The concept of the “Mozart Effect” was presented in a book in 1999 but the basis was a research paper written in 1993 (by Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw, and Catherine Ky). The original study found an increase in college students’ math scores (specific to spatial reasoning) after listening to Mozart.
It got picked up in the media as “Listening to Mozart makes you smarter.” Parents and teachers started playing classical music all the time. Toys, CDs, and products were made for all ages (babies to adults) marketing as a way to boost intelligence.
The problem is… it doesn’t work. In fact, in children, it may harm learning more than it helps.
Many researchers have tried to recreate the Mozart Effect and while one was successful, SEVEN others were not. The original researchers also found that the increase in test scores was only specific to one type of math problem! Despite that, products continued to be made and marketed claiming to make kids (or adults) smarter. One study even showed parents and teachers were playing music all the time thinking it was helping their children’s intelligence.
The thing is, background music (or any background noise) can have a negative effect on a child’s ability to focus. One study showed preschoolers focus for a shorter period of time on a task when there’s background music present. What’s interesting, though, is that children who had a lot of music experience at home could concentrate on the task longer than those who didn’t.
Background music and sounds can also affect how well a toddler or preschool understands words. Ages 2-5 are crucial for language development and learning new words which is actually harder for them when there’s background music (classical or not), television, or even loud environmental sounds. Young children listen and interpret sounds differently than adults so if you’re doing an activity where you want to talk and interact, it may be best to turn off the music.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t play our kids classical music. There are a lot of benefits to listening to music and playing with musical instruments. Music can increase or decrease energy levels and shift moods. But, what research suggests (especially for infants, toddlers and preschoolers) is music is best as a focused activity. Make music something you do – not something that’s just happening in the background.