Musical ways to bond with baby

Babies are born into a non-stop symphony of sounds. To their little ears, the world is a riveting phonetic mystery they're constantly trying to decode.

All the sounds they soak in blaze pathways in their brains, "forming connections from neuron to neuron based on what our environment is telling us we need to survive and thrive," says Richard Edwards, an assistant professor of music education at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Babies love to hear the ooohing and ahhing of their mamas and papas - those familiar tones they heard from inside the womb. They also have a thing for rhythm and melody.

"All babies respond to music inherently in very basic ways," says Edwards, an expert on how the human brain becomes musical. "It doesn't appear to be something that some people are born with and some people are not."

Very early on, babies turn their heads toward music when they hear it. They coo, and by 6 or 12 months, they'll rock or bob their heads - not necessarily to the beat but clearly in response to the music they're hearing.

So how do you nurture your baby's innate fascination with music?

1. Make listening to music an everyday thing.

Researchers don't know a lot about the possible benefits, if any, that babies reap from prenatal music listening. Some moms stretch headphones across their bellies or strap on prenatal music belts marketed for their powers to aid fetal development.

Take such claims with a grain of salt, but also consider this no-brainer: Music can provide a healthy dose of stress-relief. So why not set aside some music chill time when you're expecting? Once your baby arrives, make listening to music part of your daily routine.

"Music is a great tool to help the parent relax and be there with their baby at that moment, regardless of sleep deprivation or anxiety," says Vered Benhorin, a Brooklyn-based music therapist and mother of two, who teaches a workshop that's all about helping new parents bond with their babies.

If you like sing-song children's tunes, play them to your heart's content. If too much "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Wheels on the Bus" makes you crave quiet time, fill your go-to playlist with the music you love, whether it's Beethoven, the Beatles, Bob Marley or Beck.

2. Broaden your musical horizons.

Music is made and loved in many different ways worldwide, so have fun and explore new genres with your baby. Listen to Tibetan chants and Latin American flamenco, African drum beats and American blues and jazz.

Classical music - Beethoven, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and the like - has often been touted as the best music for babies. Back in the early 1990s, the late physicist, Gordon Shaw, and other researchers found that listening to Mozart could improve spatial-temporal reasoning, the ability to move objects around in a three-dimensional space.

That study and others that probed the so-called "Mozart effect" were more limited in scope than most news headlines let on. Yet they spawned a marketplace teeming with classical music products touting their powers to make children smarter.

Over time, research has shown that pathways in the brain used to process classical music are similar to those used for spatial tasks - like working a jigsaw puzzle or packing the trunk of a car for vacation. But that doesn't mean music will get your kid into Harvard.

"I always tell parents there's no good evidence that just listening to classical music is going to make you smarter," says Diane Bales, associate professor in the University of Georgia's Department of Child and Family Development.

There are all kinds of research about the great things music can do for babies, but Edwards says the best thing to do is to experience music as the joyful thing it is, something that "allows us to communicate with our children in a very meaningful, healthy way."