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

For individuals who have hearing loss, the phrase “music to my ears” could take on a completely new meaning.

Exposing children to music can have a worthwhile effect on hearing as is highlighted by a joint study conducted by the University College London and the University of Helsinki.

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 delegated participants to singing and non-singing groups.

For kids in the singing group, a significant improvement in awareness and speech-in-noise performance was observed in comparison with children 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 study is only one of them. In loud settings, speech perception can be enhanced by musical training, and these findings were corroborated by a study carried out by the Montreal Neurological Institute

That study analyzed 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.

Unlike the research out of Helsinki and London, Drs. Yi and Robert’s study observed young adults whose ages averaged around 22-years-old. These participants had normal hearing but there was a substantial difference in results between the musicians and the non-musicians.

Non-Musicians Were Outperformed By Musicians

When the noise was missing, both groups had comparable results, but when any level of background noise was added, the musicians substantially outperformed the non-musicians. Musicians have enhanced left interior frontal and right auditory regions of the brain which most likely accounts for this ability to perform well on these tests.

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 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 educated when they were younger and had at least ten years of training. This once again backs the recent analysis that musical training can have a profound impact.

The Affect of Hearing Loss on Beethoven

Some of the world’s most famous musicians and composers have suffered from hearing loss. Perhaps the most well-known deaf composer, Ludwig van Beethoven was able to hear when he was born, but that started to deteriorate while he was in his late 20s.

The early groundwork of Beethoven’s training, though severe, was probably the gateway for extending his musical career. Through the last decade of his life, Beethoven was, in fact, nearly completely deaf. Despite that, many of his most cherished pieces came during his last 15 years.

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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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