Tuning in to brain development Music: The music-loving governor of Georgia is providing every newborn in his state with a CD of classical music.

July 06, 1998|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN STAFF

Will listening to classical music turn infants into Einsteins? Governor Zell Miller of Georgia thinks so, and to prove it he's giving a free classical CD or tape to every newborn in his state.

Last week, Miller announced that Sony Music Corp. had agreed to donate 100,000 recordings for distribution in Georgia hospitals -- enough to give one to each newly minted Georgian for a year.

"Play it often," Miller advises parents in a message included with the recording. "I hope both you and your baby enjoy it -- and that your little one will get off to a smart start."

"He's been real serious about education initiatives here in Georgia," said Tim Bentely, the governor's press secretary. "This is another initiative to help newborns in Georgia get a head start."

The governor has been convinced by the increasing evidence that playing classical music at an early age helps children's brains develop better, Bentley said.

"It may sound humorous, but this is a serious initiative," he added.

For once, it seems the experts and the politicians agree.

Recent studies have shown that babies as young as 4 months old can recognize musical structures and distinguish between harmonious and dissonant sounds.

But the most important findings involve brain development.

They suggest that listening to classical music during the "critical period" of an infant's first seven months enhances the formation of neurological pathways in the brain.

The result is a boost in learning power that aids in the development of logic, abstract thinking, memory and creativity.

Miller, a grandfather who says he has followed these developments over the years, admits to being a longtime music lover.

He has even written a book about Georgia music history, "They Heard Georgia Singing," that includes entries on opera diva Jessye Norman and soul singer James Brown.

In a recent telephone interview, he talked as easily about music and infant brain development as about the intricacies of the state budget.

"As you know, the brain has two lobes," he explained in his distinctive Georgia drawl. "The studies show that music engages both hemispheres of the brain -- its creativity and emotion engage the right lobe, while rhythm and pitch engage the left. So people who receive musical exposure at a young age develop a bundle of nerves that connects those two halves."

The governor, a two-term Democrat who entered office in 1990, originally proposed using state tax money to fund the classical giveaway, but legislators balked. That's when Sony, a major employer in Georgia, offered to provide the tapes and CDs free of charge.

In a statement, Miller said that after a baby is born, its brain continues to form, "not just growing bigger as toes and fingers do, but developing more and more microscopic connections that will be responsible for learning and remembering throughout life.

"At birth, an infant has 100 billion or more neurons in its brain, forming more than 50 trillion connections, or synapses," Miller said. "But during the first months of life that number increases 20 times to more than 1,000 trillion."

The relationship between music and intelligence first surfaced in the popular press in 1993 with reports of the so-called "Mozart effect."

Researchers Gordon Shaw of the University of California at Irvine and Frances Rauscher of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh found that college students who listened to 10 minutes of a Mozart piano sonata scored eight or nine points higher on a test for spatial-temporal reasoning.

Spatial-temporal reasoning is the type of brain function involved in forming mental pictures of physical objects and is a key element in the processes required by mathematics, physics and engineering.

Later, Rauscher and Shaw investigated how music training affected the brain development of inner-city preschoolers. They found that children who were given piano lessons scored on average 34 points higher on spatial-temporal reasoning tests than children who had no music lessons or who had had instruction on computers.

Miller has taken those studies to heart.

"What underlies our spatial reasoning skills is our ability to detect and predict patterns," he said. "That is what musical melodies and harmonies are -- sequences of sound patterns that strengthen the brain's ability to process information and identify patterns in it."

But though Miller loves music, he didn't feel qualified to select the particular pieces on the CD himself, he said.

So Michael McGuire, a Tony Award-winning tenor who sings on Broadway and in opera, helped the governor pick the selections, which include such classics as Mozart's "A Little Night Music" and Beethoven's "For Elise."

In Georgia, every newborn who leaves the hospital gets a package of diapers, baby lotion and other items from the state, said press secretary Bentley. The classical CD will now also be part of that package, he said.

Music selections

Music Selections on Georgia classical music CD for babies, "Build Your Baby's Brain," Sony Music Entertainment, Inc.

Mozart, "Eine kleine Nachtmusick"

Beethoven, "Fur Elise"

Handel, "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba," From the opera "Salome"

Mozart, "Rondo alla Turca"

Schubert, Quintet for Piano and Strings ("The Trout"), Scherzo

Vivaldi, "Spring," from "The Four Seasons" (1st movement)

Bach, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," from Cantata No. 147

Pachelbel, "Canon in D"

Schubert, "Quintet for Piano and Strings ("The Trout), Andante

Bach, "Air on the G string"

Bach, "Sheep May Safely Graze," from Cantata No. 208

Pub Date: 7/06/98

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