The phrase “Music to my ears” could soon have a very different meaning for people dealing with hearing loss.
Exposing children to music can have a beneficial impact on hearing as is highlighted by a joint study conducted by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers observed 43 young kids in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children enrolled had normal hearing while the other 21 had cochlear implants. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a hard time understanding speech so they introduced control and test sets which delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.
The study showed an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group versus their counterparts in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
There is a tremendous amount of research demonstrating the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing offered by musical training and this research is just one of them. In loud settings, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these results were corroborated by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study evaluated the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
In contrast to the study out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study observed young adults whose ages averaged about 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
When the noise was missing, both groups had comparable results, but when any level of background noise was incorporated, the musicians substantially 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 parts found inside of the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s research. According to the study’s conclusions, 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 educated when they were younger and had at least ten years of training. This once again backs the recent assessment that musical training can have a profound impact.
Beethoven’s Fight With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has been an issue for some of the world’s most distinguished composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
Though Beethoven’s young childhood musical education would be considered extreme by current standards, the groundwork of the training may have been the conduit to prolonging his career as a composer. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually spent the last decade of his life nearly completely deaf. Despite that, many of his most treasured pieces were composed over his last 15 years.