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Real research!

22 April 2013

I’m always skeptical of products or services that offer “scientifically proven” benefits. I’ve seen all sorts of books, toys, DVDs or CDs that make claims about increasing your child’s intelligence, ability, etc.  In reality most of these so-called studies that “prove” the claimed benefits are done more with marketing in mind rather than scientific method. In some cases it is enough to pop the word "Einstein" on something as a shorthand for "genius"!

Last month Ester and I were fortunate enough to attend the 16th Suzuki World Convention in Matsumoto, Japan where we attended a lecture by Suzuki teacher trainer and researcher David Gerry about the results of his study at McMaster University into the effects of musical training in infancy. This was the first study in the world done on the effects of musical training in infancy to be published in a peer reviewed journal. It just so happened that the musical training they tested was Suzuki Early Childhood Education (Suzuki ECE) classes. You can imagine how interested we were to hear the results!

David described the process of how they constructed the study and presented the results. Three groups made up of twenty-six 6-month-old infants and their parents were involved. One group received active music classes (Suzuki ECE) in the form developed by Dorothy Jones. The main features are two teachers, acoustic instruments, repetition, CD listening, parental involvement, a core curriculum of traditional nursery rhymes, action songs and lullabies, along with musical activities.

Another group received passive music classes where infants and parents received “passive exposure to recorded music in the form of a rotating series of recordings from the Baby Einsteinä series”. This series of CDs (and DVDs) feature classical repertoire performed entirely on synthesized musical instruments void of musical expression. Participants in this group chose a different CD each week for use at home. “During classes, infants and parents were free to play at five play stations including art, books, balls, building blocks and stacking cups.” There was no movement activities, nor a core curriculum of songs and action games, no repetition, no requirement to pay attention, or active parental involvement in music making.

The third group was used as the control group and received no musical training. After six months the babies (all now 12 months of age) were tested for Sensitivity to Western tonality, Socio-emotional development, and early communicative development. The full description about the data collection and interpretation is available in the complete article (see link below), but here is a quick summary:

Sensitivity to Western tonality was tested by seeing what kind of tonality the infants preferred – atonal or tonal. Tonal is how we describe something pleasant to the ear, that sounds ‘right’ and would meet expectations about how something ‘should’ sound. Atonal sounds jar the ear with notes ‘out of place’, creating a feeling of discord.  Babies in all three groups were played a tonal and atonal version of a piece of music. Infants in the Active Training group preferred the tonal version, whereas infants in the Passive Training and No Training groups showed no preference.

To test Socio-emotional development, parents were asked to fill out four categories of a tool known as the Infant Behaviour Questionnaire. Parents did this before and after the 6 months period so researchers could measure and compare the differences. After participation in active music classes, infants showed much lower levels of distress than after participation in passive music classes. There was an overall decrease in Smiling and Laughter between 6 and 12 months, but the decrease was greater for those participating in the passive compared to active music classes. Infants generally became more difficult to soothe from 6-12 months, but less so for those in the active compared to passive music classes.  Use of gestures increased greatly between 6 and 12 months of age, but increased more so for those in the active compared to passive music classes.

So what does that all mean for parents and us at The Music Garden? One thing is that we can confidently say that the babies who are in our program for 6 months or more develop measurable musical and social skills.  In the concluding discussion of the results, the authors note that “Perhaps most important is that the active musical training facilitated social development. … It is clear from the present results that different types of musical experience have different effects in infancy.“ Not all music programs are alike, so if you want the best for your child, and you don’t want to waste your precious time and money, choose your music program carefully: make sure you look for something more than a bunch of parents and bubs in a room with music playing. Choose a Suzuki ECE program that incorporates parental involvement, repetition of a core repertoire of songs, movement and singing, active engagement with acoustic instruments, musical expression, a CD of the class repertoire to play at home, and parental observations (that are developed by use of the weekly journal).

In the final discussion, the researchers say “Our results suggest that active participation by parents and infants is likely essential for optimal learning, and our results indicate that aspects of active participation are crucial to fully realizing musical, communicative and social benefits of musical experience in early development.”

Dr Suzuki has said: “Fathers and mothers are the main persons in education. Who else fosters their own children but parents?   The responsibility and joy both belong to parents.”

Or as Suzuki ECE founder Dorothy Jones puts it: “Parental Involvement is Critical”

 The full article as published in Developmental Science can be found here: