For individuals who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” could have a whole new meaning.
Exposing children to music can have a beneficial effect on hearing as is illustrated by a joint study conducted by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the main measure researchers looked at, enrolling 43 young kids in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. 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 hard time understanding speech so they created control and test sets which delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.
The results 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.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a great deal of research demonstrating the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing offered by musical training and this study is just one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute backed these findings and suggested that musical training can improve speech perception in noisy environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the objective of this study which analyzed 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
The ages of the participants in the study by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst individuals who were trained musically and those who weren’t was considerable.
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 due to enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory parts found inside of the brains of the musicians.
But the benefits of musical training found from Drs. Yi and Robert’s research don’t just end there. The auditory motor network is refined and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this research.
It’s worthwhile to note that while the musicians observed were adults, they all began their musical training at a much younger age and accumulated at least ten years of musical training. This once again backs the recent analysis that musical training can have a profound impact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a challenge for some of the world’s most renowned composers and musicians. 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 most likely the conduit for prolonging his musical career. Over the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, almost totally deaf. In spite of that, many of his most cherished pieces were composed over his last 15 years.