For individuals who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” may have 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.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children enrolled had normal hearing while the remaining 21 had cochlear implants. knowing that the children with implants had trouble understanding speech perception before the start 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 remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a great deal of research showing the benefits 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 backed these results and suggested that musical training can enhance speech perception in loud environments.
That study analyzed the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through a number of background noise levels.
The ages of the participants in the study by Drs. Yi and Roberts, in contrast to the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results among people who were musically trained and those who weren’t was considerable.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed equally under conditions with no noise, but the musicians would separate themselves as the study continued, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise rates. 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 parts located inside of the brains of the musicians.
But the advantages of musical training found from Drs. Yi and Robert’s study don’t just end there. The auditory motor network is refined and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this study.
It’s important to note that while the musicians observed were adults, each of them began their musical training at a much younger age and amassed at least a decade of musical training. This again backs the recent assessment that musical training can have a profound impact.
Beethoven’s Bout With Hearing Loss
Some of the world’s most distinguished musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
Though Beethoven’s early childhood musical training would be regarded as severe by current standards, the foundation of the training might have been the conduit to extending his career as a composer. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually lived the last 10 years of his life almost totally deaf. Amazingly, it was over the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven wrote some of his most popular pieces.