The phrase “Music to my ears” could soon have an entirely different meaning for people suffering from hearing loss.
Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile effect on hearing as is illustrated by a joint study carried out by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers observed 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children observed had normal hearing while the other 21 had cochlear implants. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a difficult time understanding speech so they introduced control and test sets which assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.
The study showed a remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group compared to their counterparts in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This research is only the latest in a long line of research efforts that show the benefits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute backed these results and indicated that musical training can enhance speech perception in noisy environments.
That study analyzed the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through a variety of background noise levels.
In contrast to the study out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study looked at young adults whose ages averaged about 22-years-old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a significant 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 continued, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise rates. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory areas of the brain which probably accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But the advantages of musical training found from Drs. Yi and Robert’s research don’t simply end there. According to the study’s findings, musical training reinforced the participant’s auditory-motor network, fine-tuning and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.
These adult musicians in this study had all been trained when they were younger and had at least ten years of training. Musical training has a profound effect and this once again backs that fact.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most distinguished musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who started to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was probably the gateway for extending his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually lived the last 10 years of his life almost totally deaf. In spite of that, many of his most cherished pieces were composed over his last 15 years.