The phrase “Music to my ears” may soon have a very different meaning to people who have hearing loss.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London evaluated the effects of musical experiences on hearing loss in children and the outcome of the study illustrated the impact and benefit received by exposing people to music.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 43 young kids in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children enrolled had normal hearing while the remaining 21 had cochlear implants. knowing that the children with implants had difficulty understanding speech perception before the beginning of the study, researchers created control and test sets, assigning participants to a non-singing (control) and singing (test) group.
The study showed a remarkable improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group compared to their counterparts in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
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. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute backed 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.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a substantial difference in results between the musicians and the non-musicians.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was missing, both groups had similar 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 found inside of the brains of the musicians.
But the advantages of musical training found from Drs. Yi and Robert’s research don’t just end there. According to the study’s findings, musical training reinforced the participant’s auditory-motor network, fine-tuning 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 started their musical training at a much younger age and accumulated at least ten years of musical training. This again backs the recent assessment that musical training can have a powerful impact.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most celebrated musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who started to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early foundation of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was likely the gateway for extending his musical career. In fact, Beethoven actually spent the last 10 years of his life nearly completely deaf. In spite of that, many of his most cherished pieces were composed over his last 15 years.
Can children with hearing loss benefit from music and singing?