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Snake-charming music 'calms premature babies and helps brain development'

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The Indian pungi flute had the strongest effect on babies. Photo: Getty Images

The Indian pungi flute had the strongest effect on babies. Photo: Getty Images

The Indian pungi flute had the strongest effect on babies. Photo: Getty Images

Music played on an Indian snake charmer's flute can improve the neural development of premature babies, Swiss scientists have found.

About 1pc of infants in the UK are born before the 32nd week of pregnancy, but up to half go on to develop learning difficulties.

Part of the reason is they have to be kept in intensive care and are separated from their mothers immediately after birth, research suggests.

But playing music to babies born very early can help reduce their stress levels and improve their ability to understand what's happening around them.

The pungi - a traditional Indian instrument - was found to have the strongest effect, after researchers in Geneva teamed up with the composer Andreas Vollenweider to test their theory.

"It was important that these musical stimuli were related to the baby's condition," said researcher Lara Lordier.

"We wanted to structure the day with pleasant stimuli at appropriate times - a music to accompany awakening, a music to accompany falling asleep, and a music to interact during the awakening phases."

Mr Vollenweider wrote three sound environments of eight minutes each, with pungi, harp and bells pieces.

When the snake-charming music was played to them Ms Lordier said "very agitated children calmed down almost instantly - their attention was drawn to the music".

Scientists found those who listened to music had improved brain development compared to those who did not. The first children tested with the music are now six years old, the age cognitive problems begin to be detectable.

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