When I say I teach prenatal music classes, people can’t believe what they’ve heard. I hear polite laughter and the question, "What exactly is prenatal music?" I’m only too glad to answer because it isn’t a laughing matter—unless we’re having too much fun!
Hungarian music educator, Zoltan Kodály, was asked, "When is the best time to begin a child’s music education?" He replied, "Nine months before the birth of the mother!"
Children are programmed for learning. Nerve endings which relay the perception of touch to the brain have appeared on the skin between the eighth and tenth week of pregnancy. In the tenth week, the neurons of the brain have begun to form synapses (connections) and are communicating. During the fifth month of pregnancy, hearing has developed allowing the fetus to be stimulated by auditory as well as tactile experiences. By the twenty-fourth week, the fetus’ heart rate will increase in response to patting or stroking the mother’s abdomen. This type of appropriate sensory stimulation may increase the ability-potential of the child.
Therefore, natural responses to music such as tapping, patting, and stroking become simple sensory experiences making music a perfect learning tool for your unborn child. These interactions enhance the quality of life for both parents and child.
If you are afraid that classes are full of scientific mumbo jumbo, that things may be too "stuffy", or that you have to be a trained musician, think again! One mother-to-be recently told me, "I didn’t tell my husband where we were going because I was afraid he would kill me. Now, it’s all he talks about!"
Previous musical experience is unnecessary. Expectant parents join class in the middle of their second trimester, possibly the most comfortable and enjoyable time for parents. Fatigue and nausea usually have subsided, and Mom has begun to feel those special flutterings that will soon rival the high kicks of a Rockette!
If the class schedule is inconvenient for dad, mom comes alone. or she may bring baby’s grandparent, aunt, or sibling. During class, parents are guided through activities and allowed to participate at their own comfort level. Each mother or couple taps, rubs, and strokes the growing abdomen stimulating the senses of the child within. Simple folk songs and rhymes are often accompanied by rhythm instruments such as sticks, bells, rattles, glockenspiels and drums. Everyone sings. Babies are not critics and love the sound of your voice. Because the voice is a significant carrier of thoughts and feelings, it soothes and reassures your child. Quality is unimportant. Megaphones are used in some activities to help focus the sound of the voice. These techniques work. Hours after birth, an infant will give a recognition response by turning his head toward a familiar voice or sound. Don’t be afraid. Sing out, and speak up many times a day!
A variety of baroque and classical music is used for relaxation and movement. Research indicates these styles of music stimulate learning and that prenates actually show a preference for them. We dance and move rhythmically, tapping steady beats (good practice for those occasional sleepless nights), giving baby a sense of beat groupings and phrasing. While this is fun for us, researchers believe it may be preparing the child for later cognitive learning. A lullaby slows the activity level and brings the class to a gentle close.
The goal is not to make the next generation into little Einsteins, Mozarts or Madame Curries but to share the wonders of music. Parents find new channels of communication with their child and ways to use music in everyday activities while strengthening their special bond at the same time.
Editorial provided by Judy Meier Farley, instructor of early childhood music for twenty years. She is the co-owner of Arts a la Carte, a fine arts studio for children located in Houston, Texas.