For individuals who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” may take on a whole new meaning.
Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile effect on hearing as is illustrated by a joint study carried out by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the principal measure researchers observed, enrolling 43 young kids in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. 22 of the children observed had normal hearing while the other 21 had cochlear implants. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had a hard time 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.
The results showed a significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group compared to their counterparts in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a tremendous amount of research revealing the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this research is only one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and suggested that musical training can improve speech perception in noisy environments.
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.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a considerable difference in results between the musicians and the non-musicians.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had comparable results, but when any level of background noise was incorporated, 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 advantages of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s research don’t just end there. According to the study’s findings, musical training reinforced the participant’s auditory-motor network, fine-tuning and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.
It’s significant to note that while the musicians observed were adults, each of them started their musical education at a much younger age and accumulated at least a decade of musical training. This once again backs the recent analysis that musical training can have a profound impact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a problem for some of the world’s most famous composers and musicians. Probably the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that started to deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was most likely the conduit for extending his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually spent the last 10 years of his life nearly completely deaf. Despite that, many of his most cherished works came during his last 15 years.