The saying “Music to my ears” may soon have an entirely different meaning for people who have hearing impairment.
Exposing children to music can have a beneficial impact on hearing as is highlighted by a joint study conducted by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers observed 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children enrolled had normal hearing while the remaining 21 had cochlear implants. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had trouble understanding speech perception before the start of the study, researchers created control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
For kids in the singing group, an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This research is only the most recent in a long line of research initiatives that demonstrate the benefits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and indicated that musical training can improve speech perception in noisy environments.
That study analyzed the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, in contrast to the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst individuals who were musically trained and those who weren’t was significant.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed similarly 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 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 regions found inside of the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s study. 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 important to note that while the musicians observed were adults, each of them began their musical education at a much younger age and accumulated at least a decade of musical training. This again backs the recent analysis that musical training can have a powerful impact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most famous 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 foundation of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was likely the gateway for extending his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually lived the last decade of his life nearly totally deaf. Despite that, many of his most treasured pieces were composed over his last 15 years.