Fetal hearing begins at about 20 weeks gestation and improves gradually until birth. Language acquisition begins with prenatal exposure to the mother’s speech. The fetus also perceives the mother’s heartbeat, footsteps, and digestive sounds. The developing vestibular system and proprioception allow the fetus to perceive maternal walking and other movements. Since music is largely about patterns of sound and movement, and since all these perceptible patterns depend on the emotional state of the mother, all these patterns could be musically relevant—regardless of any prenatal exposure to music itself (which must be relatively loud to be audible, and is less likely to be meaningful for the fetus). The fetus can learn musical patterns (pieces, styles) just as it can learn linguistic patterns, but it is unclear whether prenatal music exposure directly promotes postnatal musical development. Instead, prenatal experience may have contributed to the prehistoric emergence of music.
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