The language of music: Individuals who are hearing-impaired can use music to develop spoken language
03/17/2020 // Michael Alexander // Views

As it turns out, music can do so much more than just bring enjoyment and relaxation to listeners: It can also support the development of one’s language skills – especially in children who are hard-of-hearing and hearing-impaired.

This is what researchers from the University of Helsinki found while developing a music playschool for children with cochlear implants.

In a study published in the journal Hearing Research, Ritva Torppa, a speech therapist and a university lecturer of logopedics found that music – especially singing – can benefit hearing-impaired or cochlear implant-wearing children and adolescents by helping them develop effective speech and language skills.

In their study, Torppa and her colleague Minna Huotilainen, a brain researcher and a professor of education, assembled their own findings and those of other researchers, which demonstrate that the skills learned by hearing-impaired children through musical activities – such as their perception of prosody through rhythm and pitch variation – can make their lives easier.

"Listening to speech, for example, in noisy surroundings becomes less stressful while communicating with others and absorbing information in school and everyday life also becomes easier,” Torppa said.

Huotilainen said that for her, music emphasizes the principle of equality, since similar effects were also seen in typically hearing children.

She added that employing music in early education benefits all and safeguards the right to high-quality learning for children, no matter their physical status, first language or mental and intellectual capacities.


"The use of musical methods in teaching intensifies learning and is in line with the results of the latest brain research," Huotilainen noted, adding that “music also gives every child a voice of their own, a channel for self-expression and the chance to be heard.”

Among the studies compiled by the researchers were those that focused on the benefits of musical training, such as a pioneering pair of studies from the 1990s that noted, for the first time, the effects of musical training on brain structure, as well as a study showing the effects of musical training -- including singing and musical instrument playing -- on phonological awareness. (Related: Study sheds light on the ability of music therapy to relieve stress.)

According to the researchers, the majority of studies point to benefits such as improvements of musical skills, music or speech perception or cognitive aspects. In addition, the researchers noted that none of the reviewed studies reported negative effects.

“Music may have positive consequences for the lives of children with hearing impairments. From an ethical point of view, it is not wise to exclude them from musical activities at home or outside of the home,” the researchers said.

However, even though the results collated so far are promising, the researchers said more research is still needed, as the number of studies and participants in the studies they reviewed are small, and the study designs themselves are varied. In addition, the researchers said there is still a lot to improve in the research paradigms, citing instances such as the assessment of speech perception with a much larger battery of tests.

Music therapy 101

Want to use music in learning? Here are some guidelines, as prepared by Torppa and Huotilainen in their study:

  • Start music therapy at an early age, preferably before the child starts wearing cochlear implants or hearing aids. Musical activities must be continued for more than one year, in order to improve the child's speech perception.
  • Use bodily movements in the rhythm of the music.
  • If you are with a young child, use singing as your main instrument.
  • Engage children in musical activities in small groups.
  • To pique children's interest during music sessions, use several musical instruments. You can also use pictures or toys when presenting lyrics.
  • Repeat songs as often as necessary.
  • Take turns during sessions.
  • Use educational computer games and apps that can help the child perceive and produce specific sounds. You can also use traditional toys and games.
  • Support the musical hobbies of hearing-impaired or hard-of-hearing adolescents.

To learn more about the benefits of music therapy, visit

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