The expression “Music to my ears” may soon have a very different meaning to people suffering from hearing loss.
Exposing children to music can have a beneficial effect on hearing as is illustrated by a joint study conducted by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the principal measure researchers looked at, enrolling 43 young children in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. 22 of the children observed had normal hearing while the other 21 had cochlear implants. knowing that the children with implants had a hard time understanding speech perception before the start of the study, researchers created control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
The study showed a remarkable 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
There is a great deal of research showing the advantages to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this study is just one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and indicated that musical training can enhance speech perception in loud environments.
That study evaluated the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
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 always hearing impaired, the difference in results among people who were trained musically and those who weren’t was considerable.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed similarly under conditions with no noise, but the musicians would distinguish themselves as the study went on, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise rates. 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 regions found inside of the brains of the musicians.
But the benefits of musical training found from Drs. Yi and Robert’s study don’t just end there. The auditory motor network is fine-tuned and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this research.
These adult musicians in this study had all been educated when they were younger and had at least a decade of training. This again backs the recent analysis that musical training can have a profound impact.
Beethoven’s Bout With Hearing Loss
Hearing loss has been a challenge for some of the world’s most distinguished composers and musicians. Perhaps the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that started to decline while he was in his late 20s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was probably the gateway for extending his musical career. Through the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, almost totally deaf. Despite that, many of his most beloved works were composed during his last 15 years.
Can children with hearing loss benefit from music and singing?