The saying “Music to my ears” could soon have an entirely different meaning to people dealing with hearing impairment.
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
Researchers looked at 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 remaining 22 had normal hearing ability. The researchers recognized that children with implants had a hard time understanding speech so they created control and test sets which assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.
For children in the singing group, an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed compared to children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This research is only the most recent in a long line of research endeavors that show the advantages of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these findings and indicated that musical training can enhance speech perception in loud environments.
That study analyzed the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, in contrast to the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a significant difference in results between the musicians and the non-musicians.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had comparable results, but when any level of background noise was added, the musicians significantly 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 research 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.
These adult musicians in this study had all been educated when they were younger and had at least a decade of 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 well-known musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Perhaps the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that started to deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.
Though Beethoven’s young childhood musical training would be regarded as severe by today’s standards, the groundwork of the training might have been the conduit to prolonging his career as a composer. During the last 10 years of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly entirely deaf. Despite that, many of his most cherished pieces came over his last 15 years.