Baby Beethoven?

From a study by Wilkin, P.E.:

The test-group fetuses were monitored for fetal movements and heart rate at thirty-two and thirty-eight weeks gestation. Following ten minutes of monitoring with no stimulus, headphones were secured to the mother’s abdomen and covered with a pillow, and a tape was played. The mother was also asked to write down the number and type of movements the fetus made for each item on the tape. (The mothers were prevented from hearing the tape in order to limit their recordkeeping to a purely fetal response.) The four items on the test tape were each five minutes long:

  • White noise
  • Piano solo: Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, op. 31 no. 2, in D minor (“The Tempest”)
  • Choral (a cappella): Palestrina’s “Kyrie” from Missa Pape Marcelli
  • Rock (instrumental): Emerson, Lake, and Palmer from An Anthology of Rock.

The test group was also were given a tape of either item two or three to play for their fetuses on a daily basis from thirty-two weeks gestation and for six weeks after birth. The contents of the test tape and the home tape were not revealed to the women until a home visit at four to six weeks. The control group of thirty-four pregnant women was given no specific listening tasks and was monitored at thirty-eight weeks only. At six weeks, the babies of both groups were again monitored while the tape was played. They were scored on the following:

  • Number of movements
  • Eyes open
  • Still and listening
  • Frowning and anxious
  • Woke and/or cried
  • Nil response.

Results: A high percentage of test-group fetuses had heart-rate decelerations greater than or equal to five seconds duration during the playing of the audio test tape at thirty-eight weeks gestation. This was highly significant in comparison with the test group, indicating that the daily playing of the music influenced fetal responses. [emphasis added] At thirty-two weeks, the fetuses did not appear to distinguish between the items on the tape. However, at thirty-eight weeks the piano sonata and the choral piece elicited the most response from the test-group fetuses. The largest deceleration effect and also the highest number of fetal movements was accrued during the playing of the Beethoven sonata. [emphasis added] The home listening had no significant influence on fetal responses during the thirty-eight week monitoring.

The babies in the test group were more ready to listen, more receptive and alert, and more active in response to the music than the control group babies were. The test-group babies listened more attentively to the piano sonata and the choral piece. They were less disturbed than the control group by the rock music (though both groups demonstrated anxiety through facial and body tension). [emphasis added] A number of the test babies appeared to recognize the sound of the piano within the rock music, relaxing the body and facial tension during the several bars in which it appeared; the tension quickly returned when the other instruments resumed.

Beethoven op. 31, no. 2 (“Tempest”):

Palestrina “Kyrie” from Missa Pape Marcelli:

(I apologize; I am not familiar enough with the works of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer to be able to identify the third song.)

Here we are presented with numerous highly interesting facts: one to note is that infants show anxiety and distress when exposed to rock music; although they are more relaxed when the piano is played in rock music, it doesn’t mean they are not anxious. Infants with previous exposure to classical music were less distressed by the rock music.

Babies who heard music were more alert, active, receptive and ready to listen.

So what does this mean for you? It means that while still in the womb, babies are more relaxed while listening to classical music. They’re most active in the womb, and most relaxed, when listening to Beethoven out of the four conditions studied. Combining this research with the many other studies presented on this site (and still to come), it is clear that classical music will postively influence even unborn children and that this influence will persist through the first year of life. Also your children are going to hear rock music everywhere they go; it’s ubiquitous and they will suffer less if they hear classical music first.

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