For people who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” could have 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 outcome of the study highlighted the impact and benefit obtained by exposing people to music.
Measuring Speech-in-Noise Performance
Researchers observed 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. The researchers recognized that children with implants had a difficult time understanding speech so they created control and test sets which assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.
For children in the singing group, an impressive improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was revealed compared to children in the non-singing group.
Music Trains The Ear
This study is just the most recent in a long line of research efforts that illustrate the benefits 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 improve speech perception in loud environments.
That study examined the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through a variety of background noise levels.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, in contrast to the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst those who were trained musically and those who weren’t was considerable.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
When the noise was absent, both groups had similar results, but when any amount of background noise was incorporated, the musicians significantly outperformed the non-musicians. It’s likely that the ability to perform well on these tests was due to enhancements to the left interior frontal and right auditory parts found within the brains of the musicians.
But the advantages of musical training revealed by Drs. Yi and Robert’s study 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 worthwhile to note that while the musicians studied were adults, each of them began their musical education at a much younger age and acquired at least ten years of musical training. This once again supports the recent assessment that musical training can have a profound impact.
The Affect of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been an issue for some of the world’s most famous composers and musicians. Probably the most famous deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that began to deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was likely the gateway for prolonging his musical career. During the last 10 years of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, almost entirely deaf. In spite of that, many of his most cherished pieces came during his last 15 years.
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