For people who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” could have a completely 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 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 measured speech-in-noise performance. 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 results showed a remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for youngsters in the singing group compared to their counterparts in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This study is only the latest in a long line of research efforts that show the merits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and indicated that musical training can enhance speech perception in loud environments.
That study examined the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
Unlike the study 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 people who were musically trained 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 separate themselves as the study went on, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise rates. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory areas of the brain which most likely accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But the benefits of musical training found from Drs. Yi and Robert’s study don’t simply 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 study.
It’s worthwhile to note that while the musicians studied were adults, each of them began their musical training at a much younger age and accumulated at least a decade of musical training. Musical training has a profound effect and this once again supports 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.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was most likely the conduit for prolonging his musical career. During the last 10 years of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, almost totally deaf. In spite of that, many of his most treasured pieces came over his last 15 years.