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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 May, 2005, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Does classical music make babies smarter?
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

As well as classical CDs and DVDs for very young children, this week sees the launch of a programme of concerts for babies - including those in utero.

Does playing classical music to babies make a difference? Opinion is divided; but many experts think that it may stimulate the brain in a way that helps educational and emotional development.

It's known as the Mozart Effect, a theory which is credited with boosting IQ, improving health, strengthening family ties and even producing the occasional child prodigy.

Numerous studies conclude that playing music to babies in the womb and in the early years helps build the neural bridges along which thoughts and information travel. And research suggests it can stimulate the brain's alpha waves, creating a feeling of calm; a recent study of premature infants found that they were soothed by the music.

In Florida, all state-funded pre-schools are required to play classical music by law, and many US hospitals give classical CDs to new mums.

In the UK, many parents have also embraced the theory, with Classic FM's Music for Babies CD enjoying several weeks at the top of the classical charts earlier this year.

Baby proms

And this week Sound Beginnings, a series of concerts aimed at the very young, begins in Hampshire. It's the brainchild of Peter and Juliet Kindersley, who founded the Dorling Kindersley publishing empire. Both are strong believers in the power of classical music.

Music for babies is a big market
"Just as it's vitally important to eat good-quality food right from the start, so we are deeply affected by the music we hear from a very early age, even in the womb," Peter Kindersley says.

Sound Beginnings - and a planned "baby prom" next year - came about as babies and toddlers are rarely welcome in concert halls.

Professor Paul Robertson, a leading expert in the field, says it's important the best music is made available to babies at the earliest possible stage of their growth.

"There is compelling scientific evidence that the music we hear at the earliest ages significantly affects the way our neurological pathways are laid down during development."

Chill out

Beanbags will be provided to make the setting more relaxed and the pieces - including compositions by Mozart, Schumann and Ravel - have been selected to benefit the wellbeing of babies, toddlers and parents.

It has also been geared towards pregnant women, as a foetus responds to sound from about 24 weeks and learns familiar noises it will recognise after birth, such as music its parents have listened to repeatedly.

Violinist Paul Robertson, the presenter of Channel 4's Music and the Mind, and the acclaimed Russian concert pianist Mikhail Kazakevich will present the concerts, the first of which will be held at the Newbury Spring Festival in Hampshire on Thursday.

Sound Beginnings will then travel to the London Symphony Orchestra's St Luke's venue next month and tour the country later in the year. A symposia, bringing together the latest scientific research into the effects of music on development and wellbeing, is also planned for June.

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