The phrase “Music to my ears” may soon have an entirely different meaning to people who have hearing loss.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London assessed the effects of musical experiences on hearing loss in children and the outcome of the study illustrated the impact and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the key measure researchers observed, putting 43 young kids in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. 22 of the children enrolled had normal hearing while the other 21 had cochlear implants. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had trouble understanding speech perception before the start of the study, researchers developed control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
For children in the singing group, a remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
There is a great deal of research demonstrating the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing offered by musical training and this research is just one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these findings and suggested that musical training can improve speech perception in noisy environments.
That study examined the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through a variety of background noise levels.
In contrast to the study out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study looked at young adults whose ages averaged around 22-years-old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a substantial difference in results between the non-musicians and musicians.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By 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 located within the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s research. 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.
It’s significant to note that while the musicians studied were adults, they all began their musical training at a much younger age and accumulated at least ten years of musical training. Musical training has a profound effect and this again supports that fact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a challenge for some of the world’s most renowned composers and musicians. Probably the most well-known 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 severe, was likely the conduit for prolonging his musical career. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually lived the last 10 years of his life almost totally deaf. Amazingly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven wrote some of his most renowned works.