The saying “Music to my ears” could soon have an entirely different meaning to people who have hearing impairment.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London examined the effects of musical activities on hearing loss in children and the results of the study illustrated the effect and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the key measure researchers observed, putting 43 young kids in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. 22 of the children observed had normal hearing while the remaining 21 had cochlear implants. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a difficult time understanding speech so they introduced control and test sets which assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.
For children in the singing group, a remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was revealed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This research is only the most recent in a long line of research efforts that show the advantages of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute backed these results and suggested that musical training can enhance speech perception in loud environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a number of background noises was the goal of this study which analyzed 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, in contrast to the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst people who were trained musically and those who weren’t was significant.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had similar results, but when any amount 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 probably 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. 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 ten years of training. This once again supports the recent analysis that musical training can have a powerful impact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a problem for some of the world’s most distinguished composers and musicians. Perhaps the most famous deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that started to diminish while he was in his late 20s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was most likely the conduit for prolonging his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually spent the last decade of his life nearly totally deaf. Incredibly, it was over the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven wrote some of his most renowned pieces.