The expression “Music to my ears” could soon have an entirely different meaning for people suffering from hearing impairment.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London assessed the effects of musical activities on hearing loss in children and the results of the study illustrated the effect and benefit received by exposing people to music.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young kids in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. Of those enrolled, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the other 22 had normal hearing ability. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a tough time understanding speech so they introduced control and test sets which assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.
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.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
This study is only the latest in a long line of research efforts that demonstrate the benefits of musical training to enhance cognitive ability and speech processing. In noisy environments, speech perception can be improved by musical training, and these results were backed by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study analyzed 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. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results among those who were trained musically and those who weren’t was significant.
Musicians Outperform Non-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 most likely 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. 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.
These adult musicians in this study had all been trained when they were younger and had at least a decade of training. Musical training has a powerful impact and this again supports that fact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most distinguished musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Perhaps the most famous deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that began to diminish while he was in his late 20s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was most likely the gateway for extending his musical career. Over the last 10 years of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, almost totally deaf. Incredibly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven composed some of his most popular pieces.