For people who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” could take on a completely new meaning.
Exposing children to music can have a beneficial effect on hearing as is highlighted by a joint study conducted by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children observed 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 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 revealed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
This study is only the latest in a long line of research efforts that demonstrate the merits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and indicated that musical training can improve speech perception in noisy environments.
That study examined the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through a number of background noise levels.
In contrast to the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study evaluated 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.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
The two groups performed similarly under conditions without any noise, but the musicians would separate themselves as the study continued, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise rates. 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 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. The auditory motor network is fine-tuned and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this research.
These adult musicians in this study had all been trained 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 Bout With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has been a challenge for some of the world’s most celebrated composers and musicians. 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 foundation of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was probably the gateway for extending his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually spent the last 10 years of his life nearly totally deaf. Amazingly, it was over the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven wrote some of his most popular pieces.