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'Music makes children brainier'

A mother's soft lullaby or granny's humming in the kitchen could calm unruly kids and boost their mental skills, says study.

health and fitness Updated: Dec 19, 2007 14:15 IST

Not only does it soothe the savage beast, but music also makes unruly children calmer while at the same time honing their cognitive skills and physical coordination, according to a leading expert.

A mother's soft lullaby, granddad's whistling or granny's humming in the kitchen or the dulcet tones of father singing in the shower - all of these seemingly innocuous musical activities serve to help an infant not only in acquiring linguistic skills but also in learning how human beings interact on a social level. <b1>

"Experiments have shown that unborn babies in the womb appear to relax in response to certain music and also that they seem to recognise this music after birth," says Professor Michael Schulte-Markwort, head of child psychology at Hamburg's University Hospital in Germany.

"From the outset, music helps the language centres in the brain to develop so that children who have been exposed to music at an early age tend to learn to speak earlier than those who are born into non-musical homes," he says.

"Music also helps in the development of motor skills while at the same time reducing tension," says Dr Schulte-Markwort.

"Learning the tunes and lyrics to songs also aids in developing memory skills for other tasks," he adds.

Rhythm and dancing also skills young muscles in coordination so that children good in music and dance are healthier and better coordinated than children whose parents never teach them to sing and dance and play a simple drum or other instrument.

"Children develop a feel for musical tones and associate certain tone patterns with certain rhythms," he points out.

"As soon as they learn to walk, they also begin to move rhythmically in time to musical stimuli and thus automatically begin to dance. Good and attentive parents naturally encourage their offspring to sing and dance rhythmically," he adds.

"That is why pre-schoolers should engage in games involving rhythmic movement and dancing, games that encourage children to clap in time with the beat or to beat out the rhythm on simple percussion instruments such as bells and chimes and little drums," says Schulte-Markwort.

Age five or six is ideal for teaching children to play a musical instrument because their minds are most receptive to learning the skills involved.

"If they have already been exposed to music and to rudimentary instruments, then at about age five or six they will think of learning to play an instrument as a kind of game," he says.

"We're not talking about the violin or bassoon, which involve very fine motor skills, and we are also not talking about tedious piano lessons which bore young minds. But instead we are talking about simple flutes and other instruments which produce a melodic sound easily and enjoyably," he says.

"It is important to remember the fun factor. Singing, dancing and playing musical instruments must first and foremost be fun for children," he added.