For people who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” may have a whole new meaning.
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 illustrated the effect 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 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 created control and test sets which delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.
For children in the singing group, an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed compared to children in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a great deal of research revealing the advantages to cognitive ability and speech processing provided by musical training and this research is only one of them. In loud environments, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these results were corroborated by research conducted by the Montreal Neurological Institute
That study examined 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.
Unlike the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study observed young adults whose ages averaged around 22-years-old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a considerable difference in results between the musicians and the non-musicians.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had comparable results, but when any level of background noise was incorporated, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory areas of the brain which probably 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 findings, musical training strengthened the participant’s auditory-motor network, refining and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.
It’s important to note that while the musicians studied were adults, they all started their musical training at a much younger age and amassed at least ten years of musical training. Musical training has a powerful impact and this once again supports that fact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a problem for some of the world’s most celebrated composers and musicians. Probably the most famous deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that started to decline while he was in his late 20s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though extreme, was most likely the gateway for prolonging his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually lived the last 10 years of his life almost totally deaf. In spite of that, many of his most cherished pieces were composed during his last 15 years.