The phrase “Music to my ears” may soon have a very different meaning for people suffering from hearing impairment.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London evaluated the effects of musical experiences on hearing loss in children and the results of the study illustrated the impact and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers observed 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. Of those observed, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the remaining 22 had normal hearing ability. Armed with the knowledge that the children with implants had difficulty understanding speech perception before the beginning of the study, researchers introduced control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
For kids in the singing group, a remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was revealed in comparison with children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This research is only the most recent in a long line of research endeavors that show the merits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute backed these results and indicated that musical training can improve speech perception in noisy environments.
That study analyzed the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
In contrast to the study 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 always hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst people who were musically trained and those who weren’t was significant.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed equally under conditions without any noise, but the musicians would separate themselves as the study continued, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise ratios. 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 found inside of the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s research. 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 significant to note that while the musicians observed were adults, each of them began their musical education at a much younger age and amassed at least a decade of musical training. This again supports the recent analysis that musical training can have a profound impact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a problem for some of the world’s most distinguished composers and musicians. Perhaps the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that began to diminish while he was in his late 20s.
Though Beethoven’s young childhood musical training would be regarded as severe by current standards, the groundwork of the training may have been the conduit to prolonging his career as a composer. Over the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly completely deaf. Despite that, many of his most beloved pieces came over his last 15 years.
Can children with hearing loss benefit from music and singing?