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Music And Better Hearing: Is There Any Connection?

Everyone loves music for its ability to bring people together and soothe the soul. People who suffer from hearing loss often mourn the loss of the ability to hear and appreciate music the way they did when their hearing was better. But now, in addition to reducing stress and increasing mental alertness, your hobby may also benefit your hearing. Specifically, it might improve the way you understand conversations which take place in noisy places.

According to a recent study conducted by Frank Russo, professor of psychology and director of the Science of Music at Ryerson University in Toronto, “When people are matched for audiometry and age, musicians seem to have superior ability to distinguish speech in noise.” Professor Russo says, “It’s possible that musicians have innate abilities but it might also be because of their training. Our working hypothesis is that singing would develop fine-grained pitch perception, which would in turn support speech perception in noise.”

In addition, the researchers established two other control groups. One simply listened to music while the other had no musical intervention at all. Periodically, researchers used scalp electrodes to track the auditory brainstem responses of participants in all three groups. Professor Russo said this allowed his team to measure how well the brain was coding sound, especially how it responded to specific speech patterns such as the steady portion of speech corresponding to vowels.

The Result?

The studies determined that the choir group’s brainstem response to sound improved after singing training. The other two groups showed no improvement.

"Download an app for your smartphone. Sing in the shower. I think those things are likely helpful.” - Dr. Frank Russo

“One of the advantages musicians have is that they can follow the pitch contour of voice,” Russo said, as he explained why the researchers decided to use voice training to test their hypothesis. “Voice is an instrument with variable pitch. When you’re matching a pitch, you have to have very fine pitch perception to match it perfectly. Not many instruments allow for this. String instruments are the exception; however, it would take us years to train an older adult to play a violin. Singing is something you can pick up relatively easy in older age.”

Hearing & Social Benefits

Participating in a group activity (like singing in a choir) provides cognitive and social benefits. Those kinds of gains might be contributing factors.

“Right now we just know something good happens in the brain. Even if it does require people to do it into old age, singing is an intervention that will fit very nicely into their lifestyle. There are also various ways to improve your singing without joining a choir.

There are also ways to improve your hearing even before you sign up for that community choir. The first step is to have your hearing tested by a qualified hearing care professional. Battlefords Hearing Centers is always available to help you hear all the sounds of life, including your favorite music.


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