For individuals who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” may take on 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 results of the study highlighted the effect and benefit received by exposing people to music.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the principal measure researchers observed, enrolling 43 young kids in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. Of those observed, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the other 22 had normal hearing ability. The researchers recognized that children with implants had a tough 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 compared to their counterparts in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a great deal of research demonstrating the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing offered by musical training and this study is only one of them. In loud environments, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these findings were corroborated by research conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study evaluated the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through a number of background noise levels.
In contrast to the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study looked at young adults whose ages averaged around 22-years-old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst individuals who were trained musically and those who weren’t was substantial.
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 a result of enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory parts located within the brains of the musicians.
But the advantages of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s research don’t simply end there. The auditory motor network is refined 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. Musical training has a profound effect and this again backs that fact.
Beethoven’s Bout With Hearing Loss
Some of the world’s most distinguished musicians and composers have struggled with hearing loss. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
Though Beethoven’s early childhood musical education would be regarded as severe by current standards, the foundation of the training might have been the conduit to extending his career as a composer. Over the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly entirely deaf. Incredibly, it was over the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven wrote some of his most popular pieces.