UCL Ear Institute


Using singing to nurture children’s hearing?

A pilot study was conducted to explore the potential benefits and refine a programme of singing training for normal hearing (NH) and hearing impaired (HI) children. Earlier studies showed that, musical activities in early childhood and even later on have a positive effect on auditory processing, such as sound discrimination, speech and language performance, emotional development and social skills. Because of delayed pre-linguistic vocalisation HI children often do not have the same singing skills as NH children. Nevertheless, HI children enjoy singing as much as NH children. Singing competence is part of the developmental process and can be improved through teaching interventions. In 2007 the National Singing Programme developed an educational singing curriculum “Sing up”, for primary schools in England. It was implemented to improve singing skills alongside other cognitive skills, for example reading skills.

Dr. Deborah Vickers and Prof. Graham Welch, together with Creative Futures (a multi-arts charity for children) established a singing programme for HI children. Musical content was simple songs with actions, vocal explorations, tongue twisters and explorations in visual imagery for sound with gestures. The goal was to determine if there was a positive impact on changes in auditory perception and singing development. This research was undertaken at a primary school offering integrated educational services for both NH and HI children in an ethnically and culturally diverse part of London.

The assessment contained three elements: a specially designed chord discrimination test, a speech perception in noise test and a singing competency.

There were great improvements for the chord pitch discrimination test following training. Improvements were also seen in the comfortable singing range and melody accuracy for the HI children. No changes were observed for the natural speech frequency or for speech perception in noise.

The school was very happy with the outcomes of the study and the teachers commented that the children “…spontaneously sang the songs outside of the lessons...” and that they “…were delighted to see how happy the HI children were to get involved in singing …”.

A longer training programme could potentially be more beneficial to have a generalised impact on speech perception abilities. The research team would like to compare this current intervention to a music training programme developed to enhance executive function to determine which approach might be most beneficial. 


  • Welch, G. F., Saunders, J., Edwards, S., Palmer, Z., Himonides, E., Knight, J., . . . Vickers, D. A. (2015). Using singing to nurture children’s hearing? A pilot study. Cochlear Implants International, 16 (S3), S63-S70.

The researchers