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Music for Babies - Music for Teenagers

"Music for Babies - Music for Teenagers" is excerpted from
The Power of Sound, published by Healing Arts Press.
(c) 2001 Joshua Leeds. All rights reserved.

Music for Babies

In 1998 a few states in America actually legislated applications of classical music for infants and young children. In Georgia, every newborn leaves the hospital with a classical CD or cassette—a gift from the state! Florida now requires all its state-funded childcare facilities to play classical music every day. What was the genesis of this idea?

Scientists who have studied infant brain development say that infants can develop sensitivity to music as young as four months of age.1 However, according to Dr. Tomatis, sound processing is not a new function at all for the newborn. He believes the unborn child has been hearing for four and a half months prior to birth.2 Therefore, once the baby is born and the outer and middle ear switches from liquid to air induction, the baby’s auditory mechanism is 100 percent functional.

On birth, a baby’s brain is a mass of neurons. The potential for learning physical and mental skills turns into reality as neuronal pathways connect with different sections of the brain. The first few years will determine the child’s ability to learn for the rest of his or her life—for during these early years, nerve cells form and connect at an astonishing rate.3

The latest research shows that music is actually perceived in many areas of the brain. According to a 1998 study from the University of Texas, music experts determined that rhythm is tracked by the cerebellum, melody perceived by the temporal lobes, and interpretation of musical notation accomplished in areas on the right side of the brain that correspond to areas on the left that process language.4

The circuitry for spatial reasoning and mathematics lies in or near the brain’s cortex. The function of musical perception takes place in part in the same area. When a baby hears music, it stimulates this part of the brain, resulting in an increase in the newborn’s neuronal development. Theoretically, this should lead to better brain functioning in math and spatial reasoning—increased neuronal circuitry is a collateral result of the perception of music. Additionally, language and music are both forms of communication that rely on highly organized variations in pitch, accent, rhythm, and timbre. While these are discrete cognitive systems, both language and music are rich in harmonics, the overtones of a sound that give it resonance and distinction. In language, sounds are combined into patterns—words. Music does the same patterning with melodic phrases.5

In an experiment by Sandra Trehub, a developmental psychologist at the University of Toronto, and reported in Discover magazine, repeated intervals were played to six-month-olds, with the intervals raised or lowered occasionally to determine if the infants could decipher the difference in the pattern. They could, especially when the test intervals were perfect fifths or fourths. Clearly, there is an interrelationship between music and language.

It is assumed that by exposing babies to complex musical structures, their brains will by necessity develop neuronal connections. The chemical interaction of neuronal connections is a natural response for the interpretation of incoming data. In this instance the data happen to be in sonic form. The fact that math, language, and spatial reasoning skills benefit from neuronal development spurred by musical input is perhaps a happenstance of cerebral neighborhoods. In other words, brain functions that border or share the musical perceptual areas (that part of the brain’s real estate, so to speak) may prosper by association.

Music in the Care of the Newborn

By the time the unborn child is six months in utero, he or she not only hears music but also responds, interacts, differentiates, and even has preferences.6 Researchers have found that a fetus will jump in rhythm to the beat of an orchestra drum. The unconscious memory of the maternal heartbeat in utero appears to be the reason that a baby is comforted by being held against someone’s chest or is lulled to sleep by the steady ticking of a clock. Regardless of culture or caregiver, babies are instinctually held with their heads near the heart. The mother’s heartbeat has been the sound that dominated the unborn child’s world.

Other voices and familiar sounds add harmony to the progressive composition of the uterine symphony. From the sixteenth week, the unborn child is capable of hearing. He or she has much to listen to, because the pregnant abdomen and uterus are very noisy places. As you can imagine, the ongoing blood flow through the placenta is a nonstop river of sound. Studies of the newborn’s auditory capacity suggest that infants prefer high-pitched voices to low pitches. This makes sense; Mama’s voice—in the high frequency range—was an ongoing prebirth phenomenon. According to psychiatrist and Tomatis practitioner Ron Minson, “It’s well known that there is a higher incidence of learning disabilities in adopted children than in the general population.” In Tomatis circles it is widely held that a baby taken from its natural sonic environment—away from its natural mother—will tend to “close down” instead of the normal reflex of “reaching out.” These terms are metaphorical because Tomatis is referring not to an actual physical reaction but to a psychological one that quickly translates into physiological ear and brain manifestations. For further information on this subject, contact a Tomatis practitioner (see “Soundwork Resources”).

In selecting sounds and music for the newborn, consider the type of music that the mother has been listening to pre-birth, along with the baby’s response to the music. Familiar pieces will assist the infant in feeling secure in an enormously new environment. Much like a child or adult, a newborn seeks familiarity. That which we recognize makes us feel safe.

Sound Awareness for Babies

Words, math, spatial perception, and music are all intertwined in the brain. You might expect that if you could stimulate one capacity, the others would prosper. Following that line of thinking, why not surround the baby with numeric equations? By stimulating the mathematical part of the brain, wouldn’t that also increase the neurons connected with musical processing? Probably not.

The cerebral triggering that occurs through the ears is different from what occurs through the eyes. Physiology textbook authors readily admit that knowledge of the brain’s auditory perception—while advanced—is incomplete. Let it suffice to say that sound and the ear play a role in the development of the nervous system very different from that of the eyes, nose, and mouth.

Classical music for babies? Absolutely. They will learn beauty and form. They will be mesmerized by the sounds; gentle harmonies will soothe them. Perfection exists within complex classical music as well as in the simplicity of a single melodic line. But which music? you may ask. Using your understanding of entrainment, determine what you would like to accomplish. If you wish to help your baby sleep, use adagio and lento (slow) movements. If you wish to calm an uncomfortable baby, use simple music—pieces with light densities of orchestration, such as acoustic guitar solos and harp and flute duets. It will be easier on the nervous system of a tired parent and child if the sound source is uncomplicated and takes less energy to process. To distract or entertain a little one, pick what you like. Remember, always keep it soft and gentle. Loud, sudden sounds will scare a baby. This is never the goal with music, and it will defeat your purposes in using music to enhance and support.

Best of all . . . sing to your child. Regardless of the magnificence of the classical repertoire, the mother’s sweet, loving voice is the ultimate analgesic for a baby. The only thing that comes close is the father’s voice, especially if he has been vocally present during the pregnancy. According to Dr. Tomatis, the more a newborn hears the mother’s voice, the more he or she will reach out for reconnection. This is the best thing for a developing baby.

Music for Teenagers

The amazing transitional time between childhood and adulthood seems to fall loosely into the category of adolescent years—twelve to nineteen. During these teen years, raging hormones cause the body to change as sexuality emerges. A driver’s license allows heretofore unknown freedom. Social interaction intensifies. Preparation for college causes academic pressures to increase. Choices abound: What do you like? Who is in charge and why? What do you want to do with your life? When are you going to leave home? These are big questions that go to the root of security, groundedness, and self-esteem. The soul searching of this time can cause anxiety and produce stress. Finding ways to deal with the quantum changes looming ahead is a well-worn rite of passage. Music and teenagers is a match made in heaven . . . or some might say hell! Let’s find out why.

“Music has strong effects on behavior and can do so by communicating moods and emotions.” As sound researcher N. M. Weinberger notes, numerous studies attest to music’s powerful influence on mood and emotion.7 According to a renowned pioneer in psychiatric aspects of music, Dr. Peter Ostwald of the University of California, San Francisco, music is “a form of social behavior . . . a symbolic emotional experience.”8 Moreover, music may provide a form of nonverbal communication whose meaning is ineffable—it cannot be captured in words. Perhaps music exists because of the need for expression of emotions that “can only crudely be measured or described in words.”9

“Therefore,” Weinberger concludes, “music can rapidly and powerfully set moods and do so in a way not as easily attained by other means. (Even if adequate to the task, the written word cannot do so as quickly and, when used, often must convey a particular setting, content and visual imagery that itself interferes with or shifts thoughts.)”10

Given our understanding of the power of music and its evocation of mood and emotion, there is another piece to add to the puzzle—that of guided imagery. How do words and music together influence us?

There has been much research on this topic. However, one recent study makes a concise statement: Music and guided imagery actually alter hormonal output. In a 1996 study titled “The Effect of Selected Classical Music and Spontaneous Imagery on Plasma B-Endorphin,” researchers explored the effect of music and verbal imagery. What they were looking to determine was if silence, music alone, or music with guided verbal imagery could cause a decline in the secretion of a stress hormone. A significant decline in the hormone was found in the group of volunteers that used music and imagery combined. No other group demonstrated any significant changes.11

What is guided imagery? Simplistically, I would define it as a psychological tool that intentionally uses language to paint conscious and subconscious images for a specific therapeutic effect. This methodology can be used for relaxation, for self-induced healing, or in a psychotherapeutic context. When words are used in conjunction with music that complements the imagery, a very powerful match of verbal and nonverbal cues is sent to the brain. Quite often the creation of a trance state facilitates a deeper induction of the guided imagery. And what can create trance? Rhythm and entrainment.12

If we understand the effect of music to elicit emotion and mood and the ability of words to stimulate and label feelings, a picture emerges of the powerful combination of words, rhythm, and music. Add to the mix a vulnerable teenage psyche and we have a recipe for considerable influence. Let’s look at seven recent reports and studies and see what these different perspectives add up to.

Recent Research

“Adolescents and Their Music.” In a 1989 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Elizabeth Brown reported: “During adolescence, teenagers are expected to develop standards of behavior and reconcile them with their perceptions of adult standards. In this context, music, a powerful medium in the lives of adolescents, offers conflicting values. The explicit sexual and violent lyrics of some forms of music clash with the themes of abstinence and rational behavior promoted by adult society. Identification with rock music, particularly those styles that are rejected by adults, functions to separate adolescents from adult society. Some forms of rock music extend well beyond respectability in fulfilling this definitional role. Total immersion into a rock subculture, such as heavy metal, may be both a portrait of adolescent alienation and an unflattering reflection of an adolescent’s perception of the moral and ethical duplicity of adult society. Physicians should be aware of the role of music in the lives of adolescents and use music preferences as clues to the emotional and mental health of adolescents.”13

“Adolescents’ Interest in and Views of Destructive Themes in Rock Music.” In this 1987 University of Florida study, the goal was to determine musical preferences and views on homicide, satanism, and suicide (HSS). In all, 694 middle and high school students were given questionnaires of structured and open-ended questions. Nine percent of the middle school students, 17 percent of the rural, and 24 percent of the urban high school students were HSS rock fans. Three quarters of these fans were male, and nearly all were white. Of the remaining non-HSS fans, a large proportion shared the concern of adult citizens and professional groups about destructive lyrics in rock music and their effects.14

“Adolescent Suicide: Music Preference as an Indicator of Vulnerability.” Researched in 1992, this study from Australia investigated possible relationships between adolescents’ music preferences and aspects of their psychological health and lifestyle. Of the girls, 74 percent preferred pop music; 71 percent of the boys preferred rock and heavy metal. Significant associations with suicidal thoughts, acts of deliberate self-harm, depression, delinquency, drug taking, and family dysfunction appeared to exist with those respondents who preferred rock or heavy metal. This was especially true of the 26 percent of the girls who expressed a preference for rock or heavy metal.

Feeling sadder after listening to the rock or heavy metal appeared to distinguish the most disturbed group. Researchers postulate that these students—11 percent of the poll group—are the most vulnerable to acting out the lyrics or themes from the music.15

“Differential Gender Affects of Exposure to Rap Music on African Americans.” Thirty African-American males and thirty African-American females, ages eleven through sixteen, from an inner-city youth club in Wilmington, North Carolina, were recruited for this 1995 study. They were shown nonviolent rap videos that contained images of women in sexually subordinate roles. They also read a vignette that involved teen dating violence perpetrated by a male. Some parts of the group did not see the videos.

Responses showed a significant correlation to gender. Acceptance of the use of violence did not vary for the young men after watching the videos. Conversely, female subjects who were exposed to the videos showed greater acceptance of the violence than did females who were not exposed.

Prior studies have shown that exposure to violent rap music did, in fact, tend to lead to a higher degree of acceptance of the use of violence, including violence against women.16

“The Influence of Misogynous Rap Music on Sexual Aggression Against Women.” This study focused solely on the effects of misogynous rap music on men. Conducted in 1995 at Ohio’s Kent State University, the purpose of this research was to determine the effect of cognitive distortions concerning women on sexually aggressive behavior in the laboratory. Misogyny is defined as “hatred of women.” The misogynous rap music used in this study contained frequent references to both sex and violence. These songs often referred to women as “bitches” and “hos” and suggested that women enjoy coercive sex. The rap songs used for the neutral listening contained no references to sex or violence and were primarily concerned with the problems of social injustice facing African Americans in America.

Twenty-seven men listened to misogynous rap music and twenty-seven men listened to neutral rap music. Participants then viewed neutral and sexual/violent film vignettes and chose one to show to a female confederate. Among the participants in the misogynous music group, 30 percent showed the assaultive vignette and 70 percent showed the neutral. Among the men who listened to the neutral rap music, only 7 percent showed the sexual/violent video; 93 percent showed the neutral vignette.

These findings suggest that misogynous music facilitates sexually aggressive behavior and support the relationship between cognitive distortions and sexual aggression.17

“The Relationship between Heavy Metal and Rap Music and Adolescent Turmoil: Real or Artifact?” Adolescents and their parents were surveyed to investigate the association between heavy metal and rap music and adolescent psychosocial turmoil. Adolescents who preferred heavy metal and rap music were compared with those who preferred other types of music. Results indicated that adolescents who preferred heavy metal and rap music had a higher incidence of below-average school grades, school behavioral problems, sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, and arrests.

Researchers in this 1994 study noted, however, that the majority of heavy metal and rap listeners are male: “What we may be seeing are merely behaviors associated with being an adolescent male.”18

“The Immediate Effects of Homicidal, Suicidal, and Nonviolent Heavy Metal and Rap Songs on the Moods of College Students.” This 1995 study from Appalachian State University examined the impact of homicidal, suicidal, and nonviolent heavy metal and rap songs on the moods of male undergraduates. There were no effects of song content or music type on suicidal ideation, anxiety, or self-esteem. Also, researchers found that male adolescents reported feeling a release of negative emotions—in a positive, nondestructive way—when listening to heavy metal music.19

Sound Awareness for Teens

If you survey the titles of these research studies, you might think that I purposefully looked for the most damning and negative reports I could find. Not so. In my extensive literature reviews of medical and psychology journals (where most recent research is reported), these papers were the sum total of what I discovered. Combing through the popular press (major magazines and daily newspapers), these were the articles I found: “Sonic Boomers: Turning Up the Volume”; “Is Rock Music Rotting Our Kids’ Minds?”; “Rock Doesn’t Rot Anybody’s Mind . . . But Heavy Metal Just Might”; “Midlife Music”; “Decibel Disciples: Young-at-Heart Head Bangers and Their Heavy Metal Way of Life”; and “Does Rap Music Need a Warning Label?”

With the exception of “Midlife Music,” all the articles questioned the negative effects of rock, heavy metal, and rap music. “Rock music has been decried as a scourge of society since it was first introduced to the American public by Bill Haley and The Comets in 1955,” states Mary Ballard, a psychology professor and specialist on the impact of the media on adolescents and children. This may be because the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll was built on defiance, rebellion, and the expression of youthful angst. Ballard continues: “Two subgenres of rock, heavy metal and rap, may best exemplify both the insurgency and the disenfranchisement experienced by many adolescents. At the same time, heavy metal and rap music often embody the worst fears of the parents of this generation’s youth, that is, sex, drugs, and violence. Thus these two types of rock music have become the center of a controversy that has reached from the sermons of small town churches to hearings on Capitol Hill.”20

Sex, drugs, and violence . . . In the 1960s the famous lifestyle slogan was Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll. However, many things have changed since then. AIDS, crack cocaine, and handguns have tarnished the battle cry of the counterculture. Things are very different for our children from when we grew up in the heady days of the original Woodstock. The 1990s began a different chapter, with music continuing to play a unique role—but the stakes are higher now.

Since rock ‘n’ roll emerged almost fifty years ago, it has become the auditory anthem of individuating teenagers. One of the things that has changed, however, is the ubiquity of music among today’s teens. Due to new technologies such as portable players and lightweight headphones, music is now a constant companion. In the Journal of the American Medical Association’s report “Adolescents and Their Music,” Dr. Elizabeth Brown noted that between the seventh and twelfth grades, the average teenager listens to 10,500 hours of rock music, just slightly less than the entire number of hours spent in the classroom from kindergarten through high school.21

This statistic is staggering. I have a six-year-old daughter. What did I just present her for the holidays? A portable CD player and a dozen very carefully chosen CDs. I was not intentionally enrolling her in the music “habit.” I wanted to introduce her to the joy of music, for her to discover different styles. I want her to know music as a good friend—a place she can go when there are too many words. I selected show tunes, silly tunes, and Irish, Gregorian, and Jewish holiday music. I included world-beat albums for children and musical dramatizations of Mozart, Vivaldi, and Handel. I’d rather she listen to music than sit mindlessly in front of a TV.

Yet many parents, researchers, and lawmakers draw correlations between escalating violence and graphically sexual or violent rock lyrics. They point out that children with headsets live in an unmonitored world of repetitive suggestion. Many believe that at least TV is a public forum that can be experienced as a family and discussed and processed as such.

Aren’t the adolescents who spend 10,500 hours listening to music practicing the art of choice? Aren’t free will, preference, and judgment important parts of honing adult skills? This book has spent a great deal of time advocating the concept of the intentional use of music and sound. Does anyone force children to listen to something they don’t like, or do they gravitate to the music that resonates emotionally or physically for them?

If teenagers have feelings of frustration, rage, and despair, they will find music that addresses those issues. Perhaps this is why the major consumers of heavy metal music are teenage males. What are the issues on a teenage girl’s mind? Love, tenderness, “doing it”! Who buys the millions of albums of clean-cut, cute eighteen-year-old male sex symbols? The fourteen-year-old girls. What are the themes of this music? Best friends, love, tenderness, and the like. Recall who did all the screaming at the early Elvis or Beatles concerts.

Seguing to the year 2000, let’s examine the effect of heavy metal and rap music from a psychoacoustic vantage point. The primary musical elements of rap consist of fairly slow rhythms on a drum machine (extremely periodic) and lots of up-front bass. This is sonic Valium! The rhythm slows the nervous system. The preponderance of bass does not energize the nervous system; rather, it is discharging. Add the lyrics, rapped in a periodic cadence. This style of speaking, along with the rock-steady percussion, facilitates trance. Recall that at the beginning of this section on teens, I spoke about the power of music and guided imagery. Rap music is an extraordinary sonic tool. It contains all the elements of a therapeutic device. The question, however, is whether its guided imagery is positive or if it embraces and imparts negative values. Some is positive and some is not. Rap stars booked on murder charges are not exactly the kind of role model that any parent wants. Yet isn’t this situation—one that has overtaken and crossed all racial boundaries—a reflection of our culture? Or is it defining our culture?

Heavy metal follows in many of the same footsteps as rap, with lots of bass but faster rhythms. Where rap seeks to keep it slow and low, heavy metal music accomplishes the same blowout of the nervous system through overload—lots of distortion turned up very loud. The themes of head-banger music tend to be on the negative side. Not much political or social awareness here. Yet who is forcing a fan to listen? What is it about this music that attracts the white teenage male? Aside from the fact that his parents cannot stand it, it makes him feel good. Those bass tones hit right in the gonads. Few young men are constantly sexually active, but they are hormonally active. Perhaps they are attracted to this music because it actually settles them down . . . in the same way that rap grew out of the inner city—young black men “chilling out,” keeping from exploding from the frustration of watching their brothers and friends die on the streets or end up in jail.

What attracts one kid to death metal and another to Christian rock? For some, identification with a particular musical style indicates resistance to authority and provides an outlet for personal troubles or conflicts with parents or school. For others, music provides relaxation and entertainment, soothes emotions, and creates a groove to dance and clap to. Ultimately, music will not turn a good kid bad. But it can influence a troubled kid and reinforce a negative direction.

Rock is an extraordinary American art form. In any of its varied approximations, rock music is not the problem. If anything, rock—or any other form of music—is an indicator of resonance. We are attracted to that which is most familiar. If a teenager is drawn to lyrics about suicide or Satan, this is a wake-up call.

The music is the messenger. Don’t shoot the messenger! Instead, welcome the opportunity to make genuine, authentic, patient pathways into your children’s minds and emotions. Listen to what they are saying by what they are listening to. These are the keys, and they are in your hands.

Chapter 9: Music and Sound in Your Life - References.

01. Wall Street Journal, 14 Jan. 1998.
02. Tomatis, The Conscious Ear, 144.
03. Nikki Landre, “Keys to Successful Music Lessons,” Discover (Oct. 1996), 100.
04. San Francisco Chronicle, 9 Nov. 1998.
05. James Shreeve, “Music of the Hemispheres,” Discover (Oct. 1996).
06. Felicity Hicks, “The Role of Music Therapy in the Care of the Newborn,” Nursing Times 91, no. 38 (1995): 31–33.
07. N. M. Weinberger, “Elevator Music: More Than It Seems,” MuSica 2, no. 2 (fall 1995): 1–5.
08. Peter Ostwald, “Music and Human Emotions,” Journal of Music Therapy 3 (1966): 93–94.
09. J. H. Appleton, “Epilogue: Implications for Contemporary Music Practice,” in Psychology and Music: The Understanding of Melody and Rhythm by T. J. Tighe and W. J. Dowling (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlebaum, 1993), 215–19.
10. Weinberger, 3.
11. Cathy H. McKinney, F. Tims, A. Kumar, and M. Kumar, “The Effect of Selected Classical Music and Spontaneous Imagery on Plasma B-Endorphin,” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 20, no. 1 (1997): 85–99.
12. A highly practiced therapeutic approach that employs guided imagery is known as GIM, an acronym for Guided Imagery and Music. Created by Helen Bonny, GIM uses specially programmed classical music to generate a dynamic unfolding of inner experiences.
13. Elizabeth F. Brown and William R. Hendee, “Adolescents and Their Music: Insights into the Health of Adolescents,” Journal of the American Medical Association 262, no. 12 (1989): 1659–63.
14. Hannelore Wass, J. Raup, K. Carullo, L. Martel, L. Mingione, and A. Sperring, “Adolescents’ Interest in and Views of Destructive Themes in Rock Music,” Omega 19, no. 3 (1988–89): 117–26.
15. Graham Martin, Michael Clark, and Colby Pearce, “Adolescent Suicide: Music Preference as an Indicator of Vulnerablility,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 32, no. 3 (May 1993): 530–35.
16. James D. Johnson, M. Adams, L. Ashburn, and W. Reed, “Differential Gender Effects of Exposure to Rap Music on African Americans,” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 33, no. 7–8 (Oct. 1995): 597–605.
17. Christy Barongan and Gordon C. Nagayama Hall, “The Influence of Misogynous Rap Music on Sexual Aggression against Women,” Psychology of Women Quarterly 19 (1995): 195–207.
18. Kevin J. Took and David S. Weiss, “The Relationship between Heavy Metal and Rap Music on Adolescent Turmoil: Real or Artifact?” Adolescence 29, no. 115 (fall 1994): 613–22.
19. Mary E. Ballard and Steven Coates, “The Immediate Effects of Homicidal, Suicidal, and Nonviolent Heavy Metal and Rap Songs on the Moods of College Students,” Youth and Society 27, no. 2 (Dec. 1995): 148–68.
20. Ibid., 148.
21. Brown and Hendee, 1659.

"Music for Babies - Music for Teenagers" is excerpted from
The Power of Sound, published by Healing Arts Press.
(c) 2001 Joshua Leeds. All rights reserved.


Mimi Doe is the founder of and the author of many books, including the award winning "10 Principles For Spiritual Parenting," and the newly released "Busy But Balanced." Her work is beautiful, balanced, and what every family with a teenager can use. -jl

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