The expression “Music to my ears” may soon have a very different meaning to people suffering from hearing loss.
Exposing children to music can have a beneficial impact on hearing as is illustrated by a joint study carried out by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Measuring 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 remaining 21 had cochlear implants. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had difficulty understanding speech perception before the start of the study, researchers introduced control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
For kids in the singing group, an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed compared to children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This study is only the latest in a long line of research efforts that demonstrate the benefits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute backed these findings and indicated that musical training can enhance speech perception in loud environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a number of background noises was the goal of this study which examined 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
The ages of the participants in the study by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results among those who were trained musically and those who weren’t was considerable.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed similarly under conditions with no noise, but the musicians would distinguish themselves as the study continued, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise ratios. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory regions 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. The auditory motor network is fine-tuned and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this study.
These adult musicians in this study had all been educated when they were younger and had at least a decade of training. This once again supports the recent assessment that musical training can have a profound impact.
Beethoven’s Fight With Hearing Loss
Some of the world’s most famous musicians and composers have struggled with hearing loss. Perhaps the most famous deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that began to deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was likely the conduit for prolonging his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually lived the last decade of his life nearly totally deaf. Incredibly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven wrote some of his most renowned works.