The mozart effect - setting the record straight

Mozart is arguably one of the most  prolific and influential composers of the classical era. Born in 1756, into a musical family, he started composing  at an early age and, around the grand courts of Europe, he became known as a child prodigy producing works of astonishing brilliance. In his short life he composed over 600 works; which  included everything from piano sonatas to opera and his influence on western music is still felt today. In fact even if you don't know much about classical music, without knowing it, you are probably aware of some of his more enduring themes that have appeared more recently in films and elsewhere.

What's not in dispute is his position as one of the greatest composers of all time.  What has become controversial, however, are the claims made about the effects of his music on, amongst other things, improving IQ and spatio-temporal reasoning.  It all started in 1990s with the musicologist Don Campbell. He and others popularised the notion that listening to Mozart made you smarter and that  listening to classical music in childhood had beneficial effects on intellectual development.  In 1997 he  wrote "The mozart effect: tapping into the power of music to heal the body, strengthen the mind and unlock the creative spirit." Following on from that came  "The Mozart effect for children" and related  products including CDs, which claimed to enhance "deep rest and rejuvenation" "intelligence and learning" and aid "creativity and learning".

However, in the back ground the storm clouds were gathering. Claims about the effects on IQ were disputed in 1993 when a research paper appeared in the journal Nature. In this the beneficial effects of IQ were deemed to be at best temporary. Mozart, at least in the US,  had suddenly become a political issue with educational establishments, governors and state legislatures involved. So it rumbled on.

So what's to be made of it all?  From a scientific perspective there have been some supportive reports. However the  benefits, particularly to children, tended to be associated with any form of music that had energetic and positive emotional qualities. Overall, the weight of evidence supports either a nil effect or a short term effect relating to increases in mood and arousal.

However, what is not in dispute is that children can only benefits from the joy of being exposed to positive and energising music and much of what Mozart has written falls into that category. My sons grew up with Mozart  and baroque music constantly being played in the background and my eldest son definitely found focus and clarity with Mozart whilst studying for his A levels.

Surely, this whole  debate is as much about good parenting as it is about  neurophysiology. Instinct tells us that introducing energising positive music to children at a young age is beneficial and this is now backed up by scientific evidence. For me Mozart will always be up there with the gods and who wouldn''t want their children to have the privilege of listening to it at a young age. So, whether I  want to be soothed or  inspired  I will always reach for Mozart. I urge you to do the same for yourself and the children in your life.

Are you a music lover? Has Mozart worked for you and your children? Or have you used Mozart in a therapeutic context? Whatever your story I'd love to hear from you.

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