The Brain Incorporates Musical Information From Culture

Adapted from Hannon & Trehub, 2005

Researchers also tested another group of infants. These 12-month-old infants listened to Balkan folk music at home for two weeks. They listened to the music for 20 minutes everyday before their lab visit. Unlike the 12-month-old infants in the other study, these babies were able to notice meter changes in the foreign Balkan music.

Do these results seem familiar? In our previous module on early language learning, we talked about a ‘sensitive period.’ During this period, infants learn speech sounds in their native language quickly. During this same period, their ability to detect foreign speech sounds declines. In a similar way, infants may have a period when their brains are particularly primed to learn some basic musical components, like meter. This doesn’t mean that babies need to be enrolled in music lessons. But it does suggest that babies are listening to and learning from the music around them. They are building rich connections to music through their interactions with us and the music we love. 

  • Beat
    the regular pulse of music
    Electroencephalography (EEG)
    a non-invasive method used to measure electrical activity in the brain
    Executive function
    a set of mental abilities that help us focus attention, remember information, and switch between tasks
    Magnetoencephalography (MEG)
    a non-invasive brain imaging technique used to determine which regions of the brain are active
    a grouping of beats with specific patterns
    the ability to change how neurons in our brain are connected to each other
    the measure of how high or low we perceive sounds to be
    Pro-social behavior
    actions that are intended to help others
    Synchronized movement
    movements that occur in sync with musical beats and, or with other people
    the quality of a musical sound or voice that allows us to tell the differences between instruments or voices