Baby music: The soundtrack to your child's development

How making music, not just listening to it, can benefit your baby's development.

Baby playing the piano
06 July 2022

Did you know that music can make you and your baby smarter and happier?

Carlota Nelson, director of the documentary Brain Matters, explains the science behind why music benefits young minds. 

We’ve always known that music has a powerful, transformative and unifying effect on people. But only now do we know that music contributes to better memory and cognitive skills. 

This is because listening to, and playing music, produce changes in the brain. Also, both activities can release a healthy dose of endorphins, the so-called ‘happiness hormone.’

What happens when babies listen to music

Neuroscientists who study baby brains say music has long-lasting benefits for babies, too.

Music makes a big difference to the baby brain. One study from the Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences detected that after babies listen to music, their auditory and prefrontal cortexes look different. These are the regions of the brains in charge of processing both music and speech.  

Not only that: when young children interact with others, the positive effects of listening to music have been seen to extend to personality traits, like being helpful and cooperative.

Listening to music vs playing music

While listening to music impacts the brain, making music is even more powerful. This is because making music requires fine motor skills (such as being able to grip and squeeze objects), as well as linguistic and mathematical precision, and creativity ─ firing up several areas of the brain. 

Tapping into these skills means developing the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain, which allows messages to get across the brain faster and across different routes.

From research to practice

When all this scientific evidence gets translated into our homes and early learning centres, even in short doses, our children get smarter. “We see an impact in literacy, numeracy, physical development, gross motor coordination [such as running and jumping], fine motor skills, as well as social and emotional development,” says Graham Welsh, a British neuroscientist who studies the impact of music on young children’s brains.  

“It’s very easy for schools to feel they need to focus on literacy and numeracy because those are the outcomes they are judged on. But music can unlock a child’s path for learning in a way that nothing else might. It builds children’s confidence and language skills, and can improve their math scores when they get to school.”

The benefits of music for your child

When young children are exposed to music, their brains change. Among other benefits, music can:

  • Improve moods and empower young children by reducing stress levels. Even listening to sad music can be good thanks to its cathartic power, making it easier for children to get in touch with their emotions. 
  • Stimulate the formation of brain chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin. When these are released, children are encouraged to share toys, empathize and trust others.
  • Boost concentration skills and productivity.
  • Improve learning and grades.
  • Develop spatial intelligence – laying the ground for an interest in mathematics, engineering, computer science and architecture. 
  • Improve vocabulary and creativity. 

The benefits of music can be experienced in many forms. Listen to a song, play an instrument or pick up anything that’s in the classroom or at home and make music with it! Now that we know the science of music, it’s time to put a soundtrack to children’s early years.

Carlota Nelson is the writer and director of Brain Matters, a groundbreaking feature documentary about early brain development in children. Before filming began, Carlota spent eight months researching early childhood development with the world’s leading neuroscientists and members of the early childhood development community. To learn more about the film, please visit