Man playing acoustic guitar on a couch to improve his hearing.

The expression “Music to my ears” could soon have a very different meaning for people dealing with hearing loss.

Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London examined the effects of musical experiences on hearing loss in children and the results of the study illustrated the effect and benefit received by exposing people to music.

Gauging Speech-in-Noise Performance

Researchers observed 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they measured speech-in-noise performance. Of those enrolled, 21 children had cochlear implants, while the other 22 had normal hearing ability. The researchers recognized that children with implants had a difficult time understanding speech so they introduced control and test sets which assigned participants to singing and non-singing groups.

The results showed a significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for youngsters in the singing group versus their counterparts in the non-singing group.

The Ears Are Trained by Music

This study is just the most recent in a long line of research initiatives that demonstrate the merits of musical training to improve cognitive ability and speech processing. In loud settings, speech perception can be improved by musical training, and these findings 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 numerous background noise levels.

In contrast to the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study looked at young adults whose ages averaged around 22-years-old. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst individuals who were trained musically and those who weren’t was significant.

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 within the brains of the musicians.

But there’s more to the benefits of the musical training revealed by Dr. Yi and Robert’s study. According to the study’s conclusions, musical training strengthened the participant’s auditory-motor network, refining and uniting the auditory system and speech motor system to improve hearing.

These adult musicians in this study had all been trained when they were younger and had at least a decade of training. Musical training has a powerful effect and this again supports that fact.

The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven

Hearing loss has been an issue for some of the world’s most celebrated composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.

Although Beethoven’s early childhood musical education would be considered extreme by present standards, the groundwork of the training may have been the gateway to extending his career as a composer. In fact, Beethoven actually spent the last 10 years of his life almost totally deaf. Despite that, many of his most cherished works were composed over his last 15 years.



References

Can children with hearing loss benefit from music and singing?

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-12-musical-affects-speech.html

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