For people who have hearing loss, the expression “music to my ears” may take on a completely new meaning.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki and the University College London examined 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 observed 43 young children in a 14 to 16 month study where they assessed speech-in-noise performance. 22 of the children observed had normal hearing while the other 21 had cochlear implants. Armed with the knowledge 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 significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance for youngsters in the singing group compared to their counterparts in the non-singing group.
The Ears Are Trained by Music
There is a great deal of research revealing the benefits 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 results and suggested that musical training can enhance speech perception in loud environments.
That study evaluated the brain activity of 30 participants, 15 musicians and 15 non-musicians, challenging each to identify speech syllables through numerous background noise levels.
The ages of the participants in the research by Drs. Yi and Roberts, unlike the Helsinki/London study, averaged 22 years old. While participants weren’t necessarily hearing impaired, the difference in results amongst people who were musically trained and those who weren’t was considerable.
Musicians Outperform Non-Musicians
The two groups performed similarly under conditions with no noise, but the musicians would separate themselves as the study went on, outperforming non-musicians at all other signal-to-noise rates. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory regions of the brain which probably accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.
But the advantages of musical training found from Drs. Yi and Robert’s research don’t just end there. The auditory motor network is refined and united to the auditory system and speech motor system by this musical training according to this research.
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 once again supports that fact.
The Impact of Hearing Loss on Beethoven
Hearing loss has been a problem for some of the world’s most well-known composers and musicians. Most notably, Ludwig van Beethoven who began to lose his hearing in his 20’s.
The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was probably the gateway for prolonging his musical career. Through the last 10 years of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, almost completely deaf. Incredibly, it was during the last 15 years of his life that Beethoven composed some of his most renowned pieces.
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