Things to be Thankful for…


In Canada, this is our Thanksgiving Weekend.  While the originally designed to give thanks for the harvest, we generally use this holiday to share a meal with friends and family and reflect on all things for which we are grateful.  For me, the following represents things for which I am most thankful. There is no particular rank order here…

 

  1. Cochlear Implant Technology.  This technology has dramatically changed my life in enormous ways.  Simply put, without it I could not function.  Communication would be almost impossible.  I probably would have embraced sign language to a greater degree, but I would be limited to communicating to a much smaller and limited set of people.  I would have completely lost my ability to enjoy music.  Do I wish for improvements from this technology?  Sure.  Music perception and hearing in noise and are still challenges, but I have developed some additional compensatory techniques.  Still, a day does not pass in which I remind myself how my different my life would be without the CI.
  2. Wireless Microphone Technology.  While the the cochlear implant implant is amazing, it is the synergy of the FM system in conjunction with the CI that provides me even greater capabilities.  Adding FM technology allows me to use my mobile phone via Bluetooth, hear in noisy cars, restaurants, and bars, enjoy social events more fully, and enhances my ability to hear and perform music.  I wish more CI users would realize how much more they could get out of life if only they added FM or other wireless microphones.
  3. Music.  Music brings light to my soul.  It always has the ability to brighten my darkest days.  I am so grateful that I can still not only enjoy listening to music, but to perform it as well.  It has not been easy to keep music a part of my life.  I needed to experiment with vibrating platforms, compressors, equalizers, FM systems, and soundboards to make it happen.  Lots of money and time has been spent on this.  But it can be done.
  4. Family.  I have a wonderful, intelligent and beautiful wife that puts up with my shenanigans.  And I have a handsome, brilliant, and kind hearted son who is so full of passion.  I love you both.
  5. Health.  A weird thing happened the other day.  My son’s friend was looking at some pictures of both my son and I from his early childhood.  The friend remarked that I look younger today the I did 10 years ago.  That was such a compliment!  Losing 40 pounds of excess weight and getting into better shape has had the effect of turning back the sands of time.  Next week I will be completing a half marathon, something I never dreamed I would be capable of doing.  I am so grateful that I am finally on the road to better life.  It feels great.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

More Gig Pics…


Performing live music in a band is like a dream come true for me.  I still can’t believe that I am able to do this with my hearing loss.  On one hand, I am a bit pissed that I have a hearing loss at all, but the fact of the matter is that shit happens to all of us in one form or another. Hearing loss is the hand that has been dealt to me, but I am going to play this hand the best I can.  If it was not for cochlear implants, hearing aids and FM systems, I would have been really screwed.  But I am not.  This pictures are proof of that to me.  I am one lucky dude.

Again, I must thank my friend and professional photographer Arsenio Santos for taking photos of the event.  There were so many good ones to choose, but here are some of my personal favorites.

Thanks also to me awesome bandmates Deb, Luigi and Warren.  I love you guys!  Thanks also to my buddy Dave for doing the acoustic set.  And one more shout out to one of my best friends in the world, Ryan Switzer from Massive Tank Studios, not just for doing the sound, but for helping me become a musician.

Deb is such a passionate singer.

Looking cool in a B&W photo

Warren is a fantastic drummer.

Luigi singing and playing guitar. You are awesome Luigi!

I am having a good time, can you tell?

But I do need a haircut.

Awesome Gig Pics of Maxine, Dave and Pete…


My friend and professional photographer Arsenio Santos was so kind to take pictures of our event.  As you may recall, the first part of the show was a selection of acoustic songs.  Here we see myself on acoustic bass, Dave on his 12 string, and Maxine vocals.  Thanks Arsenio, the pics look awesome!  Looking forward to seeing the other pictures!

This is my buddy Dave.

Lovely and talented Maxine.

More pics of the lovely Maxine...she's much easier on the eyes than Dave and I.

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.

Hearing Not Required…


Shumka Dancers

I took my parents to see a Ukrainian Dance Troupe last night called “Shumka”.  This group based out of Edmonton Alberta (surprise, surprise) has been in existence for 50 years.  They put on an absolutely dazzling performance.  While my expertise on the art of dance is limited, I am certainly not ignorant to the elements of fine dance as I have been to about 10 ballets in my lifetime.  Last night’s performance, at least from my perspective, was every bit as technically sophisticated and beautiful as a ballet, but a heck of a lot more fun!

As I was watching and enjoying the performance, it dawned upon me that I was fully enjoying this event just like everyone else in the audience.  Sure, the dances were choreographed to music, but I heard that well enough. The music was not the focus of the performance, it was the dancers- their athleticism and ornate costumes.  I really did not need much hearing to enjoy this activity.  I just sat, clapped, and cheered like everyone else.

It seems that so many regularly occurring things in life are affected by hearing loss. Work, communication, enjoying television, theater, movies, music, going to a restaurant,  and going for drinks with friends, all require both technical assistive devices such as an FM system, and some accommodations from my family and friends in order for me to participate.  Not that I am complaining…I would not want to miss out on these important activities.  I am grateful that these devices grant me the necessary access and improve my ability to participate.

But its also nice to find exceptions to this through activities that are not taxing on the ears.  For me, these typically include hobbies such as fishing, archery, kayaking, hiking and photography.   And last night, it included dance!

Sometimes I wish I enjoyed more of the visual arts.  I have certainly tried…I have been to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Musee du Louvre and Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Met and MoMA in New York to name a few.  Sadly, visual art does not speak to me the same way that music does.  Perhaps I lack the training and education to fully appreciate the immensity of meaning these pieces of expression may hold.

In any event, there is much to enjoy in this world that does not require good hearing.  I find that it is quite beneficial to seek out these “hearing not required” activities to enrich our lives.  It also provides necessary relief from the challenges of hearing loss.  Its good for you!

For Family Day today, we are off to the Bell Lightbox (Home of the Toronto International Film Festival) to see a French film called Lancelot du Lac.  It will have English subtitles for all the viewers, not just me.  It should be fun!

Song Sample and Gig Date!


Just a quick post this time.  My band, Below the Belt, will be playing at the Greyfriars Pub in Oakville, Ontario, Canada on Saturday March 3rd from 7-10 pm.

Exciting, because we will be playing 24 songs (2 full sets, we usually only get to play one set).  Also, my son’s band will be opening for us with a set of original material.  They are called Sticks and Stones and they are incredible.

My band does fun covers of songs from the 60’s all the way to present time.  We do songs by artists such as the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Big and Rich, John Mayer, Maroon 5, The Clash, the Tragically Hip, The Black Crowes etc.

We will be raising money for a organization called We Listen International.  This organization, headed by my friend Warren Esterbrooks, provides professional education, training and consultative services for professionals around the world in the fields of Auditory-Verbal Therapy, Auditory Rehabilitation, and Auditory Learning who work with children, teens and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families.

And now for your listening enjoyment, here is a sample of my band covering Stuck in the Middle With You.  Click Here.

What Does a Cochlear Implant Sound Like?


It has been almost 7 years since I received my Cochlear Implant.  However, it seems just like yesterday.  I can still remember every detail from the time of surgery, to my first activation, and all the steps along the way to the restoration of my hearing.

I was not always deaf.  I was born with normal hearing.  I did not have meningitis, nor do I have any family history of hearing loss.  The only thing notable thing in my clinical history was that I had a series of painful ear infections.  It is likely one of those infections that caused the damage to my inner ear.

I began using hearing aids at the age of 5.  Over time, my hearing continued to worsen.  By the time I was in high school, my hearing loss was moderate-severe.  In University, my loss was in the severe range.  Interestingly, I did not begin using an FM system until my third year of University.  I simply did not know such devices even existed. I wish I was made aware of FM systems earlier, as I suffered academically from not hearing well.  In high school with smaller class sizes, I was an Honour Role student.  But in first year University, my average dropped to 60% and my initial hopes for studying Medicine were dashed.

I vowed to ensure that all people with hearing loss become fully informed of all the hearing devices or other forms of help that are available.  I did not want to see others struggle needlessly from hearing loss.  Thus, I decided to pursue studying Audiology and make this my personal mission.

But back to my original story about my CI.  Even though my loss was now in the severe range, hearing aids and FM systems provided me with considerable assistance.  My word identification scores were still in the 70% range.  However, as I crossed the line into a profound loss of hearing, my ability to understand speech started to diminish considerably.  By the time I became a candidate for a Cochlear Implant, my word identification scores were 0% for my right ear and 10% for my left ear.  Phone use was virtually impossible.  I struggled to lipread every word.  It was exhausting to try to carry on a  conversation.

I received my Cochlear Implant from the excellent surgery and audiology team at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.  The surgery process went without a hitch.  I was out of the hospital the next day, and took a only a few days off from work.

After a month of healing, I went for my initial programming session.  I thought that I would be well prepared for this appointment.  After all, I am a trained Audiologist.  I have counseled patients myself about not having unrealistic expectations, especially on the first day.  But I knew there were some patients who could hear speech even on the first day of activation.  I wanted to be one of those people.  I felt I was entitled to be one of those people.  I was wrong.

After the initial Mapping was done, I listened to speech for this first time.  And it sounded like…GARBAGE.  Specifically, it sounded like R2D2.  It was just all a bunch of beeps and chirps.  I drove home that day and decided a nice bottle of single malt Scotch was needed.  I was feeling every emotion from anger, to bewilderment, to sadness.

But to make a long story short, the changes that occur over the next 6 months were rapid.  After about 2 weeks, the implant started sounding like Sammy the Snake hissing sentences into my head.  That’s better than R2D2.  Then it changed to Alvin from the Chipmunks.  Next it started to sound like a young Jerry Lewis.  Now it sounds pretty normal, at least to me.

My word identification score started to rapidly improve.  I cannot recall all of my scores, but after about 6 months I was understanding about 70% of monosyllabic words in isolation and 100% of words in sentences.  After one year, my monosyllabic word identification score for words in quiet improved to 96%.  I was and continue to be completely blown away by this.  After all, I started hearing just beeps and chirps.

Given that I recall having much better hearing, I can describe the difference between hearing through a CI vs a hearing aid.  Basically, when I had enough hearing to benefit from a hearing aid, speech and music sounded full and rich.  But as my hearing loss progressed, all I heard from the hearing aid were low pitches.  Everyone sounded like they had mashed potatoes in their mouths.

The CI sounds very crisp and precise.  I hear all the high frequency fricatives (s, sh, f, th etc) quite well.  I have been told that my speech has improved immensely, although I never realized that my speech production was deteriorating with my progressive hearing loss.  In hindsight, it makes sense.

Music and hearing in noise remained problematic.  To help with hearing in noise, we can get the same improvements hearing aid users get from the use of Directional Microphones or FM systems.  I use both with my CI and it helps.

For me personally, the use of a hearing aid in my non-implanted ear has helped with music perception.  Without a hearing aid, I can barely hear any bass at all. Bass makes music sound full and rich.  On the other hand, the treble I get from the CI makes speech and music sound clear and crisp.  Thus the CI on its own is fine for speech, but makes music sound like it is coming out of a small radio rather than a big stereo.  The hearing aid on its own sounds pretty bad for any type of sound, speech or music.  Combined with the CI, it does not help with speech, but does give music a richer deeper sound.

For those of you considering a Cochlear Implant, my single best word of advice to you is be patient.  Do not expect miracles, especially on the first day.  The improvements will come as your brain relearns to makes sense of these electrical signals.

Please remember too, that everyone is unique.  While my experiences are not uncommon, your pace of improvements and the final levels you reach could be better or worse than me.

I am so glad I took the step of getting a Cochlear Implant and would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Best and Worst Musical Instruments for People with Hearing Loss


As a hearing impaired audiologist, and amateur musician, I often get asked by parents to help select a musical instrument for their child with hearing loss.  Although I have not seen a specific research study analyzing this exact question, we can, based on what we know about hearing loss, make an educated recommendation.

Lets first take a look at some fundamental components of music.  These include Pitch, Timbre, Harmonics, Loudness, and Rhythm.

Pitch is the frequency of the sound, measured in Hz.  For example, middle C is 256 Hz.  When we hear a melody we hear changes in pitch. In Western music, the smallest unit of pitch change is the semi-tone and there are 12 semitones in one Western octave.

Unfortunately, people with hearing loss have reduced ability to recognize pitch due to the damage in the hair cells of the cochlea.  In other words, some people with hearing loss cannot tell the difference between two pitches that are close together.  They need larger and larger differences between two pitches before they can tell that they are different.

Harmonics are a series of tones that are multiples of the fundamental frequency.  So if I pluck a middle C on a guitar or a piano, you will not only hear the fundamental frequency of 256 Hz, but also mathematical multiples of the middle C such as 512 Hz.  Again, this is a pitch based perception task and is hard for people with hearing loss.

Timbre is the unique combination the pitch, harmonics, the attack and release times of the note, that gives each musical instrument its unique colour and character.  Timbre is what tells us a guitar is a guitar or a violin is a violin.  This can also be hard for people with hearing loss.

Intensity of sound is measured in decibels.  We perceive intensity as “loudness”.  Of course when we have a hearing loss, soft sounds are inaudible, but hearing aids and cochlear implants do a pretty good job of allowing us to hear the soft sounds again.

Finally rhythm is the arrangement of sounds in time.  It is the beat or pulse of the music, and fortunately, people with hearing loss can still perceive rhythm quite well.

So based on what we know about hearing loss and about the components of music, it is clear that we will have greater difficulty with instruments that require good pitch perception abilities.  Below are two suggested list of instruments.  The first is a list of good instruments to select for people with hearing loss.  The second is a list of instruments that may be too challenging for the hearing impaired ear.  These lists are based on theory and some practical personal experiences, but are only recommendations.  If you, or your hearing impaired child, have your heart set on playing a particular instrument, by all means give it a try.

  1. Piano.  Piano is a good instrument for people with hearing loss for many reasons.  First, it is professionally tuned, so you do not need to tune it up every time you play.  If it is out of tune, then then the other instruments playing with the piano, must be tuned to the piano, and not the other way around.  Moreover, it is kind of like typing.  You see a symbol on the music staff, and you have to hit the corresponding key of the keyboard.  The hard part about piano is the same for all people, whether they have a hearing loss to not, which is learning to read multiple note music.
  2. Acoustic or Classical Guitar.  Guitar has frets on it, which precisely cuts the string at the correct point to give the correct note.  Daily tuning is required, but the easy solution here is to buy an electronic tuner.  I also think acoustic guitar is easier on the impaired ear than electric guitar.
  3. Fretted Electric Bass Guitar.  The fretted electric bass also has frets that precisely cut the string at the correct point.  Interestedly, this is why Leo Fender, the inventor of  the first electric bass, called it the  “Precision” or “P-Bass”.  It was the first bass with frets.  With bass, one only plays one note at a time, making this easier on the ears to perceive.  Also, it is also a rhythm based instrument which should be easier for people with hearing loss.  (Although some people just have no rhythm period).
  4. Electric Guitar.  I ranked electric guitar lower than acoustic guitar because when used with a lot of distortion, it is hard to hear the notes through all those harmonics.  If you plan to play electric guitar, stick with genres like indy or popular music, and stay away from heavy metal, or hard-core.  However, a plus of electric guitar is that you can get an amp with a headphone jack and plug your FM system into that for practicing.
  5. Digital Drums.  One of the problems with drums is that they can get really loud and overload the microphones of the hearing aids and cochlear implants.  So this is what is nice about a digital drum kit.  You get a volume control that allows you to set the volume at a perfect level, not too loud or too soft.  Moreover, all the digital drum kits I have seen have headphone jacks to plug your FM system in.
  6. Flute.  General the woodwind instruments can be good choices because there are lots of keys that allow you to make the correct note more precisely.
  7. Clarinet. Same as flute
  8. Saxophone.  Same

Challenging Instruments to Play with Hearing Loss.

  1. Violin.  Violin does not have any frets on it.  It requires one to listen carefully to make sure you are pressing on the correct part of the fingerboard.   However, I have heard of people with hearing loss still successfully playing this instrument.  It all depends on your hearing capabilities.
  2. Viola.  Again, same as a violin
  3. Cello.  Same issue as violin.
  4. Upright or Fretless Bass.  Same as violin
  5. Trombone.  Trombone shares some of the same characteristics of a fretless string instrument.  One must move the slide to the correct point to produce the proper pitch and therefore requires good pitch perception.  Not easy on the ears.
  6. Acoustic Drums.  The reason I put acoustic drums on the “Challenging” list is that this is a very loud instrument.  Very loud sounds can over-saturate the microphone or the analog/digital converter in a hearing aid or cochlear implant.  This will make things sound really distorted.  Interestingly, when I play in my band, I actually try to move as far away from the drums as possible.  I still keep the beat using the device I made.  See this previous posting.
  7. Trumpet. Trumpet uses a combination of three buttons or valves to partially produce its pitch.  The other influence is the shape of the lips.  Therefore, it does require a bit of hearing pitch perception to make the correct note.  I successfully played trumpet when I was in high school, but I only had a moderate loss of hearing at that time.
  8. French Horn.  Similar issues to a trumpet.  However, I found that the shape of the lips affected the pitch more in a French Horn than trumpet.  Not sure why, but the French Horn players in our high school band had a harder time keeping pitch than the trumpet section.

So there you have it.  If you are currently playing an instrument and you have a hearing loss, please share your experiences!

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.