For individuals who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” could take on a completely new meaning.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London examined the effects of musical activities on hearing loss in children and the outcome of the study illustrated the effect and benefit received by exposing people to music.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured 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 difficulty understanding speech perception before the beginning 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, a remarkable 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 just the most recent in a long line of research initiatives that demonstrate the benefits of musical training to enhance cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and indicated 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 used 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 about 22-years-old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a considerable difference in results between the non-musicians and musicians.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed equally 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 rates. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory areas of the brain which probably accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But the benefits of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s study don’t just end there. According to the study’s conclusions, musical training strengthened 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 backs that fact.
Beethoven’s Battle With Hearing Loss
Some of the world’s most distinguished musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who started to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was likely the gateway for prolonging his musical career. Through the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly totally deaf. Despite that, many of his most beloved works were composed over his last 15 years.