For people who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” could take on a whole new meaning.
Exposing children to music can have a beneficial impact on hearing as is highlighted 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 kids in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. 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 trouble 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 revealed compared to children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This study is just the most recent in a long line of research efforts that show the benefits of musical training to enhance cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these findings and suggested that musical training can improve speech perception in loud environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a number of background noises was the goal of this study which analyzed 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. These participants had normal hearing but there was a substantial difference in results between the musicians and the non-musicians.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed equally under conditions with no noise, but the musicians would distinguish 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 parts located inside of the brains of the musicians.
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 study.
It’s significant to note that while the musicians observed were adults, each of them began their musical training at a much younger age and amassed at least a decade of musical training. This once again backs the recent analysis that musical training can have a profound impact.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been an issue for some of the world’s most celebrated composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who started to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was most likely the conduit for prolonging his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually lived the last 10 years of his life nearly completely deaf. In spite of that, many of his most cherished works were composed during his last 15 years.