For individuals who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” may take on a completely new meaning.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London assessed the effects of musical activities on hearing loss in children and the outcome of the study highlighted the impact and benefit received by exposing people to music.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the key measure researchers observed, putting 43 young children in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. Of those observed, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the other 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 introduced control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
For children in the singing group, a significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed compared to children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This research is just the latest in a long line of research endeavors that demonstrate the merits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. In loud environments, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these results were backed by research conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the goal of this study which analyzed 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
The ages of the participants in the study by Drs. Yi and Roberts, in contrast to the Helsinki/London study, averaged 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 significant.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed equally under conditions without any 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 due to enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory parts located within 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 study.
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. Musical training has a profound impact and this again supports that fact.
Beethoven’s Fight With Hearing Loss
Some of the world’s most famous musicians and composers have struggled with 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. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually spent the last decade of his life almost completely deaf. In spite of that, many of his most treasured pieces came during his last 15 years.