How babies respond to music at a few days old

Every baby is born as a “sounder and mover,” equipped with the ability to make music, says Kenneth K. Guilmartin, early childhood music expert and Founder/Director of Music Together, the music education program for children ages birth through eight.

At birth, a baby can cry, squeal, giggle, and coo—a range of sounds that will one day be utilized for singing. Babies are also wired to receive music. In fact, studies have shown that even the youngest babies respond to tempo changes, can discriminate among differences in loudness and melody, and can sense when a song is ending.

Guilmartin explains, “Babies often move physically when music starts or stops. When a change in music occurs, even when asleep, they may show a ‘startle response,’ with their hands or feet moving involuntarily. The startle response in relation to music lets us know that babies do hear and respond to music—even at just a few days old. Over time, a baby’s movements will become more purposeful and organized, and eventually, he will try to align his movements to the beat of the music he is hearing.”

Parents and caregivers can watch for their babies to respond to music, especially as someone begins to sing or play. During the music, the baby may stop usual movements or activity and seem to stare intently or freeze; then when the music stops, he or she will often change activity again.

Here are some of the visible ways babies respond to music, as reported by the early childhood music experts at Music Together:

  • Feet are outstretched or kicking
  • Eyes “brighten” or change focus
  • Tongue moves in repetitive motion
  • Eyes move toward the sound source
  • Hands clench, or wave wildly in the air
  • Middle of torso moves rhythmically
  • Baby makes cooing sounds
  • Baby smiles or giggles

According to Guilmartin, the best thing parents can do to support their baby’s music development is to reinforce these music behaviors. He says, “For example, when you hear your baby cooing, coo back to him in the same pitch; when you see him tapping his highchair, tap a steady beat back to him.”

Guilmartin continues, “For any young child, music is highly developmental and offers benefits in addition to the intrinsic pleasures of music-making. Research suggests that music learning supports all learning. Parents can easily support their children’s musicality from the very beginning—in much the same way they support language development—by recognizing and reinforcing their baby’s responses to music.”

Music Together is an internationally recognized early childhood music and movement program for children birth through age seven. The Music Together curriculum, coauthored in 1987 by Guilmartin and Rowan University Professor of Music Education Dr. Lili M. Levinowitz (Director of Research), is based on the recognition that all children are musical: all children can learn to sing in tune, keep a beat, and participate with confidence in the music of our culture, provided that their early environment supports such learning. Music Together offers programs for families; schools; at-risk populations; and children with special needs, in over 2000 communities in 40 countries around the world. More at