For people who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” may take on a completely new meaning.
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.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the main measure researchers looked at, putting 43 young kids in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. Of those observed, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the other 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.
For kids in the singing group, a significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed compared to children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
There is a tremendous amount of research demonstrating the advantages to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this study is just one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these findings and indicated that musical training can enhance speech perception in loud environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the goal of this study which analyzed 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, in contrast to the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst people who were musically trained and those who weren’t was substantial.
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 areas of the brain which probably accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s research. According to the study’s conclusions, musical training reinforced the participant’s auditory-motor network, refining and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.
It’s important to note that while the musicians examined were adults, each of them began their musical training at a much younger age and acquired at least ten years of musical training. This again supports the recent analysis that musical training can have a powerful impact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most famous musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Perhaps the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that started to deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.
Although Beethoven’s young childhood musical education would be regarded as severe by today’s standards, the groundwork of the training might have been the gateway to extending his career as a composer. In fact, Beethoven actually lived the last 10 years of his life almost totally deaf. Despite that, many of his most beloved works were composed during his last 15 years.