The expression “Music to my ears” could soon have a very different meaning to people who have hearing loss.
Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile impact on hearing as is illustrated by a joint study carried out by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the main measure researchers looked at, enrolling 43 young children in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. Of those observed, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the remaining 22 had normal hearing ability. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a hard time understanding speech so they created control and test sets which assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.
For children in the singing group, a significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was revealed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
There is a tremendous amount of research demonstrating the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing offered by musical training and this study is just one of them. In noisy environments, speech perception can be improved by musical training, and these results were backed by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study examined the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through a variety of background noise levels.
The ages of the participants in the study by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a considerable difference in results between the non-musicians and musicians.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
The two groups performed equally under conditions with no noise, but the musicians would distinguish themselves as the study went on, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise rates. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was due to enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory regions located within the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s research. The auditory motor network is fine-tuned and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this research.
It’s important to note that while the musicians examined were adults, they all started their musical training at a much younger age and amassed at least a decade of musical training. This once again backs the recent assessment that musical training can have a profound impact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a challenge for some of the world’s most famous composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
Although Beethoven’s early childhood musical education would be regarded as extreme by current standards, the groundwork of the training might have been the conduit to prolonging his career as a composer. Through the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, almost entirely deaf. In spite of that, many of his most beloved works were composed over his last 15 years.