Amie, Bass Guitars, and Good Health.


I have not posted in a while.  I needed some time off.  Amie, my sweet friend and hearing ear dog passed away on June 13.  She was such a big part of our family; her passing hit us all pretty hard.  I wrote many tributes to her already in my blog, you can read them here and here.  Amie, we miss you terribly.

Two happier items to talk about.  My band played another event on Saturday July 21st.  We raised over $800 for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada.  This time I really got the sound right.  I had all the settings tweaked really well so I could hear exactly what I needed.  Moreover, what pleased me most was my ability to keep playing the correct parts when our singer deviated from the song.  I was able to hear that we were not at the part of the song I expected and still played correctly.  In addition, my guitarist was able to glance over at me and mouth instructions.  It was such a massive confidence booster to know that we can screw up but still recover without anyone in the audience even knowing it.  For more information on how I play live music with my hearing loss click here.  Also, this link here talks about how I keep the beat.

Also, I continue to improve my health.  I started in March at about 260 lbs and I am now 221 lbs.  I continue to run, work out, and avoid eating most things that are white (Salt, sugar, starch-filled things, white bread, white pastas, creamy things etc).  I blogged about the weight loss here.

I will be back to regular blogging again soon.  Meanwhile, here is a picture of me on the far left in the black t-shirt with some friends at my Saturday event.  Next picture is with my wife enjoying the vineyards of Niagara region.

Cheers!

Hanging out with friends at the MS Fundraiser I did with my band Below the Belt. Thats me on the left in the black v-neck.

Enjoying time at a vineyard in Niagara Region with my lovely wife.

Research on Music Perception with a Cochlear Implant.


As you all know, I love music.  I wish I loved visual art or sports more, but I don’t.  I love music and with my verkakte ears, its not an easy task.  I decided to review the literature and see what the research tells us about music perception in cochlear implants (CI’s).

If you look at some of the earlier research prior to 2000, you barely see much reference to music perception in CI’s.  I think the researchers, and engineers were busy working on getting good speech perception.  Makes sense.  And as the speech perception abilities of CI users began to improve, interest began to shift to other important listening  abilities such as musical perception.

One researcher who has done a lot of work in this area is Dr. Kate Gfeller.  In a 2000 article (J Am Acad Audiol. 2000 Jul-Aug;11(7):390-406), Gfeller et al found that 83% of adult CI users reported diminished music enjoyment post-implantation.  In fact one third of the CI users even avoided music altogether as they found it to be an aversive sound.  These are not encouraging results.  But do remember that these folks received their implants in the 1990’s.  This technology is now 20 years old.

Looi et al, 2007 (Ear & Hearing: April 2007 – Volume 28 – Issue 2 – pp 59S-61S) did a study comparing the music perception of CI users compared to hearing aid (HA) users.  Note that the HA users were all potential CI candidates, so they all had significant hearing loss.  This study showed that while neither device (HA or CI) provided satisfactory music perception results, the CI users gave slightly better ratings than the HA users.  So now we are actually seeing some data showing music perception getting better with a CI, but still not great.

Another study by Looi et al in 2008 (Ear & Hearing: June 2008 – Volume 29 – Issue 3 – pp 421-434) looked again at CI users and HA users who were potential CI candidates. So again these HA users also had significant hearing loss.  On a rhythm recognition task, both groups did about the same.  On the pitch perception task, the HA users outperformed the CI users (oh oh, not good).  In fact many of the CI users needed two pitches to be at more than a quarter of an octave apart before the notes sounded any different.  Not good.  In western music you need to be able to hear a one semitone difference.

After reading this article, I checked what my skills were like using a CI only.  I had my brother play a bunch of two note pairs on a piano keyboard.  My task was to say if the two notes were the same or different and then secondly which note was higher in pitch.  For the notes above middle C, I was able to reliably report if the two notes were same or different even if they were only one semi-tone apart.  I was about 80-90% accurate at identifying which note was higher or lower.  For notes below middle C, I needed notes to be at least one full tone apart to get the same level of accuracy, but performance deteriorated as the pitches got lower.

So here’s the thing now.  Looks like I am not getting good low frequency pitch perception with the CI which is so critical for music.  Low pitches may not be that important for speech as the consonants are mainly high pitched and consonants give you speech intelligibility.

I therefore personally decided to use a hearing aid in my non-implanted ear.  I hear music much better whilst using a combination of a HA and a CI.  But is it just me?  No.  A study be El Fata et al (Audiol Neurootol. 2009;14 Suppl 1:14-21. Epub 2009 Apr 22) looked at 14 adults who continued to use a hearing aid in their non-implanted ear after getting a CI.  Subjects were asked to identify excerpts from 15 popular songs, which were familiar to them.  The presentations were done bimodally, with the CI alone and then HA alone. Musical excerpts were presented in each condition with and then without lyrics. Those subjects who had more low frequency residual hearing (> 85 dB HL in the lows) did much better on all the tasks with both a CI and an HA than either the CI only condition or HA alone.

Another study by Gfeller et al in 2007 (Ear & Hearing: June 2007 – Volume 28 – Issue 3 – pp 412-423)  also confirms the need for better low frequency hearing for music perception.  In this study, CI users which electrical only stimulation (the regular type of CI) were compared to subjects with a hybrid implant.  The hybrid implant uses a shorter electrode array for giving you the high pitches whilst still using a hearing aid type of air conduction for the low pitches.  Usesing low frequecny acoustic hearing significantly improved pitch perception compared with elctric only CI’s.  But before you go rushing off asking for a hybrid implant, you need to know that not everyone can get one of those.  You need to still have sufficient low frequency hearing.

So here’s what I can conclude from these articles:

1. The newer studies seem to show better music perception in CI users than older studies.  This is most likely due to improvements in technology in which the newer implants give a richer sound than the older devices.

2. Music perception with a CI via electrical stimulation could still be improved.  It seems to be related to the poor perception of the low frequencies.

3. If you still have some usable residual hearing in your non-implanted ear, use a hearing aid in that ear.

4. Help your ears by making music easier to hear.  Use some of the techniques I use by adding FM technology to your CI and hearing aid for either live music or with an iPod.

Behind The Scenes with a Deafened Rock Star.


Ok, this title is wishful thinking.  Deafened, yes, but rock star, perhaps not.  We did a gig to raise money for a friend and colleague Warren Estabrooks whose organization is called “We Listen International”.  Warren and his team provide professional education, training and consultative services for professionals who work with children, teens and adults with hearing loss.

We started out the evening with some acoustic covers of some songs.  I played my acoustic bass whilst my buddy Dave played his 12 string and sang.  Later, my friend Maxine Armstrong, also an audiologist, did a beautiful rendition of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin.

My son’s Band Sticks and Stones were up next.  They played all original material that they wrote themselves.  Their sound is sort of “Indy” with jazz-like instrumentals.  Absolutely fantastic stuff.  If these guys had a recording contract, I am sure they would be hugely successful.  Check out their You Tube stuff here.  Also, you can download their songs here.

Finally, my bandmates and I got up to do about 18 songs.  I am so proud to be playing with these guys, everyone put in such a fantastic effort.  None of us are professional musicians, but we did our best to sound like it!

Speaking of professionals, special thanks to my good friend Ryan and his assistant Laura from Massive Tank Studios for doing the sound for the evening.  I love you guys!

Interestingly, while it is fun and exhilarating to perform music and have folks cheer for you, it is also quite stressful.  Why?  Because nothing ever goes exactly as planned.  The key is to not freak out, persevere, problem solve and find creative solutions. Lets take a behind the scenes look at the day to show you what I mean.

1 p.m.:  Start loading up the PA system, speakers, stands, bass amp, bass guitars, mics, cables etc etc.

2 p.m.: Start unloading gear at Pub.  First surprise.  Only one outlet box for all the gear.  Go and find more power bars and hope we don’t blow any fuses.

4:30.  Go to Music Studio to rehearse Free Fallin with Maxine.  Plan is to have two guitarist and one bass.

5:00.  Maxine still stuck in traffic.

5:15.  Rehearse with Maxine.

5:30.  Rush home to change.

6:00.  Go to Pub to finish setting up gear.  Three cables are dead, need to find replacements.  Deb, our singer needs a music stand.  Call wife to get her to bring one.  Forgot MyLink Receivers.  Call wife again to get those.

6:30.  My son has not arrived yet to do his set up and sound check.  He’s still at the tattoo parlor getting two new tattoos.  Really buddy?  On the day of the gig?  Is that a good idea?

7:00.  Supposed to start, but still setting up.  Someone has unplugged my TX300V FM from the Aux Out 1 and used it for something else.  I don’t think so people.  Deaf guy gets first dibs on sound.  Plus its my mixing board, so I get to call the shots.  Slightly tense conversations ensue, solution found.

7:40.  We start to do the acoustic set that was supposed to start 40 mins earlier.  First three songs are fine as we over-rehearsed these.  Maxine comes up to do her song.  Ryan was supposed to join us by playing guitar, but we ran out of inputs on the PA for another guitar.  Bummer, because while I love my buddy Dave who is playing guitar, he is rhythmically impaired.  Maxine sings like an angel, but I lose my timing.  Sound man Ryan sees I am struggling and becomes my human metronome.  I read his lips as he is counting out the time.  While I am playing some other folks with Cochlear Implants are requesting the MyLink FM receivers I promised.  Shit, they are still in my car.  Cant’ get them now, I am playing (for Pete’s sake!)

8:00.  Son’s band sets up to play.  No sound check because my philosophical artsy son decided to get tattoos earlier.  Their performance was fantastic, but the pub owners are complaining it is too loud.  Trying to get drummer to play as lightly as possible so everything else can be turned down.  All drummers are now unhappy.  I think all drummers were all born as Bam-Bam Rubble.

8:10.  I am using my son’s band as an opportunity to check my sound through the FM.  I discover the compressor is set wrong. Knee point is too low, compression ratio is too high and release time is too slow.

8:25:  Adjust compressor.  Hope its ok.  Run to car and get MyLink+ receivers. and hand them out.

8:30.  Start to play first set with my band.  Sound still not right.  Mouth to Ryan the sound man to increase vocals to Aux Out 1.  Reach behind me and increase knee point on compressor a bit.  Raise output on FM but over did it.  Sounds distorted.  It is peaking in the red too much.  Next song plan to lower it.  Can’t hear Luigi, the guitarist now.  Thankfully I know some basic chords on guitar, so I watch his hands to see what he is playing.  Luigi sees this, and moves a bit so I can see him play better.  He understands what I need.  I love you man.

8:35.  Discover I am not feeling the kick drum through my platform very well.  Look at mic on kick and discover its too far away.  Lower gain on FM.  Better.

8:40.  Move mic on kick closer, still not right.  But now I remember why…Warren, our drummer, is trying to play quietly (Quiet drummer…is that oxymoronic?).

9:10:  Finish first set, and take a small break.  Decide to play second set without my shoes on so I can feel the kick drum better.

9:25:  Start second set.  Sound is much better now.  I am feeling the kick drum on my platform through my shoeless feet  better now.  My timing improves.  Tweak the compressor a bit more.  Warren, the drummer, and I are communicating well via eye contact.  We are finishing our songs well.  If you pay attention to recorded songs, you will notice that they most pop songs don’t really end, but they are faded out by the recording engineer.  Live music requires a definite end, and getting everyone to finish a song at the same time is one of the challenges of playing live music.  We devoted an entire rehearsal to finishing songs!

9:50.  Sound is perfect now.  But that’s the last song.  Bummer.  We finally have everything perfect.

10:00:  Everyone is very kind with compliments.  Some of my brutally honest asshole “friends” also pay us compliments.  Hey, maybe we were good?  Actually, come to think of it, we were great.  Everyone loves our singer Deb, and they should.  She is a natural frontman (front-woman?) for a band.  I love you Deb!

10:15.  Tear down all equipment, load up cars, take equipment home.

11:30:  Go to Deb the singer’s house for drinks.

12:30 a.m.:  Son calls and says he needs to be picked up because his friends parents kicked everyone out of the house for being too rambunctious.  Hey, they are teenagers, what do you expect?

1:30 a.m.: Come home and unwind.

2:30 a.m.:  Go to bed.

Moral of the story.  Nothing ever goes as planned so don’t expect it.  Roll with it.

Listen to the Music Live!


This post is the second part of my description of how I listen to music when I play in my band.

Just a quick review of the challenges I have hearing the music correctly.  Most of you who also have significant hearing loss will likely have these issues as well.

  1. The music can sound muddled and unclear due to the reduced frequency resolution of the impaired auditory system.
  2. Music can sound distorted since hearing aids and cochlear implants cannot always handle loud inputs.
  3. I need to hear my own instrument, while at the same time need to hear the rest of the band clearly.
  4. I need to keep in time.

The latter problem of keeping in time is solved by the platform I made.  See the previous posting for a description on that.

Through lots of trial and error I have come up with a system the finally works for me.  It allows me to hear my bass guitar, while at the same time hear appropriate cues form the guitarist and vocalist.

  1. First my bass goes into my Boss TU-2 Tuner.  Using an electronic tuner has made tuning the instrument a breeze.
  2. Then the signal goes into the Big Muff Pi Distortion Pedal.   I use distortion sparingly, but what I like about this pedal is that it splits the signal into two parts.  A dry unaffected output and a wet affected signal.
  3. The wet affected output then goes into my Markbass 800 Watt Bass Head and speaker cabinets.  This is what the audience hears.  But not me, I only feel this.
  4. The dry signal goes to a Boss GEB-7 Bass Equalizer.  This allows me to shape the signal so that i can hear it better.  I seem to hear the bass better when I enhance the frequencies between 400 Hz to 800 Hz.
  5. Next the signal goes to Boss LMB-3 Bass Limiter.  I need to ensure I get rid of harsh peaks that would sound distorted to me.
  6. The signal now goes into the SansAmp Bass Driver DI to bring the signal up from a weak signal to a line level signal.
  7. Finally the signal goes into the Phonak TX300V Studio Transmitter.  This send sthe signal to me to hear.

But wait, we are not done yet!  I also need to hear the rest of the band correct?

  1. The guitarist amplifier, guitarist background vocals,  and the main vocalist are all being picked up by their own microphones and fed into the PA system.
  2. Their is an auxiliary output on the mixing board.  I adjust the individual auxiliary output volume controls so that I hear the exact amount.  Generally, with the pop music we play, I like to hear more of the main vocalist.
  3. This then goes into another compressor (oddly enough called the Really Nice Compressor).  I then adjust the kneepoint, attack time, and release time so that the loud signals are lowered and the weak signals are enhanced.
  4. This signal also goes into the Phonak TX300V Studio Transmitter.

The final step is blending the bass signal (my instrument) and the rest of the band.  The TX300V is nice in that it has 2 channels of input and a blend control.  I can now belnd and adjust the two signals to my liking.

So that’s how I do it folks.

Keeping the Beat…an idea for musicians with hearing loss.


When I was a child, I took piano lessons and had to endure performing in recitals.  I did not enjoy this very much, perhaps because I was not cut out to handle to rigors of the Royal Conservatory of Music.  Or maybe I just sucked at piano.  However, playing in a recital is a solo endeavour, so if I was not keeping proper time, no one else suffered (except perhaps the ears of the poor parents in the audience).

Later I took acoustic guitar lessons and strummed and sang some songs.  Once again, it was just me playing, so keeping the beat was not as important.

When I was in high school, I played trumpet in the high school band.  I relied on the conductor to ensure that I was keeping tempo and playing in the right spot.

Currently, I play in a mid-life crises rock band called ‘Below the Belt”.  Its just four of us…a drummer, guitarist, vocalist, and myself on bass guitar.  I quickly learned how fatal timing errors can be.  If we are all not in the same spot, we sound like donkey poop.

I have difficulty hearing the kick drum of the drummer when playing live music.  If I try to move closer to the drum kit, all I hear is the crash and ride cymbals and nothing else.  Snare drum is easier to hear, but as a bass player I am required to be “locked in” with the kick drum.

So upon the suggestion of a colleague from Switzerland, I created a platform to stand on.  It consists of the following components:

  • Microphone on kick drum
  • XLR cable
  • Microphone Pre-amp
  • Subwoofer amplifier
  • Bass Shaker
  • Plywood platform to stand on

So basically what happens, is that the microphone picks up the sound of the kick drum and causes my platform to shake.  I feel the kick drum through the soles of my shoes.

I obtained the microphone, XLR cable, and pre-amp from a music store (Long and McQuade inCanada).  The subwoofer amplifier and bass shaker were obtained from Parts Express in the United States.

Note that I am hesitant to give you the exact part numbers.  To build such a device, you need to understand power, watts, speaker impedance, series vs parallel wiring.  Failure to do so could cause an accident, and I don’t want to be responsible for that.  If you don’t know how to build such a device, get some expert help before proceeding.

Now that I made that disclaimer, I can tell you that it has been a great help for me.  My band mates tell me that I play much “tighter” with this unit.  Any musician or singer who stands can use this.  I can see this being used with a musician who sits down as well, such as a piano player, by attaching it into the chair.

Here are some pictures of my band and the platform I use.

These are my Band Mates

This is the platform I stand on which doubles as my pedal board as well.

This is the bass shaker underneath the platform.

In an upcoming post, I will show you what I do to hear better while playing live music.

Rock on!