The phrase “Music to my ears” could soon have a very different meaning to people dealing with hearing impairment.
Exposing children to music can have a beneficial effect on hearing as is highlighted by a joint study conducted by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young kids in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children observed 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 beginning of the study, researchers developed control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
For children in the singing group, an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed in comparison with children 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 offered 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.
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the objective of this study which analyzed 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
In contrast to the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study observed young adults whose ages averaged around 22-years-old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a significant difference in results between the non-musicians and musicians.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had similar results, but when any level of background noise was incorporated, the musicians substantially outperformed the non-musicians. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was due to enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory regions located inside of the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s study. 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 worthwhile to note that while the musicians observed were adults, each of them started their musical training at a much younger age and acquired at least ten years of musical training. This again backs the recent analysis that musical training can have a profound impact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most distinguished musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was probably the conduit for prolonging his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually spent the last decade of his life nearly completely deaf. Despite that, many of his most cherished works came during his last 15 years.