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 illustrated by a joint study carried out by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Gauging 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 observed had normal hearing while the remaining 21 had cochlear implants. Armed with the knowledge 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.
For kids in the singing group, an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was revealed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This research is only the latest in a long line of research initiatives that demonstrate the benefits of musical training to enhance cognitive ability and speech processing. In loud environments, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these results were backed by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
Identifying speech syllables through a number of background noises was the objective of this study which analyzed 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, in contrast to the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a considerable difference in results between the non-musicians and musicians.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had comparable results, but when any amount of background noise was added, the musicians substantially outperformed the non-musicians. 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 regions found within the brains of the musicians.
But the benefits of musical training found from Drs. Yi and Robert’s research don’t simply end there. According to the study’s conclusions, musical training reinforced the participant’s auditory-motor network, refining 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 supports the recent analysis that musical training can have a profound impact.
Beethoven’s Bout With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has been a problem for some of the world’s most distinguished composers and musicians. Perhaps the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that started to decline while he was in his late 20s.
Though Beethoven’s early childhood musical training would be considered severe by present standards, the foundation of the training might have been the conduit to extending his career as a composer. In fact, Beethoven actually spent the last decade of his life nearly totally deaf. Amazingly, it was over the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven wrote some of his most renowned pieces.