Listening to complex music is good for infants!

Music baby

In John M. Feierabend, Ph.D. 1996 article ‘Music and Movement for Infants and Toddlers: Naturally Wonder-full’ makes a strong assertions.

  ‘Many people have not developed basic sensitivities which would allow them to function musically in society. Most adults should be able to demonstrate basic musical behaviors including

  1. comfortable and accurate singing;
  2. comfortable and accurate moving;
  3. Expressive sensitivity when listening and/or responding to music.

Too often I hear ‘oh I can’t sing’ ‘oh I don’t dance’ which to me sounds silly. I think in today’s media environment I think we often pair musical performance with commerce and fame and not the simple skill and joy of music appreciation.

Saying ‘I can’t sing’ for most people either means I don’t enjoy singing or I don’t sound like my favorite popular musician.

The African proverb goes “If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk, you can sing.”

Music is a skill, talking and reading are also skills. We work on talking and reading every day so it is second nature. How many illiterate people do you know? Maybe some…not many…is it that these people who can read have special talents?

He then goes on to say

If we believe adults should be able to sing to their children and dance with their spouses and appreciate good quality music literature, then we must sing to our babies, and dance with our babies, and do both with quality children’s music literature.”

A century ago there was little need for music class, in that music performance was more integrated into everyday life. Before many of the technological devices we have today many children would be more inclined to look at a personal instrument as a prized possession. The idea of playing an instrument and starting a band with your friends was as common as any group activity there was. The joy of music performance wasn’t competing with the television or the smart phone.

Parents need to be deliberate nowadays about providing a musical education whether it is in the home, through the school, or through supplemental developmental programs. Ideally a combination of all three of these would be a fixture in a growing child’s cultural landscape


  • If children are to develop a sophisticated spoken vocabulary, they must hear a sophisticated vocabulary.
  • If children experience good grammar, enunciation, and expressive speaking they will assimilate those skills.
  • If children hear a limited vocabulary, incorrect grammar, and poor enunciation, they likewise will assimilate those language patterns.
  • If children are read to in an expressive voice, they will later read aloud and to themselves with appropriate expression.
  • If children are to grow into adults that have a thirst for good books, they must be nurtured with exemplary children’s


  • If children are to develop healthy bodies, they must be nurtured with healthy food and exercise.
  • If children are to grow to appreciate good music, they must be nurtured with excellent examples of children’s music literature sung with sensitive expression.

The tendency is to go for things branded ‘baby’ this includes music. There is no such thing as ‘baby music’. The music that infants listen to should be varied and include a significant amount of ‘complex’ music. ‘Complex’ music as categorized as music that deviates from standard elementary harmony and rhythm. Listening to your favorite pop tunes is great, but also listening to challenging music is going to help tune the pathways of the mind to understand the complexity of musical expression and can give a child the opportunity to develop ‘perfect pitch’.

At the heart of John M. Feierabend article is a point I personally incorporate into my teaching philosophy. Music is a language that is learned, not a magical skill reserved for the ‘talented’. If the education is built on a foundation of appreciation and normalized participation, then music can be accessed in a similar fashion as any other activity we enjoy. Next week we will discuss some fun listening that you can explore with your kids!


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