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How to Become a Musicia – even if you are Hearing Impaired

Most of you will know from reading your blog that I am a totally blind musician. However, you may not realise that I am also hearing-impaired. My hearing-impairment poses specific challenges as a musician and I’d like to discuss them here, in the hopes it may help others. I aim to give hearing-impaired musicians hope but to also educate others about what life is like as a hearing-impaired musician. 

What About my Hearing Loss

Every body’s hearing loss is entirely different, so I can’t speak to all those who have it. I will, however, tell you about my hearing loss. My loss is in the higher frequencies, which means I do not hear many of the speech sounds, especially consonants. I also can’t listen to things that many might take for granted like birds, running water and whistles.

From a musical standpoint, I don’t hear the top 3 octaves of a piano, most of the range of the violin, the flute and other higher-pitched instruments. I also experience what I call instrumental dropout. If I’m listening to an orchestra, I will get a fading effect as instruments will cancel themselves out. For example, I may hear a violin solo, but as soon as the orchestra enters, it’s gone. Or I will be listening to the oboe, and the brass comes, and I can no longer hear it. It vanishes and makes orchestral music quite challenging to listen too. Often I imagine the missing parts in my head as the music plays. It is why I tend to listen to to chamber music, choral music and piano music for my enjoyment, although I do enjoy a certain amount of live orchestral music. I also don’t understand lyrics in pieces at all, not even in English. I need the lyrics and the music to work out the word placement and what the lyrics are.

Musical Challenges as a Musician

As a hearing-impaired person, I need to adapt to make it possible to continue to sing/play music. Firstly, I make sure I always sit in the front row during rehearsals so that I can hear the director. I still find it very mentally taxing though to concentrate on the information and have recently thought of adding an assistive listening device to pipe the directors’ voice directly into my hearing aids via a microphone and receiver. I often don’t hear every word that is said but instead uses context, plus what the chorus is doing as my guide. Often I may not understand a conductor at all if he has an accent and I have to rely on other’s for clarification along with the conductor’s musical demonstrations.

My biggest challenge in the chorus is the foreign languages component. Everyone finds this challenging, but for me, it is even more so, since I can’t hear a lot of the consonants used. i am currently in the process of seeking speech pathology support to help with this issue, but until then, I just do the best I can. I go through my score and try to pronounce every word one by one as best I can. I use youtube to find someone speaking the text, or type it in to google translate and have it read it back to me. the language coaching in the chorus is way too fast for me, and even with the above, I’m never sure if it is also correct. I find it challenging, not knowing if it is.

During the performance and orchestral rehearsals, I always like to sit in the middle of the row with a person on each side of me. This enables me to hear my part clearly and gives me a reasonable balance without being blown out by the percussion or brass sections. I also have to know the music exceptionally well to combat the lack of hearing with some parts of the orchestra.

With piano music, I often play things down the octave, then transpose it up the octave. I practice leaps and jumps carefully and slowly and will feel with one hand while playing with the other to double-check I am playing it correctly. Muscle memory is crucial in those large sections as if I mess up; I’ll never know from hearing it. My teachers also always played exercises down the octave so I could listen to them.

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