High Information Music | How Music Can Make Your Baby Smarter – With Rick Beato
Parents have known for generations that babies love music, but only recently has science been catching up to art of introducing music to newborns.
While researchers still study the evidence, what is known by parents far and wide it that music is not only an emotional experience for newborns, but boosts their intellectual capacity as well.
Rick Beato, educator and musician and cofounder of the Nuryl app, points to his own experience with his son Dylan. He originally tested the Nuryl curriculum on his own children. As seen in a video that went viral, drawing 33 million viewers, his son demonstrated perfect musical pitch as well as advanced mathematical skills and foreign language aptitude at a very early age.
He based his curriculum on the idea that highly complex music, which uses an unpredictable yet highly melodic form of music, simultaneously activates multiple regions of the brain to boost cognition at an early age. Babies as young as five months up to two years of age are particularly well suited to this form of music education and development.
“I didn’t really think anything was up with Dylan. I would play music for him and every month introduce a new playlist until he was two,” says Rick. “We really had no idea that this had any lasting impact on him, until we started to realize that he had perfect pitch, which is an unusual gift for anyone, but especially someone under two.”
The inspiration for Nuryl came from a friend of Rick’s, Aydin Esen. “He’s a brilliant composer and I had recorded several of his improvisational concerts from the 80s. I played these to Dylan, mostly out of curiosity. He responded so well to the sessions that I began to wonder if this would benefit other parents and their children.”
A TED Talk by Patricia Kuhl, a professor at the University of Washington, helped crystalize the idea. “It occurred to me as she was speaking that there is a critical window of learning opportunity in the first nine months of a baby’s life. This is when their brains become wired for learning the algorithms of language. When they hear sounds, they have to decide where a word begins and ends and they begin to recognize phonemes at this stage in their development.”
There are 2,000 unique phonemes in the 6,500 languages spoken on the planet, he says. The English languages uses 44 of the 2,000, but all babies can trained to hear all the sounds found in all 6,500 languages at a very early stage in their development. These are the sounds that syllables make, one of the basic building blocks of language.
This ability to internalize these phonemes happens up until about the age seven, says Rick. “There’s a critical window that goes to until age two or so. Then there’s a second one that kids can tap into to develop language fluency relatively easily up until they are the age of six.”
The power of music is that it’s not only mathematics, but it also a language. Think of the phonemes as the notes, the rhythm is the punctuation, says Rick. To a baby, this is all the same to them, the processing of music, language and math.
The idea for Nuryl came first, the science second. “I think that the science and neuroimaging that’s happening now is really changing how we think about a newborn’s development. I think it’s really exciting and it’s going to have an incredible impact on the way we teach children in the future.”
One of the secrets of using music to spur intellectual development is the type of music used. Babies crave melodic content, they want complexity and they thrive on orchestral arrangements rather than synthesized music loops. “Things like Chopin, Wagner, Beethoven, Ravel and 20thcentury composers like Shoenberg and Stravinsky,” Rick says. “Babies gravitate toward music that is unpredictable and has an element of surprise as well as a depth.”
Jazz works well too, says Rick. It is full of surprises melodically and harmonically. The runs of chromatic scales and abrupt changes in tempo and melody keep the baby engaged and helps them form processing centers for complex information. “The funny thing is, people tend to play music that is very simplistic in nature, which is just the opposite of what babies want and are able to use to enhance their learning.”
This ability to learn extends to other parts of a baby’s growth. Language is a good example. In Professor Kuhl’s studies, she broke a study group of babies into three groups; one with in-person interaction, one that were shown videos and one that only received the audio portion of the interaction. “
The groups were exposed to a Mandarin speaker and over the course of six weeks there was something like nine 25-minute sessions where she read to them. The babies that interacted with her in person were able to recognize phonemes at the same level as a 10-month-old baby that had grown up in China and had only heard Mandarin. The test group was able to achieve that same level of mastery in just 10 weeks. The other two test groups showed no increased mastery of the phonemes.”
Rick says that the important lesson to be gained here is that you need to interact with your baby when playing music. “If you’re not going to interact with them, the presence of the music will have no impact, just as it did in Kuhl’s study. “It can be as simple as tapping the rhythm of the music with them, playing with them or looking into their eyes while you’re listening. The interaction tells your baby that this is important to pay attention to, that the music is key part of their life experience.
The key is to start early with your baby. “The first thousand days of a baby’s life are the most important. Babies are born with 100 billion neurons. They have the capacity to learn so much at this stage, from learning how to sit up, crawl and eat to the beginnings of language. All of these require complex algorithms and calculations, such as the math it takes to stand up, balance and walk.”
Beginning at age two, your toddler may be ready for music classes, he says. Kids at the age of four can tackle piano or violin lessons. This not only teaches fundamentals of mathematics, but also eye-hand coordination and motor skills, which are required to play an instrument. This requires both sides of the brain, which furthers development.
The Nuryl app for Android and Apple platforms can be downloaded at https://nuryl.com.