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Baby's got rhythm: carrying your infant may influence the way they make music

New research found that infants with a shorter parent drummed with a faster tempo than infants with a taller parent.

Image copyright: Sinead Rocha

Infants as young as five months old have a natural rhythm, with the height of their parents determining the tempo of that rhythm due to the differing pace they are carried at - according to new research from Birkbeck.

Lead author, Sinead Rocha, from Birkbeck’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, and currently at the University of Cambridge said: “One of the most basic elements of making music is the ability to produce a regular beat. Our study showed that infants are able to produce a natural rhythm, with older infants drumming faster than younger infants. This is the reverse to the rest of the lifespan, where our natural rhythm slows with age.

“We also found that infants with a shorter parent drummed with a faster tempo than infants with a taller parent. Parents instinctively carry, rock and bounce their infants and this study is the first to ask whether the everyday experience of being carried by a caregiver impacts early musicality. It is exciting to see that infant tempo is not predicted by their own body size, but by their parent’s body size, which may reflect the predominant rate of walking that they experience when their parent carries them.”

The study involved 115 infants, who each played a drum for two minutes. Their performance was analysed to show the tempo that they drummed at. The study took place as part of the 2016 Wellcome Trust funded ‘Brain Waves Festival’, organised by the Polka Theatre, Wimbledon. Families took part in the experiment in a field lab at the theatre, whilst attending the show ‘Shake, Rattle & Roll’, which was informed by the latest findings of developmental psychology.

Professor Denis Mareschal, Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, commented: “Collaborating on the Brain Waves Festival was a unique experience that was a real testament to science communication and public engagement. Not only did our broader insights inform the theatrical production, but we were able to engage families directly with the science we were producing.

“Moving forward we plan to explore the relationship between locomotion and infant musicality further and look at how ‘passive’ rhythmic experience led by the caregiver may impact infant ability to synchronise with music.”

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

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