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Will Mozart Make My Child Smarter?

As parents we want to provide the best start for our children.  So it’s little wonder that when we’re told that playing Mozart to our little ones will make them smarter, that we rush off to purchase Mozart CDs (and lots of them).


There’s a whole baby-Einstein make-your-child-smarter industry that claims that particular products (DVDs, CDs, reading flashcard programs) boost babies’ brain development.


But have we been duped?




I’m here to tell you that playing Mozart to your baby or toddler will not prepare them for early Harvard entry.  It’s not going to boost their IQ scores. It’s not going to accelerate brain development.


Mozart will not make your child smarter.


So where did the Mozart-effect come from?

The term ‘Mozart effect’ was coined in 1991 but a study in 1993 in Nature suggested that listening to classical music improves the brain.


The University of California study involved 36 young adult students (yep, the study didn’t even involve babies or children). Participants were given a series of mental tasks to complete and before each task they listened to either (i) ten minutes of silence; (ii) ten minutes of relaxation exercises; or (iii) ten minutes of Mozart’s sonanta for two pianos in D Major.
The study found that the group who listened to Mozart did better at tasks where they had to create a shape in their mind (spatial skills).  However, the effects only lasted for about 15 minutes.


Now what’s really interesting is that the study’s authors never used the term ‘Mozart effect’ and they did not make bold claims.  In fact they were very conservative about their findings.


However, a whole baby-Mozart industry evolved from this one study. This is one example of neuroscience being misinterpreted and generalisations being made from one study.


But parents weren’t the only ones duped. In fact in Georgia, US, the Governor proposed that that the state government fund an initiative where every newborn baby would be sent a classical music CD.


Further studies have been conducted to test out he Mozart-effect and all have found that whilst there are some benefits, that these benefits are not long-term.  The benefits accrued from listening to classical music very quickly subside over time and most of the benefits are focused on developing spatial skills.  Overall, most of these studies have shown that music, regardless of whether it’s Mozart or even a modern tune, can help activate and engage our brains and this is why we can perform better on spatial tasks afterwards (even if it is only for brief amounts of time).


Please don’t think that I’m suggesting that music cannot be beneficial for little ones.


Do we throw out our Baby Mozart CDs?


No.  They certainly won’t do any ‘harm’ to your child.  Just don’t use them under the impression that your boosting your little one’s brain power.


The Mozart CDs may even be beneficial for your little one, but just in different ways than you may have expected. We certainly do have research evidence that tells us that music can help babies and young children develop in important ways.  Here are just a few of the ways that we know that music impacts positively on young children:


  • Music helps overall brain development.  It’s one of the few activities that integrates both hemispheres of the brain.
  • Music can impact on our moods. It can be a circuit breaker for little ones.  You know the days when you have a miserable little one or the tears that just won’t subside…  Music can be a great way to diffuse a tense situation.  There are very few children that don’t crack a smile when their parents sing ‘If you’re happy and you know it…’
  • Music has also been shown to develop children’s sense of rhythm and working memory skills.  Both of these skills are essential to become a reader.
  • Music can have a calming effect.  It’s a great way to calm a baby or toddler before nap-time. So perhaps this is a great time to pop on Mozart.


So do we dismiss music in terms of brain development?


Absolutely not.  We do have substantial and credible evidence that tells us that music can have a profound impact on children’s brain development.  How?


Not by listening to it alone, but by learning to play it.


You see, learning to play music is definitely beneficial for developing brains.


[tweetability] So listening to Mozart melodies may not make your little one smarter, but perhaps learning to play Mozart will. [/tweetability]

I’d love to hear in the comments below, how do you use music with your young children? How have they benefited?


References (for my fellow nerds that want to read more):

Chabris, C. F. (1999). Prelude or requiem for the ‘Mozart effect’?. Nature,400(6747), 826-827.

Nantais, K. M., & Schellenberg, E. G. (1999). The Mozart effect: An artifact of preference. Psychological Science10(4), 370-373.

Rauscher, F. H., Shaw, G. L., & Ky, K. N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature365(6447), 611-611.

Schellenberg, E. G., & Hallam, S. (2005). Music Listening and Cognitive Abilities in 10‐and 11‐Year‐Olds: The Blur Effect. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1060(1), 202-209.





I’m Dr. Kristy Goodwin

Researcher, speaker, author, and mum - and not only do I GET it, I’ve dedicated my entire career to helping my fellow professionals and parents explore this exact digital dilemma.

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