The expression “Music to my ears” may soon have a very different meaning for people who have hearing loss.
Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile impact on hearing as is highlighted by a joint study carried out by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young kids in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. Of those observed, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the remaining 22 had normal hearing ability. The researchers recognized 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 remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was revealed compared to children in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
This study is just the most recent in a long line of research efforts that illustrate the merits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these findings and suggested that musical training can improve speech perception in noisy environments.
That study evaluated the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through a number of background noise levels.
In contrast to the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study evaluated young adults whose ages averaged around 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
When the noise was absent, both groups had similar results, but when any amount of background noise was incorporated, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was a result of enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory regions located inside of the brains of the musicians.
But the advantages of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s study 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.
It’s significant to note that while the musicians studied were adults, they all began their musical education at a much younger age and accumulated at least ten years of musical training. Musical training has a profound impact and this again backs that fact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a challenge for some of the world’s most famous composers and musicians. Perhaps the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that started to diminish while he was in his late 20s.
Though Beethoven’s early childhood musical education would be regarded as severe by today’s standards, the foundation of the training may have been the conduit to prolonging his career as a composer. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually lived the last 10 years of his life almost completely deaf. Despite that, many of his most beloved works came over his last 15 years.