For people who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” could have a completely new meaning.
Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile impact on hearing as is highlighted 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 assessed speech-in-noise performance. Of those observed, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the other 22 had normal hearing ability. The researchers recognized that children with implants had a difficult time understanding speech so they created control and test sets which assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.
For kids in the singing group, a significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed compared to children in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a tremendous amount of research demonstrating the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this study is just one of them. In noisy environments, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these findings were corroborated by research conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study examined the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through a variety of background noise levels.
In contrast to the study 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 musicians and the non-musicians.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was absent, both groups had similar results, but when any amount of background noise was added, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. 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 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. 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.
It’s worthwhile to note that while the musicians examined were adults, they all started their musical education at a much younger age and acquired at least a decade of musical 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 challenge for some of the world’s most distinguished composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was most likely the gateway for extending his musical career. Through the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly entirely deaf. Despite that, many of his most beloved works were composed during his last 15 years.