For individuals who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” may take on a completely new meaning.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London examined the effects of musical experiences on hearing loss in children and the results of the study illustrated the impact and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the principal measure researchers observed, enrolling 43 young children in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. Of those enrolled, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the other 22 had normal hearing ability. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had difficulty understanding speech perception before the start of the study, researchers developed control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
The study showed an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group versus their counterparts in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This study is just the latest in a long line of research endeavors that demonstrate the merits 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 enhance speech perception in noisy environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a number of background noises was the objective 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. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results among individuals who were trained musically and those who weren’t was substantial.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had similar 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 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 just end there. According to the study’s findings, musical training strengthened the participant’s auditory-motor network, fine-tuning and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.
It’s significant to note that while the musicians observed were adults, they all began their musical training at a much younger age and acquired at least a decade of musical training. Musical training has a powerful effect and this again supports that fact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most famous musicians and composers have struggled with 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 extreme, was probably the conduit for prolonging his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually lived the last decade of his life almost totally deaf. In spite of that, many of his most beloved pieces came over his last 15 years.