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Keywords:

  • enculturation;
  • music acquisition;
  • brain development;
  • EEG;
  • learning;
  • infancy;
  • tonality;
  • esthetics

Musical enculturation is a complex, multifaceted process that includes the development of perceptual processing specialized for the pitch and rhythmic structures of the musical system in the culture, understanding of esthetic and expressive norms, and learning the pragmatic uses of music in different social situations. Here, we summarize the results of a study in which 6-month-old Western infants were randomly assigned to 6 months of either an active participatory music class or a class in which they experienced music passively while playing. Active music participation resulted in earlier enculturation to Western tonal pitch structure, larger and/or earlier brain responses to musical tones, and a more positive social trajectory. Furthermore, the data suggest that early exposure to cultural norms of musical expression leads to early preferences for those norms. We conclude that musical enculturation begins in infancy and that active participatory music making in a positive social setting accelerates enculturation.