Early Music Improves HearingOctober 11, 2012
Another longtime benefit to music
In my family we’ve been talking a lot lately about the topic of hearing because my 92 year-old dad has been trying to make the decision about whether or not it’s worth the investment to him to get new, upgraded hearing aids. (He said, “If I spend all that money, I sure am going to be mad if I die.”) We’ve talked especially about the real possibility that, even with new hearing aids, he may still have great difficulty hearing in situations like restaurants where there’s a lot of background noise in addition to (and jumbled in with) the conversation around the table. So I was fascinated to read the recent New York Times article “Early Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits” by Perri Klass, M.D., showing that yet another benefit of early music education is to improve hearing in exactly that kind of situation.
Klass reports that, “In a study of those who do keep playing, published this summer, researchers found that as musicians age, they experience the same decline in peripheral hearing, the functioning of the nerves in their ears, as nonmusicians. But older musicians preserve the brain functions, the central auditory processing skills that can help you understand speech against the background of a noisy environment.
‘We often refer to the ‘cocktail party’ problem — or imagine going to a restaurant where a lot of people are talking,” said Dr. Claude Alain, assistant director of the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto and one of the authors of the study. “The older adults who are musically trained perform better on speech in noise tests — it involves the brain rather than the peripheral hearing system.’
It encourages me to know that the Maine students who are currently in strong early music education programs may not have to struggle with the kind of hearing problem that has been so difficult for my dad, who did not have the opportunity to benefit from such programs when he was a child.
But, of course, that’s not the only thing that encourages me about Maine students who are participating in strong music education! As Alexandra Perbery-Clark, a doctoral candidate researching these issues, is quoted as saying in the article:
“We want music to be recognized for what it can be in a person’s life, not necessarily, ‘Oh, we want you to have better cognitive skills, so we’re going to put you in music,’ ” Ms. Parbery-Clark said. “Music is great, music is fantastic, music is social — let them enjoy it for what it really is.”
It’s yet another reminder to us all that an investment in music education is always worth it, in so many ways!
See the full NYT article at
Thank you to Carol Trimble for contributing this blog post about this interesting research. Carol is the former executive director of the Maine Alliance for Arts Education and is enjoying teaching as an adjunct instructor for UMA on the Ellsworth and Bangor campuses. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.