The expression “Music to my ears” could soon have an entirely different meaning to people suffering from hearing loss.
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.
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 remaining 21 had cochlear implants. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a difficult time understanding speech so they introduced control and test sets which assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.
The results showed a remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for youngsters in the singing group versus their counterparts in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
This study is only the most recent in a long line of research endeavors that illustrate the advantages of musical training to enhance cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and indicated that musical training can enhance speech perception in noisy environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a number of background noises was the objective of this study which analyzed 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 around 22-years-old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a significant difference in results between the musicians and the non-musicians.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
The two groups performed equally 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 regions found within 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 trained when they were younger and had at least ten years of training. This again supports the recent analysis that musical training can have a powerful impact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most well-known musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was probably the gateway for extending his musical career. During the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly totally deaf. In spite of that, many of his most beloved works came during his last 15 years.