I expected, when I upgraded my hearing aids, that the technology would improve my piano technique. Yet I was not prepared for the full range of ways the aids would improve my playing.
After I was fitted with my new aids, I needed a couple of months to become acclimated to the increase in noise—a clasp on my messenger bag rubbing against my coat belt buckle actually sounded at first like two dinner plates clanging together! But the news aids were worth the painful transition. Since I have a high-frequency loss—a genetic loss caused by the Connexin 26 gene—the aids allowed me to savor the full richness of high notes. Now when I play the high C-sharp in the Chopin C-sharp Minor Nocturne, I hear not a stripped-down ping, but a fuller resonance, closer to what people with normal hearing experience.
What I did not anticipate was how the aids would affect the balance in my playing, for example, my ability to shimmer the melody in the Chopin E-flat Nocturne, while controlling the bouncing bass chords underneath. I had purchased my old hearing aids in 2003, apparently considered the Ice Age in the zooming world of hearing aid technology. These old aids lacked a music setting. And since aids are programmed to enhance human conversation—how many times I have struggled to hear friends in restaurants!—they also did a good job of suppressing the bass in the piano.
The most insidious aspect of my old aids was that I had no idea that this was going on. “I can’t hear the melody well enough,” my piano teacher Stephen would tell me. So I would mentally lower the bass engine and rev up the treble engine. I had decided that despite several years of adult piano lessons, I was not that good at achieving balance. Yet I was not able to hear the imbalance because it was a symptom of my outdated aids.
Help arrived. My new hearing aids came with a special music setting, accessed by pressing twice an external button on each shell. Quizzing my audiologist, I discovered that the music setting had two features:
1) It does not suppress loud sounds.
2) With music rather than conversation the objective, the setting raises up the bass to its balanced state.
With my new aids tuned into the music setting, I experimented with how much I could make the melody bloom while maintaining an audible bass underneath. After reviving the Chopin E-flat Nocturne with my new hearing aids, I finally felt confident that the melody shimmered. It is not an exaggeration to say that these aids raised the level of my playing more than a year of lessons and piano practice could have accomplished.