The expression “Music to my ears” may soon have a very different meaning for people who have hearing impairment.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London analyzed the effects of musical experiences on hearing loss in children and the results of the study highlighted the impact and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Gauging 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 observed 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 assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.
The results showed a significant 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
This study is just the most recent in a long line of research endeavors that illustrate the merits of musical training to enhance cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these findings and suggested that musical training can enhance speech perception in noisy environments.
Identifying speech syllables through a variety of background noises was the goal of this study which analyzed 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians.
In contrast to the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study looked at young adults whose ages averaged about 22-years-old. While participants weren’t always hearing impaired, the difference in results among those who were musically trained and those who weren’t was substantial.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was absent, both groups had comparable results, but when any amount of background noise was added, the musicians significantly 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 inside of the brains of the musicians.
But the benefits of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s study don’t just end there. According to the study’s findings, musical training strengthened 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 supports the recent assessment that musical training can have a profound impact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a challenge for some of the world’s most distinguished composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was likely the conduit for extending his musical career. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually lived the last 10 years of his life nearly totally deaf. Despite that, many of his most cherished pieces came over his last 15 years.
Can children with hearing loss benefit from music and singing?