For people who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” could 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 illustrated the effect and benefit received by exposing people to music.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children enrolled had normal hearing while the remaining 21 had cochlear implants. 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 children in the singing group, a remarkable 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 great deal of research revealing the benefits to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this research is just one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these findings and indicated that musical training can enhance speech perception in noisy environments.
That study evaluated 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 research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results among people who were trained musically and those who weren’t was considerable.
Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had similar results, but when any amount of background noise was incorporated, the musicians substantially outperformed the non-musicians. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was due to enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory regions found within the brains of the musicians.
But the benefits 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 trained when they were younger and had at least a decade of training. Musical training has a powerful effect and this once again backs that fact.
Beethoven’s Battle With Hearing Loss
Some of the world’s most celebrated musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Perhaps the most famous deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that began to diminish while he was in his late 20s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was likely the gateway for prolonging his musical career. Over the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly entirely deaf. Despite that, many of his most treasured works were composed over his last 15 years.