For people who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” may have a whole 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 obtained by exposing people to music.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the principal measure researchers observed, enrolling 43 young children in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. Of those enrolled, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the other 22 had normal hearing ability. The researchers recognized 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.
The study showed an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group versus their counterparts in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
There is a tremendous amount of research demonstrating the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this study is only one of them. In noisy environments, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these findings were backed by a study conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study analyzed the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through a variety of background noise levels.
The ages of the participants in the study by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a significant difference in results between the non-musicians and musicians.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had comparable results, but when any amount of background noise was added, the musicians substantially 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 located inside of the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s study. The auditory motor network is refined and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this study.
These adult musicians in this study had all been educated when they were younger and had at least ten years of training. This again supports the recent assessment that musical training can have a profound impact.
Beethoven’s Battle With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has been a problem for some of the world’s most well-known composers and musicians. Probably the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that began to deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.
Although Beethoven’s early childhood musical education would be considered extreme by today’s standards, the groundwork of the training may have been the conduit to extending his career as a composer. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually lived the last decade of his life nearly totally deaf. Amazingly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven composed some of his most renowned pieces.