I have two grandchildren, one age 9 months and the other 18 months. Both children, from the time they could hold their heads up, displayed an innate sense of music, particularly when the music being played had a beat.
Often, the radio was playing in the background with a variety of talk and music interspersed. Now and then a music track would be played that caught the attention of one of the children. He or she would stop what they were doing and begin to jig or sway to the rhythm of the music. It did not happen with all the music tracks or with all the music tracks that had a beat, just an occasional track.
This music jigging caused me to do a bit of digging on the net and I was quite surprised with the amount of research carried out on the subject. It seems the ability to follow a beat is called beat induction. Neither bonobo monkeys or chimpanzees, our closest primate relatives are capable of beat induction. It is considered both a uniquely human trait and a cognitive building block of music.
Research indicates newborn babies enter the world kicking, screaming and already able to feel the beat. Neuroscientists debate whether this is inborn or learned during the few first months of life or possibly learned in the womb. This question in turn touches on the nature of music as to whether it's an innate human ability or an offshoot of language.
Babies and young children have long been known as "learning machines". The first few years of life are spent familiarizing themselves with the laws of motion, gravity, liquids and buoyancy, all without having the slightest idea of maths and science.
According to McMaster University auditory development specialist Laurel Trainor, "Infants are hearing from the sixth prenatal month," she said. "They are certainly getting a lot of experience with rhythmic sounds before birth, such as the mother's heartbeat and even loud music."
Additional research has discovered infants respond to the rhythm and tempo of music and find it more engaging than speech. However, the way my two grandchildren react to certain types of music long before they begin saying their first words seems to indicate enjoyment of music or certain types of music is unrelated to their ability to speak. Further findings, based on the study of infants aged between five months and two years, suggest babies may be born with a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music.