For individuals who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” may have a completely new meaning.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London assessed the effects of musical activities on hearing loss in children and the results of the study highlighted the impact and benefit received by exposing people to music.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Speech-in-noise performance was the main measure researchers observed, putting 43 young kids in a clinical study for 14 to 17 months. Of those enrolled, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the other 22 had normal hearing ability. The researchers already knew that children with implants had a hard time understanding speech so they created control and test sets which delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.
The study 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.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a tremendous amount of research revealing the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this study is only one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and indicated that musical training can enhance speech perception in noisy environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the objective of this study which examined 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
Unlike the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study observed young adults whose ages averaged about 22-years-old. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst those who were trained musically and those who weren’t was considerable.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had similar results, but when any amount of background noise was added, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory regions of the brain which probably accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But the benefits of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s study don’t just end there. According to the study’s conclusions, musical training strengthened the participant’s auditory-motor network, fine-tuning and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.
It’s significant to note that while the musicians studied were adults, each of them started their musical training at a much younger age and acquired at least a decade of musical training. This again backs the recent assessment that musical training can have a profound impact.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been an issue for some of the world’s most distinguished composers and musicians. Perhaps 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 foundation of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was probably the gateway for prolonging his musical career. During the last 10 years of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly completely deaf. Amazingly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven wrote some of his most popular pieces.