Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Importance of Prenatal Sound and Music

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Importance of Prenatal Sound and Music

Article excerpt


Music has profoundly affected human beings physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually invirtually every culture throughout history. Yet only in this century has music begun to attract scientific attention. The research at the University of California at Irvine has provided some information about the effect of Mozart on the spatial and mathematical intelligence of children. Recently, an article in the Los Angeles Times (11/9/98) reported neurobiological research which indicates that "undeniably, there is a biology of music." Music is destined to play a more active role in the future of medicine. The following ideas illustrate how music affects our early development.

The importance of prenatal music was born in my own awareness over twenty years ago when I was expecting my youngest son. The doctor thought it would be dangerous for me to participate in something very active because the baby was was due that week, and since he was a second child stastically might arrive early, if not on time. Through my communication with the baby telepathically and his subsequent delay in arrival, I was able to attend a music conference that was very important to me. My son was born the day after I attended this stimulating week of singing and gentle movement.

Already at that time I observed that lullabies were relegated to the past. Young mothers no longer knew this folk song tradition. Michel Odent, M.D., believes that women have a profound need to sing to their babies but that the medicalization of birth has upset this process. In the past, women all over the world have sung lullabies to their babies. These were very important because as we now know the fetus is having first language lessons in the womb. The inflections of the mother tongue are conveyed not only through speech but most importantly through song. The singing voice has a richer frequency range than speech. In fact, studies in other disciplines such as linguistics and musicology (e.g., David Whitwell, 1993) point out that there was a time when speech was song and therefore singing is the older of the two. Babies born to deaf mothers miss these important first lessons in language development. French pioneer Dr. Alfred Tomatis mentions being intrigued by the fact that song birds hatched by silent foster mothers can't sing. What the baby learns in utero are the intonational patterns of sound and the frequencies of a language in his/her particular culture. Frequency is the level of pitch measured in Hertz (Hz.) This range varies between 16 to 20,000 Hz. There is very little distortion of the mother's voice as heard by the fetus whereas other external voices sound more muffled, especially in the higher frequencies. According to Rubel (1984), the fetus is responsive first to lower frequencies and then to higher ones.

Verny and others have noted that babies have a preference for stories, rhymes, and poems first heard in the womb. When the mother reads out loud, the sound is received by her baby in part via bone conduction. Dr. Henry Truby, Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics and Linguistics at the University of Miami, points out that after the sixth month, the fetus moves in rhythm to the mother's speech and that spectrographs of the first cry of an abortus at 28 weeks could be matched with his mother's. The elements of music, namely tonal pitch, timbre, intensity and rhythm, are also elements used in speaking a language. For this reason, music prepares the ear, body and brain to listen to, integrate and produce language sounds. Music can thus be considered a pre-linguistic language which is nourishing and stimulating to the whole human being, affecting body, emotions, intellect, and developing an internal sense of beauty, sustaining and awakening the qualities in us that are wordless and otherwise inexpressible.

The research of Polverini-Rey (1992) seems to indicate that prenates exposed to lullabies in utero were calmed by the stimulus. The famous British violinist Yehudi Menuhin believes that his own musical talent was partly due to the fact that his parents were always singing and playing music before he was born. …

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