At UNCG, we’re putting the study of music to work in powerful ways. Scholars from across the university, the nation and the world are partnering with our innovative Music Research Institute (MRi) on ground-breaking research that utilizes music to better understand a variety of lifestyle factors and pertinent issues.
The result: researchers are finding new approaches to relevant issues like hearing loss prevention. In collaboration with audiology faculty, the MRi is conducting a series of studies to investigate music-related hearing loss. Public school music teachers and marching bands, as well as UNCG students and faculty, are being monitored to determine whether they are being exposed to music levels that put them at risk for permanent hearing damage. To assess the risk of exposure to intense noise levels, faculty use an instrument called a doseBadge, which is worn on the shoulder while one is performing or teaching.
According to Dr. Don Hodges, director of the MRi, the best remedy for preventing music-related hearing loss lies in the education of musicians that a potential loss of hearing is real, but preventable. The most effective interventions are earplugs, increasing the distance from the sound source, taking breaks and using sound barriers.
Don also points out the study’s potential widespread implications given the tremendous increase in cell phone and iPod usage, as well as other common interactions with intense noise levels in environments like clubs and concerts. “Hearing loss is cumulative. Over a lifetime of exposure, cells in the inner ear can be destroyed in such a way that by the time you notice you’re losing your hearing, it’s too late. The study is not meant to frighten people, though. We want to educate the community that this kind of hearing loss is avoidable,” says Don.
To build on the study, a major grant has been submitted to also examine the onset of tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, in musicians. Because UNCG is known for its full-service tinnitus clinic — the only one in the state — this study is a prime example of the excellent opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration. Also planned is an investigation of the genetic basis for noise-induced hearing loss, which is another logical partnership given the university’s substantial role in the Guilford Genomic Medicine Initiative.
Hearing loss is just one example of the MRi’s work to advance the understanding of music and share its new knowledge with the community. Many world class scientists and high-profile funding partners are actively partnering with the MRi and more than 30 research projects are currently underway. The rich array of multi- and interdisciplinary studies includes music education, neuroimaging, ethnomusicology and biomusic.
The NAMM Foundation, for instance, is a philanthropic partner in the Sounds of Learning research initiative. The Foundation, with additional support from the Grammy Foundation® and the U.S. Department of Education, is working with the MRi to explore the impact of music education on children. "MRi has helped ground the program in a solid research process and helped link it to the most credible and productive researchers in the field," said Mary L. Luehrsen, Director of Public Affairs for NAMM, the international music products association.
Other examples include a $2.7 million NSF grant to develop a traveling museum exhibit on the “music” that occurs in nature and a grant proposal to initiate a project that will prepare a new core of music and biology teachers to lead integrated science and music classes.
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