For individuals who have hearing loss, the expression “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 activities on hearing loss in children and the results of the study illustrated the effect and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children enrolled had normal hearing while the other 21 had cochlear implants. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a tough time understanding speech so they created control and test sets which assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.
The results showed a significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group versus their counterparts in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
This study is just the most recent in a long line of research efforts that demonstrate the merits of musical training to enhance cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute backed these results and suggested that musical training can improve speech perception in noisy environments.
That study evaluated 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.
In contrast to the study out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study observed young adults whose ages averaged around 22-years-old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a considerable difference in results between the musicians and the non-musicians.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was absent, both groups had similar results, but when any amount of background noise was added, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was due to 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 identified by Dr. Yi and Robert’s research. According to the study’s findings, musical training reinforced the participant’s auditory-motor network, refining and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.
It’s worthwhile to note that while the musicians studied were adults, each of them began their musical education at a much younger age and acquired at least a decade of musical training. Musical training has a powerful effect and this once again supports that fact.
The Affect 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 decline while he was in his late 20s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was most likely the gateway for prolonging his musical career. Over the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, almost entirely deaf. Incredibly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven composed some of his most renowned works.