For people who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” may have a completely new meaning.
Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile effect on hearing as is illustrated by a joint study conducted by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. 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 hard time understanding speech so they introduced control and test sets which delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.
For kids in the singing group, an impressive 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 tremendous amount of research revealing the advantages to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this study is just one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and suggested that musical training can enhance speech perception in loud environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the objective of this study which analyzed 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
In contrast to the study out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study evaluated young adults whose ages averaged around 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
The two groups performed similarly under conditions without any noise, but the musicians would separate themselves as the study went on, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise ratios. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory regions of the brain which most likely accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But the advantages of musical training found from Drs. Yi and Robert’s study don’t just end there. 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 a decade of training. This again backs the recent assessment that musical training can have a powerful impact.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been an issue for some of the world’s most renowned composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
Although Beethoven’s young childhood musical training would be considered extreme by present standards, the foundation of the training might have been the conduit to prolonging his career as a composer. Through the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly entirely deaf. Incredibly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven composed some of his most renowned pieces.