• Hermi Viljoen

Music therapy for infants

Why is music important for babies?

Research suggests that babies prefer music over simple speech sounds. It has been proven that infants between 5 months and 2 years respond to music by rocking and moving their bodies to the music. Not only do they rock and move to the music, they adapt their movement to the rhythm and tempo of the music. They are attracted to simple, repetitive, high pitched melodies, and faster tempos.

Why must you sing to your baby?

The act of singing to your baby offers a lot of bonding opportunities. It offers mother and infant the opportunity to physically be in contact with each other, to make more eye-contact, and allow the mother the opportunity to fully engage and adapt to her baby’s emotional and physical needs. This is something that recorded music cannot achieve. It is a beautiful way of communicating and bonding with your baby. During these beautiful bonding moments, the hormone called oxytocin is released. This is also known as the “bonding hormone”. It is said that music releases oxytocin, and not language when making music with babies.

Musical Development in infants

0-3 months: Can already discriminate between frequencies in the first days of life.

3-6 months: start cooing and creating purposeful vocal sounds. Music also begins to calm infants when they reach the stage of developing their first smile.

6-9 months: Show preference for higher pitches and begin to use simple rhythms.

9-12 months: Gain the ability to match pitches about 55% of the time.

12-18 months: Start to make vocal sounds in response to music and begin to move in response to music and match movements to the music.

Therapeutic goals for Babies 

Development of social, emotional and communication skills

Music offer babies multiple opportunities to socialise, engage and connect with those around them. This is very helpful for parents and caretakers as they are able to understand and meet their baby’s emotional and physical needs. Music Therapy offer other social skills like extending attention span, promoting eye contact, improving listening skills, and practicing share and turn-taking skills through play. Infants are offered a different and accessible form of communicating that does not require spoken words.

Music improvisation activities with another person creates a great deal of communication through listening, sharing, and exchanging of ideas, thoughts, and feelings. Infants are able to express emotions through music making, vocalizations and by physically moving to music. It is well known that music has the ability to shift emotional states and can be a healthy way of addressing and acknowledging feelings of anxiety, stress and agitation. It also provides a means of distraction and temporary relief from pain and discomfort. Over time music can help build self-confidence through successful and positive musical experiences.

Physical and cognitive benefits

Music making consists of the physical act of play where if able to, an infant is encouraged to physically engage by playing different musical instruments or move and dance. This is a fun way of improving and developing gross and fine motor skills. This is especially beneficial for pre-maturely born or physically disables babies.

When engaging musically, both cerebral hemispheres are stimulated. This means that music is a whole brain activity and can aide in various areas such as speech and language production and other cognitive processes. Educational songs with information embedded into them are effective tools for teaching a child academic skills.


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