The saying “Music to my ears” could soon have a very different meaning to people who have hearing loss.
Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile effect on hearing as is highlighted by a joint study carried out by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the main measure researchers observed, enrolling 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. 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 significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
This research is just the latest in a long line of research initiatives that show the merits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. In noisy settings, speech perception can be improved by musical training, and these results were corroborated by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study examined the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
Unlike the study out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study looked at young adults whose ages averaged about 22-years-old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a substantial 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 level of background noise was incorporated, the musicians substantially outperformed the non-musicians. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory regions 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 study don’t simply end there. According to the study’s conclusions, 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 observed were adults, they all started 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 again backs that fact.
Beethoven’s Fight With Hearing Loss
Some of the world’s most well-known 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 severe, was likely the gateway for prolonging his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually spent the last decade of his life almost totally deaf. Amazingly, it was over the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven wrote some of his most renowned works.