Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve got two children, ages 1 and 3, and I’ve heard that it’s possible to boost their IQs by exposing them to certain kinds of music. My wife says I’m crazy. Is there any possibility that she’s right?
What you’re talking about is the “Mozart Effect” – the popular idea that listening to music by Mozart would make children smarter.
I don’t have enough information to say for sure whether you’re actually crazy, but I can tell you that while exposing your children to music is a great thing, it’s in all probability not going to make them any smarter. Unfortunately, that inconvenient fact hasn’t stopped all sorts of companies from claiming otherwise – and from separating a lot of parents from a lot of their hard-earned money.
The idea behind the Mozart Effect first appeared in a 1993 article in the journal Nature.
Physicist Gordon Shaw and psychologist/musician Frances Rauscher had a group of students perform three sets of mental and spatial-perception challenges. Before each set, the researchers played either 10 minutes of relaxation exercises, 10 minutes of silence, or 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata.
When the students heard the Mozart music, their test scores were slightly higher.
However, there are three big problems here:
• First, the benefit (which was very small to begin with) disappeared after a few minutes.
• Second, Shaw and Rauscher were testing college students, not the babies or toddlers we tend to associate the Mozart effect.
• Third, other researchers who’ve tried to replicate this study have concluded that listening to pretty much anything enjoyable, whether it’s Mozart, another composer, or even a passage from a Steven King novel, improves test scores – but only among young adults and only temporarily.
Bottom line? Music isn’t magic. But there’s no question that it affects us – and always has.
Archaeologists have found musical instruments dating back more than 35,000 years, and every known culture in the world has some form of music. Music is also a huge part of our everyday lives.
There are those melodies we can’t get out of our head all day, those times when you rock out in your car on the way to work, and the spontaneous bouncing and smiling your kids do when you turn on the stereo.
And, of course, there are the movie soundtracks that make your heart race or get you all choked up, or the classical music tunes business owners sometimes play to drive away rowdy teens.
At this point in your kids’ lives, they’ve already been listening to music for a long time (probably since before they were born) and they undoubtedly prefer some styles over others – most likely the same ones you do.
If you haven’t already done so, I strongly recommend that you expose them to as many different kinds of music as you can. Some that you like, some that you don’t. Anything and everything from Bach and Mozart to Taylor Swift and Kanye West.
The only restrictions should be volume (not too loud) and lyrics. If you aren’t absolutely sure, listen carefully. It wasn’t until I heard my daughter singing the words to a Tove Lo song that I really like (“Habits”) that it registered that it’s about using drugs and going to sex clubs. I’ve improved my screening protocols since then.
Don’t limit yourself or your kids to “children’s music.” Far too much of it is condescending and dumbed down. That said, there are a lot of wonderful musicians out there making music that’s ostensibly for kids but that you’ll listen to even when the kids aren’t around.
Armin Brott is the author of “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be.”