The saying “Music to my ears” may soon have a very different meaning to people suffering from hearing loss.
Exposing children to music can have a beneficial impact 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. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a difficult time understanding speech so they created control and test sets which assigned 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.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a great deal of research showing the advantages to cognitive ability and speech processing offered by musical training and this research 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.
That study evaluated the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
Unlike the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study looked at young adults whose ages averaged around 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 significant.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had similar results, but when any level of background noise was incorporated, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. 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 conclusions, musical training reinforced the participant’s auditory-motor network, fine-tuning and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.
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 powerful impact.
The Affect 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.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was probably the gateway for prolonging his musical career. Over the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly totally deaf. Amazingly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven composed some of his most popular pieces.