For people who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” could take on a completely 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
Researchers observed 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. Of those enrolled, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the remaining 22 had normal hearing ability. knowing that the children with implants had difficulty 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 compared to 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 initiatives that illustrate the advantages of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute backed these results and suggested that musical training can improve speech perception in loud environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the goal of this study which used 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
In contrast to the study out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study evaluated young adults whose ages averaged about 22-years-old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst individuals who were trained musically and those who weren’t was substantial.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
The two groups performed similarly under conditions with no noise, but the musicians would separate themselves as the study went on, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise ratios. 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 found within the brains of the musicians.
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 strengthened the participant’s auditory-motor network, fine-tuning 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 celebrated musicians and composers have struggled with hearing loss. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who started to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
Though Beethoven’s early childhood musical education would be regarded as extreme by today’s standards, the foundation of the training might have been the conduit to prolonging his career as a composer. In fact, Beethoven actually lived the last decade of his life almost totally deaf. Despite that, many of his most beloved pieces came during his last 15 years.