Biological and Psychological Impact of Music on Newborns

Can music benefit my newborn baby?

Of course! Just think how music impacts your own psychological state … a fast paced melody or a strong musical ‘beat’ can help you upgrade your personal gym performance, or even improve your mood in general. Think also how a slow and ‘sweet’ melody brings you at a relaxation or a sleeping state. Your newborn baby differs in nothing on this particular point of understanding, decoding and feeling music.

First of all, it should be noted that lullabies and all musical interactions in early developmental stages positively impact infants’ biological functions and structures (1: Dawson, Ashman, & Carver, 2000). Music has been successfully used on premature newborn babies to improve their behavioural responses in the soothing process in the hospital newborn nursery environment (2. Kaminski, 1993), while research suggests that passive music listening in Newborn Intensive Care Units (NICU) has positively helped infants to gain weight and support feeding regulation (3. Cevasco & Grant, 2005).

Additionally, it has been shown that early musical interaction can help psychological bonding between the infant and the parents (4. Malloch, 2000). Think of the joy you share with your baby when both of you (or even more people than the two of you …) move and synchronise on the tempo of a musical piece. You then share common emotions, you communicate on a pre-language level, and in a way - to put it simply - you showcase to them how human beings handle different emotional states and shades.


Can music make my baby smarter?

Research has not clearly stated something like this yet, although evidence show that early years music interaction improves later understanding and usage of mathematical thought as well as effective spatiotemporal analysis (5. Moreno, Bialystok, Barac, Schellenberg Cepeda, & Chau, 2011). A huge volume of research evidence suggest that music affects the development of neocortex (6. Trainor, Marie, Gerry, Whiskin, & Unrau, 2012), the affective connectivity of the limbic system (7. Scherer & Zentner, 2001) as well as the structural and functional properties of the brainstem (8. Kraus & Chandrasekaran, 2010).


How can I make music a part of my newborn child’s life?

Instead of switching on the TV, switch on the radio or play a musical instrument during the biggest part of the day. This will help both you and your baby to greatly interact with music and sounds in many different ways, and provide a basis for you to improve in music and for your baby to gain all the above.

In these early years of development, following this musical pathway of development, it is like planting a ‘seed of cognition’, which can later find multiple ways to reproduce itself and flourish in various educational and social settings. So, play or listen to a ‘soft’ piece of music with your baby before going to sleep. Research shows that synaptogenesis and neuronal consolidation mainly happens during the undisturbed and the non-REM phase of sleep (9. De Niet, Tiemens, Lendemeijer, & Hutschemaekers, 2009;  10. Loewy, Stewart, Dassler, Telsey, & Homel, 2013;  11. Marshall, Helgadóttir, Mölle, & Born, 2006).

Listening to music that is simple in content, and played at a low sound intensity and decibels level, may help your infant to relax faster - slowing down their biorhythm - hence, more easily entering the above phase and condition of sleep. You should also sing to your baby as much as you can. Don’t worry about the quality of your voice and the final result …Just the ‘positive vibes’ of emotions that the process induces can be bidirectionally beneficial to you and your baby.

It has been proved that social interaction is strengthened through early years singing (Malloch, 2000) and that the singing process activates various ways of non-verbal communication, which basically support construction and handling of verbal communication at the later stages of life. Research on Communicative Musicality - as named this musically based way of premature non-verbal communication - presents the many benefits gained from early singing, by establishing strong family bonds and the sense of enhanced security.

Singing, especially when complemented with movements - irrespectively of whether the infant can follow them or not - benefits at a great level these cortical functions connected to spatiotemporal intelligence (12. Rauscher & Zupan, 2000) as well as perception and projection of personal movements in space (13. Zatorre, Chen & Penhune, 2007).

In other words, the infant may be able to perceive faster and more easily the surrounding environment, while also understanding in greater detail their own movements in space according to a specific action and its goal.

Finally, in order to bring music earlier into your baby’s life, you should definitely leave them to explore every different sound and ‘musical instrument’ they find (be it a real musical instrument or not) and thus enhance their acoustical bank, imagination and creativity. Do not stop or severely interrupt their improvisation on sound objects, or their mimicking, even if these are disturbing or mostly annoying for you. Whatever makes no sense or bothers adults could be a valuable information source for an infant, that potentially could train their mind and body.


What is the point of music in the infant life?

A rational goal for you and your baby in relation to early learning and involvement with music could be the understanding of different sounds and kinds of music … Infants should always enjoy sounds and music and cherish as many as possible of the musical idioms existing in society. In no way, should you point at bringing up another ‘Mozart’ in these early stages, hence putting pressure on them to achieve such a result.

Following such an approach would mostly overstimulate the infant and make them oppose music from a very early stage, destroying all future connections with it. For infants, getting involved with music should be fun, bringing an everyday sound adventure to their little ears, presenting them to new sound, rhythm and emotional experiences at both an individual and social level. Music is a basic ingredient of our life and our involvement with it should be handled as food and sleep.


Dr Efthymios Papatzikis is Associate Professor of Educational Neuroscience at the Canadian University Dubai. He has previously been a researcher and lecturer in music psychology and neuroscience at the University of East Anglia, Harvard University, the Institute of Education at the University of London, Fundacion Botin, and completed a scholarship in 2015 with the University of Geneva in Neuroscience and Brain Imaging.





1.  Dawson, G., Ashman, S. B., & Carver, L. J. (2000). The role of early experience in shaping behavioral and brain development and its implications for social policy. Development and psychopathology, 12(04), 695-712.

2.  Kaminski, J. L. (1993). The effect of soothing music on neonatal behavioural states in the hospital newborn nursery, Doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia.

3.  Cevasco, A. M., & Grant, R. E. (2005). Effects of the pacifier activated lullaby on weight gain of premature infants. Journal of Music Therapy, 42(2), 123-139.

4.  Malloch, S. N. (2000). Mothers and infants and communicative musicality. Musicae scientiae, 3(1 suppl), 29-57.

5.  Moreno, S., Bialystok, E., Barac, R., Schellenberg, E. G., Cepeda, N. J., & Chau, T. (2011). Short-term music training enhances verbal intelligence and executive function. Psychological science, 22(11), 1425-1433.

6.  Trainor, L. J., Marie, C., Gerry, D., Whiskin, E., & Unrau, A. (2012). Becoming musically enculturated: effects of music classes for infants on brain and behavior. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1252(1), 129-138.

7.  Scherer, K. R., & Zentner, M. R. (2001). Emotional effects of music: Production rules. Music and emotion: Theory and research, 361-392.

8.  Kraus, N., & Chandrasekaran, B. (2010). Music training for the development of auditory skills. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11(8), 599-605.

9.  De Niet, G., Tiemens, B., Lendemeijer, B., & Hutschemaekers, G. (2009). Music‐assisted relaxation to improve sleep quality: meta‐analysis. Journal of advanced nursing, 65(7), 1356-1364.

10.  Loewy, J., Stewart, K., Dassler, A. M., Telsey, A., & Homel, P. (2013). The effects of music therapy on vital signs, feeding, and sleep in premature infants. Pediatrics, 131(5), 902-918.

11.  Marshall, L., Helgadóttir, H., Mölle, M., & Born, J. (2006). Boosting slow oscillations during sleep potentiates memory. Nature, 444(7119), 610-613.

12.  Rauscher, F. H., & Zupan, M. A. (2000). Classroom keyboard instruction improves kindergarten children’s spatial-temporal performance: A field experiment. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 15(2), 215-228.

13.  Zatorre, R. J., Chen, J. L., & Penhune, V. B. (2007). When the brain plays music: auditory–motor interactions in music perception and production. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 8(7), 547-558.