How music training helps speech perception

Dr Ritva Torppa’s research shows that music does more than make us happy

Music plays an important role in our lives – it brings us joy, it allows us to express ourselves and it brings people together. For many people, reconnecting with music after receiving a hearing implant can be life changing.

“Whether it’s singing or dancing or listening, music is everything to me,” says Romy, a cochlear implant recipient. “I’m so relieved I can finally hear music again,” she says of her experience with an implant.

It turns out, music does more than just make us happy, says Ritva Torppa PhD, a speech therapist and researcher from the University of Helsinki in Finland.

Dr Torppa’s research shows that participating in musical activities or playing a musical instrument can improve speech perception and language learning of cochlear implant users.

“In our recent review article we found that, in several studies, music intervention improved music perception of CI users, speech perception in silence and noise of CI users and also language learning of CI users.

“We also found evidence that music intervention improves the brain structures related to speech perception,” she said.

So, what musical activities should you focus on and how can you get started?

Tips from an expert

Dr Torppa says playing any musical instrument can help, whether it’s piano, guitar, violin or another.

When you are listening to music, her advice is to start simple. For example, start by listening to your favourite music. Begin initially with just one instrument, “then increase the difficulty little by little by adding musical instruments to the background.”

Singing can also help. When you play a musical instrument, sing along and ask your family or a friend when you are in the correct pitch.

Whether you’re listening or playing music for the love of it or to improve speech perception, take a moment to enjoy the experience, like recipient Daniel. “For most of my life, I haven’t been able to hear the high notes of a piano. Now I can and that makes me very happy,” he says.

Watch how recipients describe the moving experience of reconnecting with music:

Watch how Daniel is ‘moved to tears’ by the music of Beethoven:

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