Kyle Pruett says Mozart effect is ‘snake oil’ and should be taken lightly

The National Music Centre held a seminar on Nov. 8 to discuss how music affects brain development. Kyle Pruett, a clinical professor of child psychiatry and nursing at Yale University was the guest speaker. He is currently a visiting professor at the University of Calgary’s school of medicine. One hundred forty people were registered for the event, but only about 90 people attended, likely due to poor road conditions caused by falling snow.

 Pruett says there is a lot of talk surrounding the effects of music. These allegations include:
• Music boosts IQ.
• Music strengthens memory.
• Music produces stronger math skills.
• Mozart effect: Children who listen to classical music are smarter than those who do not.

At the seminar, Pruett addressed the Mozart effect. To set the record straight, Pruett Pruett, a clinical professor of child psychology and nursing at Yale University, currently a visiting professor at the University of Calgary presented to a crowd at the National Music Centre on Nov 8.

Photo by Jenica Foster says there is a Mozart effect, but it was demonstrated in college students. The results caused an emotion change –not a brain change– and the effects wore off after two weeks. He says the Mozart effect also has not been proven in children.

“Give away all the books and DVDs; it’s snake oil,” he says in reference to the material that claims the Mozart effect is a true phenomena.

Like the Mozart effect, Pruett says music’s effect on IQ is limited. He says that the amount a child’s IQ is changed by music is so small that it borders between chance and a relationship. He says, “I am more interested in the skills that cause the brain to wake up.”

Music teaches children to physically listen, he says. Youth under the age of 16 who have had three years of formal music training are able to remember more spoken words and have a longer attention span, he says.

Meagan Kearney, a Grade 5 choir director, says she notices that music forces the children to focus on a clear direction. She says it also makes them feel like they are a part of a collective group.

Fostering music

Parents shouldn’t focus on the performance aspect of music, Pruett says, but on the inner value and mastery of music to promote physical and mental well-being.

To achieve this, he followed the learning model of American psychologist Benjamin Bloom.
• First, parents must ensure children love what they are doing and they should partake in that joy with them.
• Secondly, children should focus on mastering the technical aspect of music.
• Lastly, children should, “end with the tyrant.” Pruett says that instead of pretending children are good, they should know they are good. This stems from constant repetition, which reaffirms their knowledge.

The best way

“I don’t want to waste my time and money,” is a phrase Pruett says he often hears.

Pruett discussed the “noise” surrounding music and brain development a the seminar at the National Music Centre.

Photo by Jenica FosterHe says parents want to know the best way to receive the benefits of music. That could be simply listening, playing an instrument or through instruction. Pruett says there is no clear and direct answer because it will vary for every individual. He says he has four children and each one receives the benefits of music in a different way.

Philip Bazel, an attendee, says he believes children need to physically be involved with music in order to receive the benefits. He says listening is a passive experience.

“It is the difference between watching TV and being involved in a script,” he says.

Another attendee, Bill Arnall, says when his daughter was a baby he would sing to her on a regular basis. He says it brings up the question of whether exposing babies to music causes them to be interested in music when they are older.

Arnall’s daughter Caitlin is now 14. She says she doesn’t remember her dad singing to her as a baby, but she does love to sing now and is very interested in how music affects the brain.

Arnall’s remark prompted another attendee to say, “Did I ruin my daughter by singing to her?”

She says she has a bad singing voice and now her daughter doesn’t have the best singing voice either. Pruett says he believes this is a myth because every person’s music is shaped by his or her own experience.

If they hear a musical sound that they don’t like, they aren’t going to work at developing that sound. However, when people hear a sound they like that vibrates within them, they will work at it to re-create that sound. Pruett says he thinks singing poorly to a child will not affect its musical ability because it is up to each child to develop that skill.

Pruett says that the effects of music are still elusive, further research is needed to fully understand how it affects us.

“This is the beginning of a conversation in the development of well people.”

jfoster@cjournal.ca