For people who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” could have a completely new meaning.
Exposing children to music can have a beneficial impact 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
Researchers observed 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children observed had normal hearing while the remaining 21 had cochlear implants. The researchers recognized that children with implants had a difficult time understanding speech so they created control and test sets which delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.
For kids in the singing group, a remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed compared to children in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
This research is just the latest in a long line of research efforts that demonstrate the benefits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. In loud settings, speech perception can be improved by musical training, and these results were corroborated by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
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 study by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a significant difference in results between the musicians and the non-musicians.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By 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 advantages of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s study don’t simply end there. The auditory motor network is fine-tuned and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this research.
These adult musicians in this study had all been educated when they were younger and had at least a decade of training. This once again backs the recent analysis that musical training can have a powerful impact.
Beethoven’s Bout With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has been a challenge for some of the world’s most well-known composers and musicians. Perhaps the most famous deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that started to deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.
Though Beethoven’s early childhood musical education would be considered severe by present standards, the foundation of the training may have been the conduit to extending his career as a composer. During the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly totally deaf. Incredibly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven composed some of his most popular works.