For people who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” may take on a whole new meaning.
Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile effect on hearing as is highlighted by a joint study carried out by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the principal measure researchers observed, putting 43 young kids 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. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a difficult time understanding speech so they introduced control and test sets which delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.
For kids in the singing group, a remarkable 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 initiatives that demonstrate the advantages of musical training to enhance cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute backed these results and suggested that musical training can enhance speech perception in loud environments.
That study examined the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a significant difference in results between the non-musicians and musicians.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
When the noise was absent, both groups had similar results, but when any amount of background noise was added, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was due to enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory regions located inside of the brains of the musicians.
But the advantages of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s study don’t simply end there. 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.
It’s important to note that while the musicians examined were adults, each of them started their musical training at a much younger age and acquired at least a decade of musical training. This again backs the recent analysis that musical training can have a powerful impact.
Beethoven’s Bout With Hearing Loss
Some of the world’s most famous musicians and composers have struggled with hearing loss. Perhaps the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that began to decline while he was in his late 20s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was most likely the conduit for prolonging his musical career. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually spent the last 10 years of his life almost totally deaf. Despite that, many of his most treasured pieces were composed during his last 15 years.