Musical Brains: Experiment

ambience: Songs produced by a tonal generator.

The tones we’re listening to may not be captivating, but they’re enough to capture the attention of a baby. And in the process, they’re giving scientists clues as to how infants perceive music. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Sandra Trehub of the University of Toronto has been working with babies for more than 25 years, trying to understand the level of their musical ability. While playing these simple tunes, she takes note when babies respond to subtle changes in the musical patterns.

“Infants have a natural tendency to respond to novel patterns. When these are novel auditory patterns and these aren’t directly in front of them, they actually orient their whole body towards the locus of sound. So I take their tendency to turn towards new sounds and use that as an indicator that they noticed that the sound has changed in some way. We have someone seated opposite them. That person amuses the infant by holding puppets. While this is going on, a tune is playing repeatedly from a loudspeaker to the infant’s side. Periodically, we make subtle changes in that pattern. They just turn in the direction of the loudspeaker. Immediately following some subtle change that we’ve made, we reward them by the presentation of an animated toy. So if they turn when there’s been no change in the pattern, nothing happens. But if they turn immediately following this alteration of the pattern, then they receive that reward.”

Dr. Trehub has found that infants are remarkably skilled when it comes to recognizing musical variation. For example, when just one note in the pattern is played at a slightly higher or lower pitch, most infants notice immediately.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation.

music

Musical Brains: Experiment

Infants are remarkably skilled at recognizing musical variation, even subtle changes in pitch or tempo.
Air Date:09/28/2001
Scientist:
Transcript:


ambience: Songs produced by a tonal generator.

The tones we're listening to may not be captivating, but they're enough to capture the attention of a baby. And in the process, they're giving scientists clues as to how infants perceive music. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Sandra Trehub of the University of Toronto has been working with babies for more than 25 years, trying to understand the level of their musical ability. While playing these simple tunes, she takes note when babies respond to subtle changes in the musical patterns.

"Infants have a natural tendency to respond to novel patterns. When these are novel auditory patterns and these aren't directly in front of them, they actually orient their whole body towards the locus of sound. So I take their tendency to turn towards new sounds and use that as an indicator that they noticed that the sound has changed in some way. We have someone seated opposite them. That person amuses the infant by holding puppets. While this is going on, a tune is playing repeatedly from a loudspeaker to the infant's side. Periodically, we make subtle changes in that pattern. They just turn in the direction of the loudspeaker. Immediately following some subtle change that we've made, we reward them by the presentation of an animated toy. So if they turn when there's been no change in the pattern, nothing happens. But if they turn immediately following this alteration of the pattern, then they receive that reward."

Dr. Trehub has found that infants are remarkably skilled when it comes to recognizing musical variation. For example, when just one note in the pattern is played at a slightly higher or lower pitch, most infants notice immediately.

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation.

music