For people who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” could take on a whole new meaning.
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 children in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. 22 of the children enrolled had normal hearing while the other 21 had cochlear implants. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a tough time understanding speech so they introduced control and test sets which delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.
The study showed an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group versus their counterparts in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
There is a tremendous amount of research demonstrating the advantages to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this study is just one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these findings and indicated that musical training can improve speech perception in loud environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the objective of this study which used 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst those who were musically trained and those who weren’t was substantial.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was absent, both groups had comparable results, but when any level of background noise was added, the musicians substantially outperformed the non-musicians. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory areas of the brain which probably accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But the benefits of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s research don’t just end there. According to the study’s conclusions, 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. This again supports the recent assessment that musical training can have a profound impact.
Beethoven’s Battle With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has been a problem for some of the world’s most well-known composers and musicians. Perhaps the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that began to diminish while he was in his late 20s.
Although Beethoven’s young childhood musical training would be regarded as extreme by present standards, the foundation of the training might have been the gateway to extending his career as a composer. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually lived the last decade of his life almost completely deaf. Amazingly, it was over the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven composed some of his most renowned pieces.