In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Music and Babies

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Musicality
  • Developmental Theories
  • Curriculum and Pedagogical Theories

Childhood Studies Music and Babies
Beatriz Ilari
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0116


It was not until the late 20th century that the systematic study of music in babyhood gained momentum. With the exception of sparse studies describing lullabies and singing practices in families with babies, the majority of key texts appeared in the literature in the 1980s. Two possible interrelated explanations exist for the relatively late blossoming of research concerning music and babies. First, the development of special research techniques has allowed researchers to study music perception and cognition in early life, which is arguably the main orientation to date. Second, there has been a gradual shift in the ways babies are perceived—from musically incompetent to competent. Since the 1980s, many studies have investigated how music is part of a baby’s life. Most of these studies have been carried out in North America and Western Europe, although cross-cultural works and studies from underrepresented countries are gradually emerging in the literature. Framed by a wide array of theoretical frameworks, epistemologies, and methodologies, these studies have helped to build an ever-growing corpus of knowledge concerning music and babies. For the purpose of this article, the latter is defined following both the general definition proposed by the Oxford Dictionary and the ages of children who participated in the reviewed studies, which range from pre-birth to about thirty-six months postnatal age.

General Overviews

Music educators and psychologists have provided important overviews on music and babies (Adachi and Trehub 2012, Trehub 2003, Young and Ilari 2012) and its methodologies (Trehub 2010). Likewise, music therapists working with babies and their families have also provided comprehensive reviews attempting to connect theory, research, and practice (Nöecker-Ribaupierre 2004). It is noteworthy that most overviews are written in the form of articles or book chapters. Few books dealing exclusively with the topic of music and babies exist to date. Some exceptions include works by Grosléziat 1998 and Nöecker-Ribaupierre 2004.

  • Adachi, Mayumi, and Sandra E. Trehub. “Musical Lives of Infants.” In The Oxford Handbook of Music Education. Edited by Gary McPherson and Graham Welch, 229–247. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    Provides a comprehensive description of music in the lives of babies, with music psychology as the main theoretical framework.

  • Grosléziat, Chantal. Les bébés et la musique. Vol. 1, Premières sensations et créations sonores. Ramonville Sainte-Agne, France: Érès, 1998.

    Part of a series of books, this volume centers on music and babies, based on studies from cognitive psychology, psychoanalysis, and linguistic development. A comprehensive source for those who are new to the field.

  • Nöecker-Ribaupierre, Monica, ed. Music Therapy for Premature and Newborn Infants. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Press, 2004.

    With a preface by Mechtild Papousek and chapters written by leading music therapists from different parts of the world, this edited volume provides a good balance between theory and practice. While the first part includes chapters on important topics such as fetal hearing and attachment, the second part centers on research and clinical applications.

  • Trehub, Sandra E. “Musical Predispositions in Infancy.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 930.1 (2003): 1–16.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2001.tb05721.x

    In this well-cited article, Trehub reviews psychological research on music perception and cognition and suggests that infants are born with predispositions to process music. Music is viewed here in a broad sense and not as a highly specialized ability of a select few. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Trehub, Sandra E. “In the Beginning: A Brief History of Infant Music Perception.” In Special Issue: Understanding Musical Structure and Form: Essays in Honour of Irene Deliege. Edited by Irene Deliege. Musicae Scientiae 14 (2010): 37–61.

    DOI: 10.1177/10298649100140S206

    A pioneer in infant music perception research, Trehub describes the history of the field and poses important questions for future research. A must-read for anyone interested in infant music perception and cognition.

  • Young, Susan, and Beatriz Ilari. “Musical Participation from Birth to Three: Toward a Global Perspective.” In The Oxford Handbook of Music Education. Edited by Gary McPherson and Graham Welch, 279–295. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

    Here, the authors use the lens of childhood studies to examine music making in the lives of children aged zero to three. Young and Ilari argue that young children learn music by participating in everyday musical practices. Illustrative vignettes from countries as diverse as Canada, Italy, Brazil, and England are presented.

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