Researchers Observe How Babies Learn About Music

Both researchers and lay people have long known that babies learn language by parroting the words they hear. However, a new study demonstrates that babies may also imitate singing they hear in songs.

In part of the study researchers analyzed audio recorded from 15 month old baby. The recording captured the child making sounds like the beginning of “Happy Birthday” a few hours after it heard the song played through a toy. The analysis showed that the baby was able to recreate the first six notes of the song, almost exactly. And in G major.

Researchers point out that in the first year of life children develop into very conscious music listeners. They are easily able to learn about the patterns and pitches and rhythms in the music they hear. However, researchers aren’t sure exactly how this happens.

The study is one of the first to follow an infant for a day and record its attempts at recreating music. And, at least in this one case, they found like when a baby mimics talking, this baby did the same for songs it heard.

This child wore a lightweight recording device and through a mixture of software that analyzed the data—the software is able to measure things like adult words a baby attempts to speak—and critical listening researchers were able to find patterns where it seemed the child was trying to mimic music happening around it.


Ohio State Joins Initiative to Improve Early Education

Ohio State’s research team from the College of Education and Human Ecology will focus on the role of “classroom ecology” in children’s learning. That includes not only factors like student ability and relationships with teachers, but also the social status of students – whether they are popular with others or feel victimized.

In addition, the Ohio State team will conduct a statewide analysis of policies and procedures that affect classroom ecology. For example, some school districts give parents choices in which school their children will attend and that could have a major impact on classroom ecology, she said.

The researchers have received a $4.5 million federal grant as part of a national effort to improve early childhood education across the country. The study will last five years.

Other Ohio State investigators on the project, all from the College of Education and Human Ecology, are Kelly Purtell, Jessica Logan, Tzu-Jung Lin, Millie Gort and Richard Lomax.

Other Early Learning Network grants went to the University of Nebraska; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; the University of California, Irvine; the University of Virginia; and MDRC, a policy research center.