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Baby on Stage: Music, Performance, and the Infant Brain

Photo by karschsp via Flickr (Creative Commons).

The other night I went to see a very entertaining jazz/swing band called the Jitterbug Vipers.

Adding to the fun, singer Sarah Sharp wore her five-month-old son, Angus, in a wrap carrier while she performed. Angus was cheerfully mellow about the whole business, so I’m guessing it was not his first time in front of an audience. You can watch some video of that show here. (Video, with sounds, starts automatically. And annoyingly.)

To preempt criticism, Sarah pointed out to the audience that Angus was wearing earplugs. They evidently were quite effective, because halfway through the set, Sarah turned him from facing out to facing in and he promptly fell asleep.

But while he was awake and facing out, Angus was fascinating to watch as he watched us. Sometimes he kicked his legs. Was it to the music? Even without hearing the tunes, he doubtless could feel the rhythm and the vibration of his mother’s singing. When guitarist Slim Richey soloed, Sarah turned to face him and Angus seemed mesmerized by the action of Slim’s fingers on the guitar strings. Slim enjoyed playing for his tiny fan, too.

What effect, do you think, does this have on Angus’ little developing brain? I skimmed some existing research on infants, cognition, and music. As I understand it, music cognition has similarities with language acquisition–a critical age, for example. One study showed that if a child is exposed primarily to Western music, by the time he’s 12 months old, he will better recognize changes in the meter of Western music than Balkan. (And vice versa.)

And though absolute (or perfect) pitch is rare, it can sometimes be developed if musical training starts young enough, as it does in Japan, according to this book chapter.  (Coincidentally written by Dr. Jay Dowling, one of my former professors at UT Dallas, who studies music cognition.)

But what of Angus’ experience? What does he make of being on stage, in front of an audience? How is his brain responding to being pressed to his mother’s chest while she belts Cab Calloway songs? Is this immersion in jazz rhythms affecting his music cognition?And how about his fascination with Slim’s agile fingers? Will Angus grab a guitar and start picking as soon as he develops fine motor skills?

I don’t see a downside to what Angus is experiencing, though I am interested to hear if you do. Mostly, I see a little fella who is developing a unique relationship with music and performing, and I burn with curiosity about where it might take him.

Baby on Stage: Music, Performance, and the Infant Brain

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APA Reference
Dembling, S. (2011). Baby on Stage: Music, Performance, and the Infant Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 30, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jan 2011
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