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Saturday, 13 July, 2002, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
Babies recognise mother's tunes
Even tiny babies recognise melodies
Even tiny babies recognise melodies
Lulling a baby to sleep with a song is an age-old part of child-care.

But a Canadian researcher says even tiny babies respond to the lullabies because they recognise melodies.

Professor Susan Trehub, from the department of psychology at the University of Toronto, found babies recognise tunes, even if they are sung in a different key or at a different speed.

But if they detect wrong notes or rhythm changes, they do not respond as well to the music.

We know that they have these responses but we don't know how they have them

Professor Susan Trehub
Professor Trehub discussed her research at a conference in London on Friday entitled The Musical Brain.

Experts from around the world gathered to discuss topics from children's response to music to how to improve musical performance and how music can be used to help patients with stroke and Parkinson's disease.

The conference also included special performances by young artists from The National Youth Orchestra and The Orpheus Centre


Professor Trehub told BBC News Online it was not known how babies' brains processed music - because it was difficult to persuade parents to let healthy babies have brain imaging tests.

But she said there were clear signs babies responded differently.

Once they have heard a tune in one pitch or tempo, babies recognise it when it is played at a different pitch and speed.

She said: "They'll accept a tempo change, but not a rhythm change.

"We know that they have these responses but we don't how they have them."

Even very young babies can recognise tunes she said.

And that is not explained by the theory that babies sense their mother relaxing to certain music in the womb.

"You get the same responses in hearing babies with deaf mothers. Obviously they haven't had that exposure to music in the womb.

"Even deaf mothers who communicate via sign language use very expressive gestures in their signing."

External clock

The conference also heard music can help stroke and Parkinson's disease patients regain movement.

Michael Thaut, professor of music and neuroscience at Colorado State University, US, said using rhythmic music, along with conventional physiotherapy gives better results than conventional therapy alone.

"Through the use of rhythm, we can stimulate the improvement of neurological processing and cortical reorganisation in the injured brain.

"This technique is proving to be more effective than conventional physiotherapy."

Professor Thaut told BBC News Online: "The music is used as a kind of external clock."

Patients use it to help them regain control of their co-ordination and movement.

Pain relief

Any kind of music can be used, as long as it has a strong beat.

Walking movement is best practised to a marching 2/4 or 4/4 beat.

Re-learning reaching movements are best done to slightly more complicated rhythms, so each stage of the movement can be timed to a beat.

Professor Thaut said: "We have done a lot of research on this over the last 10 years".

He said a study of Parkinson's patients, conventional therapy improved walking movement by about 10%, but using music and physio improved it by about 25%.

"It seems it activates the connection in the brain between the auditory system and the movement system."

Professor Thaut is now studying whether suggestions music can help autistic children with perception or behavioural problems.

But he said the theory that music could help relieve pain and psychological problems probably had more to do with the calming influence of music, rather than any changes in the brain.

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