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 worthwhile effect on hearing as is illustrated by a joint study conducted by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the key measure researchers observed, putting 43 young kids in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. 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 delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.
For children 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.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a tremendous amount of research revealing the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing offered by musical training and this study is just one of them. In loud environments, speech perception can be improved by musical training, and these findings 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 a number of background noise levels.
Unlike the study out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study evaluated young adults whose ages averaged about 22-years-old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results among people who were trained musically and those who weren’t was considerable.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
The two groups performed equally under conditions with no noise, but the musicians would separate themselves as the study went on, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise ratios. 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 located inside of the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training identified 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 again supports 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 started to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
Though Beethoven’s young childhood musical training would be regarded as extreme by today’s standards, the groundwork of the training may have been the gateway to prolonging his career as a composer. In fact, Beethoven actually spent the last decade of his life nearly totally deaf. Despite that, many of his most treasured works were composed over his last 15 years.