The expression “Music to my ears” may soon have an entirely different meaning to people suffering from hearing loss.
Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile effect on hearing as is illustrated by a joint study conducted by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the principal measure researchers looked at, putting 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. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had trouble understanding speech perception before the beginning of the study, researchers created control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
The results showed a significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group versus their counterparts in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
This research is only the most recent in a long line of research efforts that show the benefits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. In noisy settings, speech perception can be improved by musical training, and these findings were backed by research carried out by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study evaluated the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
Unlike 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.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had similar results, but when any level of background noise was added, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. 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 benefits of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s study don’t simply end there. According to the study’s conclusions, musical training strengthened the participant’s auditory-motor network, refining 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 a decade 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 famous musicians and composers have struggled with hearing loss. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
Although Beethoven’s young childhood musical education would be regarded as extreme by present standards, the foundation of the training might have been the gateway to extending his career as a composer. During the last 10 years of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly totally deaf. Despite that, many of his most beloved pieces were composed over his last 15 years.