform music?
When did humans start playing instruments?

He also asked about those illusive earworms, and what we know so far about why they might stick in our heads.

In the recording you can even hear a performance on a replica of the oldest instrument yet found from archaeological sites, a 43,000 year old bone flute. I had not heard this before the interview and found it fascinating! Here is a link to the interview, which lasts around 20 minutes:

Okay, that is it for now, dear reader. I will be back with a last normal blog next week, before the holiday festivities commence. Take care.