Rock me Amadeus

I have always suspected that Fred, when on occasion judging me against his female ideal has found me wanting on a number of factors, but one in particular I always thought was close to being a deal breaker – my apathy towards classical music.

It’s not that I “hate classical music”, that would be ridiculous given its range, indeed there are some pieces that I love. But whereas I can listen to pop music, especially that from the 80s and 90s for hours at a stretch, the same cannot be said for Classic FM, which I can tolerate in the flat but which for unfathomable reasons stresses me out while driving.

And here’s the rub… Fred believes that the alien should be being exposed to more music in general, and specifically to more classical music in utero and certainly throughout its first years of life. This leads to negotiations about whether it would be sufficient for the musical education to occur when he is around after work and at weekends, or if I should be representing his tastes during the rest of the day and hence upping my exposure and hence alien’s to a more refined selection of sounds (apparently Britney doesn’t count).


The question is, will it make any difference? Certainly exposure to specific types of music will affect your taste later in life – I doubt I would have quite the love of Simon & Garfunkel, ABBA or Chris de Burgh (however admonished I may get for it) without my Dad having played these on loop in the car when I was a kid. Equally, I suspect I would have had more affinity to classical music had I had more exposure to it when young as Fred did (also explaining his strange enjoyment of electric organ covers – more commonly played in elevators). But I think this kind of exposure is most important when you are more conscious of it, when you can remember it and recall the music you have listened to and liked, which probably means more after the age of four.

So to the early years, and even before that stuck in my belly… What about then?

An article in Scientific American summarises the research on the issue. The notion that classical music makes kids smarter is referred to as the “Mozart-effect”, a phrase coined by Dr. Alfred Tomatis describing the therapeutic benefits of Mozart (and Gregorian Chants) but popularised by Don Campbell’s pithily named “The Mozart Effect: Tapping the Power of Music to Heal the Body, Strengthen the Mind, and Unlock the Creative Spirit”, which recommends playing Mozart concertos, particularly to infants, to improve cognitive function and at least temporarily increase IQ. This effect was brought to the attention of the world’s media by a study in Nature in 1993. “Psychologist Frances Rauscher’s study involved 36 college kids who listened to either 10 minutes of a Mozart sonata in D-major, a relaxation track or silence before performing several spatial reasoning tasks. In one test—determining what a paper folded several times over and then cut might look like when unfolded—students who had listened to Mozart seemed to show significant improvement in their performance (by about eight to nine spatial IQ points).” Subsequent studies have found improvements in preschoolers’ abilities on paper folding and cutting tasks.

But looking across the studies, the evidence seems to suggest a limited impact. A 1999 meta-analysis by psychologist Christopher Chabris of 16 studies related to the Mozart-effect concluded that “The effect is only one and a half IQ points, and it’s only confined to this paper-folding task”.

The thinking on this seems to be moving in the direction that a generally rich environment is more important than it specifically being powered by Mozart. So any kind of music is better than none, and playing music themselves might be better than listening, and simply playing with your baby might be equally effective.

As for in utero stimulation, a fetus’ ears start to develop at 8 weeks and are fully formed by 24 weeks, so the alien is listening from now on. It has been shown that the fetal heart rate may slow when listening to its mother’s voice – suggesting it recognises it and gains comfort from hearing it. Also there is evidence that if you play the same music over and over to your belly that the same effect occurs with that music when the baby is outside as with the mother’s voice. However, given that the womb is a pretty noisy place, what with all that stomach gurgling and heart beating it has to contend with – letting alone mummy yakking away, it probably gets the stimulation it needs, combined with a little extra during times of wedding discos and kitchen dance-offs with the cat (I generally win – Carrie just ain’t mastered the jive yet).

I suspect despite the research the debate will continue, and I think I should try to expose myself to more classical music anyway for my own sake if not the alien’s, I just need Fred’s help to navigate perhaps starting in the shallow (recognisable) end before pursuing the deeps.

Of course Fred would probably say that all the above proves nothing… the problem with the studies being they used Mozart as the stimulus… now if they’d used Rachmaninoff, then they’d have seen results!

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