We all know that Mozart was a genius. He had written his first compositions by the age of five and by eight he had composed his first symphony, though his first opera had to wait until he was a stately eleven years old! He also kept a pet starling and taught it to sing the theme from his 17th piano concerto (although he was disappointed that it always got one note wrong!).
The ‘Mozart effect’ is a term coined to describe a study from the ’90s that suggested that listening to a bit of Mozart each day could do exactly that – make babies, children or even you and me
The study sparked a huge amount of interest: parents started playing music to their infants; a US governor applied for money so that every newborn could be sent a free CD of classical music; and the owner of a mozzarella farm even claimed that listening to Wolfgang’s music improved the milk production of his buffalo!
If you’re thinking that this all sounds a little too good to be true then you’re probably right, but many subsequent studies have gone on to provide very strong evidence of a link between active engagement with music and improvement in cognitive functioning. From the development of literacy skills and spatial reasoning (useful in maths as well as for navigating your way to the chocolate aisle in Sainsbury’s!) to increasing attention and reducing anxiety, the evidence is solid. And there’s good news even if the music of the wunderkind himself is not really your thing – some studies have suggested that any music you enjoy can be just as effective as Mozart’s.
It turns out that it’s the ‘engagement’ bit that is really important – singing, playing and actively listening. What’s more, the younger you start the better. As Professor Susan Hallam MBE says in her fantastic paper The Power of Music (well worth a read):
‘In addition to the musical benefits, high-quality music education… enhances attainment across all school subjects (except sport)…’
So, why not give it a try? Start with something really simple. Perhaps you could begin each day with a song – get the children to sing, clap and move along to the music and watch out for the positive impact it has on their (and your) day. And if that doesn’t work you could always get yourself a starling and teach it Uptown Funk!