The phrase “Music to my ears” may soon have an entirely different meaning to people dealing with hearing loss.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London examined the effects of musical experiences on hearing loss in children and the outcome of the study illustrated the effect and benefit received by exposing people to music.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers observed 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. Of those observed, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the remaining 22 had normal hearing ability. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had difficulty understanding speech perception before the beginning of the study, researchers developed control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
For kids in the singing group, a remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was revealed compared to children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
There is a great deal of research revealing the advantages to cognitive ability and speech processing offered by musical training and this study is only one of them. In loud settings, speech perception can be improved by musical training, and these findings were backed by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the objective of this study which examined 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
In contrast to the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study looked at young adults whose ages averaged about 22-years-old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst those who were trained musically and those who weren’t was significant.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
The two groups performed similarly under conditions without any noise, but the musicians would distinguish themselves as the study continued, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise ratios. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory regions of the brain which probably accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training identified by Dr. Yi and Robert’s research. According to the study’s findings, 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 a decade of training. Musical training has a profound impact and this again backs that fact.
Beethoven’s Fight With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has been an issue for some of the world’s most distinguished composers and musicians. Probably the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that started to diminish while he was in his late 20s.
Although Beethoven’s young childhood musical education would be considered extreme by current standards, the foundation of the training may have been the conduit to extending his career as a composer. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually lived the last decade of his life almost completely deaf. Incredibly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven composed some of his most popular pieces.