The expression “Music to my ears” could soon have an entirely different meaning for people suffering from hearing impairment.
Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile effect on hearing as is highlighted by a joint study carried out by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers observed 43 young kids in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children enrolled had normal hearing while the remaining 21 had cochlear implants. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had trouble 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.
For kids in the singing group, an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was revealed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This study is just the latest in a long line of research initiatives that illustrate the advantages of musical training to enhance cognitive ability and speech processing. In loud settings, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these results were corroborated by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study evaluated the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through numerous 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 substantial difference in results between the non-musicians and musicians.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
The two groups performed similarly under conditions with no noise, but the musicians would separate themselves as the study went on, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise ratios. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was a result of enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory regions located within the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training identified by Dr. Yi and Robert’s study. According to the study’s conclusions, musical training strengthened 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 trained 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 profound impact.
Beethoven’s Battle With Hearing Loss
Some of the world’s most well-known musicians and composers have struggled with hearing loss. Perhaps the most famous deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that started to decline while he was in his late 20s.
Though Beethoven’s early childhood musical education would be regarded as severe by present standards, the foundation of the training may have been the gateway to prolonging his career as a composer. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually spent the last decade of his life almost completely deaf. In spite of that, many of his most cherished pieces were composed over his last 15 years.