For individuals who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” could take on 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 impact and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Evaluating Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers looked at 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 trouble 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 results showed an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for children in the singing group versus their counterparts 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 just one of them. A study from the Montréal Neurological Institute corroborated these results and suggested that musical training can enhance speech perception in noisy environments.
That study analyzed the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, asking each to identify speech syllables through a number of background noise levels.
Unlike the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study evaluated young adults whose ages averaged about 22-years-old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a substantial difference in results between the non-musicians and musicians.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed similarly under conditions without any noise, but the musicians would distinguish themselves as the study went on, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise ratios. 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 located inside of the brains of the musicians.
But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training identified by Dr. Yi and Robert’s study. The auditory motor network is refined and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this study.
These adult musicians in this study had all been educated when they were younger and had at least ten years of training. This again supports the recent assessment that musical training can have a powerful impact.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Some of the world’s most well-known musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Probably the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was born with the ability to hear, but that began to deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was probably the conduit for extending his musical career. As a matter of fact, Beethoven actually spent the last decade of his life nearly totally deaf. In spite of that, many of his most treasured pieces were composed during his last 15 years.