The expression “Music to my ears” may soon have an entirely different meaning to people dealing with hearing impairment.
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.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the key measure researchers looked at, enrolling 43 young children in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. Of those enrolled, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the other 22 had normal hearing ability. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had difficulty understanding speech perception before the start of the study, researchers developed 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 revealed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This study is only the most recent in a long line of research endeavors that illustrate the merits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. In noisy settings, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these findings were backed by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study examined 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.
Unlike the study out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study observed 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
The two groups performed equally 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 identified by Dr. Yi and Robert’s study. According to the study’s findings, musical training reinforced 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 ten years of training. Musical training has a powerful effect and this again backs that fact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most famous musicians and composers have struggled with hearing loss. Probably the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that began to deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was most likely the conduit for extending his musical career. During the last 10 years of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly totally deaf. Amazingly, it was over the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven composed some of his most renowned works.