For individuals who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” may have a completely new meaning.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London assessed the effects of musical activities on hearing loss in children and the results of the study illustrated the impact and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young kids in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. 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 delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.
The results showed a significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for youngsters in the singing group compared to their counterparts in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
This study is only the latest in a long line of research initiatives that demonstrate the benefits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. In loud settings, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these findings were corroborated by a study carried out by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study examined the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through a number of background noise levels.
Unlike the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study observed young adults whose ages averaged around 22-years-old. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst individuals who were trained musically and those who weren’t was significant.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had similar results, but when any level of background noise was incorporated, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was a result of enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory parts found within the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s study. 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 a decade of training. This again supports the recent assessment that musical training can have a powerful impact.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most distinguished musicians and composers have struggled with hearing loss. Probably the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that began to decline while he was in his late 20s.
Although Beethoven’s early childhood musical education would be considered extreme by current standards, the groundwork of the training might have been the gateway to prolonging his career as a composer. Over the last 10 years of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly completely deaf. In spite of that, many of his most cherished works came during his last 15 years.