There are endless studies done on how sound effects infants, particularly the sounds of music. Although the auditory senses are functioning in the womb during the last trimester and most babies are born being able to distinguish a wide array of sound they are still learning how to process what all those different sounds mean and how to respond to them.
Since music plays a vital role in my own life and is very important to my wife as well, music has been a key component to this first week of our time with padawan. Instead of just talking to our padawan we set a lot of our one-sided conversations with them to random, made up melodies (yes, I do attempt to sing and so far none of the neighbor’s have complained about a tortured cat or something). We hum familiar childhood tunes despite not knowing the actual lyrics anytime they get fidgety and when I venture onto the porch or our slate patio I am sure to not only point out but also whistle and caw along with our local bird population. In addition to the audiophile friendly hi-fi we have in the living room there’s speakers strewn throughout the house where we can plug our digital devices in to play music. Basically, the house is almost never silent.
Of course, despite holding a music degree and having a hobby of keeping up with the reams of research about the neurological and social impact of music on people, everyone around seems to have an opinion as to what the musical exposure should consist of.
Everyone says, “make sure you play that kid ‘good music.’ Meaning, of course, the crap they like.
Ok, some of it isn’t crap, but in general, music is highly personal and what is good to one person isn’t necessarily enjoyable to another. Personally, good music would be playing the Borknagar but I’m sure some of the suggestions would include the BeeGees. And, to be honest, I’d rather personally have my ears carved out of my cranium with a rusty spoon than have to listen to those around me serenade padawan with “Stayin’ Alive.”
The fact of the matter is this household is a pretty diverse musical experience from big band jazz to old school beat box, from the crooner era to renegade country to grindcore, from alternative folk-femme to bel canto opera movement to prog-rock to Z100. The exposure to a variety of compositional approaches that includes different tonal structures, melodic developments, tempos and rhythmic patterns will provide a wide range of stimuli and there’s nothing more right, or more wrong with almost any of those styles when they’re part of well rounded and balanced musical experience.
What makes “good” music for infants though isn’t necessarily just the stuff of simple step melody lullabies and moldy-oldy pop music that some people seem to fixated on, including for our padawan.
On the contrary, the complexities of classical and romantic era orchestral music have been demonstrably superior (to the simplicity of pop music) for a number of different developmental aspects as shown by Bridgett and Cuevas, and others. While there’s some evidence for the complexity of “classical” (a misnomer that’s ill defined at best for the purposes of such “studies” too), what’s been increasingly shown by smaller experiments as important is the underlying idea that complexity of rhythm, melody and harmony is not isolated to “classical” and thus, with the inclusion of prog, tech, avant, art and so on create the same neuro-social connections those initial studies on “classical” were assumed to create. This is music, in addition to “classical,” we already listen to and our padawan will be getting a great experience that isn’t limited to just a sub-set of western compositional ideas.
And, that to me, as a music nerd is most important. Sure, it would be nice if he identified with our music, or his grannie’s, nana’s, meme’s and everyone’s music (even if it’s been shown that some of what they appreciate has little redeeming neuro-social value for most people – sorry), but that shouldn’t be the defining part of what padawan knows as music so we will not be attempting to “push” that on them no matter how much pressure someone tries to show for yet another the Beatles song (and believe me, with my wife and my the Beatles love no one should even be attempting to circumvent our love and desire to create a connection with it).
The fact of the matter is, if I want to whip out tech-death and the padawan doesn’t have a sustainable negative reaction to it that is only attributable to the music and no other external stimuli then there’s absolutely nothing wrong (and likely, some positives, again based on extending the limited learnings of existing studies) with it. So, while I’m not advocating for the caustic dissonance of Cephalic Carnage and Cryptopsy tomorrow, you can bet there’s a much better chance that they’ll hear more of that than Kenny Chesney or Creed because simple melodies and basic four-four time might “sound nice” but it’s not going alone to provide the right kind of sonic experience an infant should have. Those other more technical, progressive and experimental bands most of the family both don’t know or chose to even try and understand more closely resemble the “classical” music that is so adored by early education advocates and will get top billing regardless of what everyone else “likes.” So, if the next time someone visits the soundtrack is Sibelius into Meshuggah at least those who read this entry will appreciate it.