The saying “Music to my ears” may soon have a very different meaning for people suffering from hearing impairment.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London analyzed the effects of musical experiences on hearing loss in children and the results of the study illustrated the impact and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young kids in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. 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 trouble understanding speech perception before the beginning of the study, researchers developed control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
The results 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.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a great deal of research revealing the advantages to cognitive ability and speech processing offered by musical training and this research is only one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and suggested that musical training can improve speech perception in loud environments.
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 similar 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 a result of enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory regions 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. 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.
These adult musicians in this study had all been trained when they were younger and had at least ten years of training. Musical training has a powerful effect and this again supports that fact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a problem for some of the world’s most famous 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 deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was likely the gateway for prolonging his musical career. Over the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly completely deaf. Incredibly, it was over the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven wrote some of his most renowned works.