For every decibel that amateur pianist Joyce Morton has lost in hearing, she has gained double the wisdom about how to keep on making music despite her hearing loss. In this exclusive interview with GRAND PIANO PASSION™, she shares her top five tips about playing an instrument while wearing hearing aids.
1. Accept your hearing loss.
A diagnosis of hearing loss often comes with denial (at first, Joyce was only willing to wear one hearing aid although her audiologist told her she needed them in both ears). But coming to terms with having a hearing loss and wearing hearing aids eventually led to deeper connections with the people around her.
2. Persist in wearing your hearing aids.
With a new pair of hearing aids, the world will initially sound different—perhaps even unpleasant. Joyce’s advice is to view the first few months as a necessary trial period to “break in” your hearing aids and get accustomed to wearing them.
3. Create a custom setting on your hearing aids for playing music.
Even if your hearing aids come with a music setting, Joyce explains that the setting is geared towards listening to music, not playing an instrument. Work with your audiologist to tweak the setting based on your practice and performance needs—a solution may be to simply lower the amount of amplification, or volume.
4. Recognize that your instrument may sound different when you’re wearing hearing aids.
When you first go back to making music while wearing your hearing aids, you can expect your instrument to sound different to you; the quality and tone of the notes, not just their volume, may be affected. In fact, Joyce’s assessment of her own Steinway L piano changed completely after she began practicing while wearing hearing aids.
5. Celebrate the musicality that your hearing aids make possible.
Persist through a trial period with your instrument as well as in everyday life and conversation. If you have any doubts that you can continue to enjoy playing music and playing it well, observe Joyce as she performs Liszt’s Un Sospiro.
Don’t miss my full interview with Joyce Morton, interspersed with her playing the second movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata.
As a percussionist with moderate to severe hearing loss I can totally relate. Hearing loss was found 20 yrs ago as mild to moderate, however at 62 I now wear high power resound digitals(RIC). A music program has been added and modified several times in the past couple of years . Drums being very different than grand pianos, emit a slurry or package of sound that includes hi-decibels and a wide array of frequencies and timbres. I now play and teach rhythms on hand drums exclusively. I cannot use my digitals due to severe distortions. I have gone back to wearing a old pair of BTE Sonic Ions they reduce the distortions, however they also eliminate many of the the wonderful timbres an nuances of hand drumming and they don’t work for speech very well . I have had to reduce my expections of today’s high-tec hearing aids. I would like to try a pair of Digi_k, analog HA,s just to see if they would be a better option. Hoping someone in this group has had som experience with these or or other options …
Thanks for writing and sharing how you are addressing the challenges of being a musician with hearing loss. Have you tried lowering the amplification on your music setting as Joyce suggests in this article? I have had mine lowered by 3db with good results on the piano. https://grandpianopassion.com/2015/06/23/find-right-audiologist-service/ Also, I’m very interested in trying Sensaphonics new solution..when I do, I’ll alert you to the article.
I was a vocalist and church choir director. When I began wearing hearing aids, they were not digital and caused a lot of occlusion. I could not really hear my own voice or enjoy singing. Now that I have digital aids, I would like to get back into it as I have a semi-open fit earmold that allows some natural sound to my ears. It would be nice to hear from other singers as to how they handled this. My loss is severe to profound.
Great to hear that your hearing aids are working well for you! Check out the Association for Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss. I’m a member! They have a private group on Facebook that is really useful. https://www.musicianswithhearingloss.org/wp/
I am wearing Zerena 9 aids. I am a singer-songwriter with piano as my primary instrument. I need to hear both my vocal and the piano at the same time as well as others on stage. The voices are fine, but the piano or the keyboards sounds horrible. Like it is being played through a rotating fan. The live sound is hideous. I have tried numerous presets and adjustments with my technician and NOTHING is working. We have tried both open cone and a closed and neither is working. I have even written to the manufacturer with no response at this point. Any thoughts to what I can do to make this bearable? I really need a solution as this is what I do for a living.
Jeff, I’m glad you reached out. Your situation sounds frustrating and difficult. Although I would caution that hearing aids are limited when it comes to music since they focus on amplifying conversational frequencies, I do wonder whether there’s room for improvement with your Bernafon hearing aids. The parent company is Oticon. I’m going to reach out to them now, to see whether they could provide some assistance directly to you and your audiologist. Of course I can’t promise on how they will respond, although I certainly hope they will. Best, Nancy
Thanks for the response. I am hopeful that something can be done. Hearing the voice without also hearing the piano at a quality level not at all beneficial. Thanks for at least trying.
To my readers: When I asked Jeff how it went, he gave the reply below. Oticon, Phonak, Widex, Signia, Starkey, and ReSound, this is valuable input for product development:
Nancy, I just wanted to give you an update. I took a keyboard into the audiologist and played while she adjusted the frequencies as best she could. A representative from Bernafon was on conference throughout the process. They are at least trying very hard and everybody is attempting to get a resolution.
When I got home I played my acoustic piano and while it’s quite a bit better, I don’t think they will ever be able to eliminate the waffling sound entirely. Perhaps the technology just can’t match it yet. And maybe I need more time to adjust. Or maybe it’s as good as it’s going to get.
But I do think they are trying. They are all listening, being respectful, professional. My instincts tell me that the audio quality for the piano has plateaued and I will need to learn to live with that sound.
I’m a classical pianist with hearing loss, still looking for the best hearing aids that lets me hear my piano playing naturally. Any suggestions?
Hi Charles, thanks for writing. Since everyone’s hearing loss is different, I can’t recommend a specific brand or model. The best place to start is with a good audiologist, and I recommend that you put some work into selecting one that fits well with your needs (here’s my post with more details: https://grandpianopassion.com/2015/06/23/find-right-audiologist-service/). Another avenue is to make sure that your music setting is programmed properly (more details here: https://grandpianopassion.com/2019/01/21/chasin-optimize-hearing-aids-music/). Good luck!
After a full year of tweaking my aids and seeing different audiologists(sounds like a headline in a tabloid newspaper) I have not been able to use my hearing aids in live performance. I have had to resort to an in-ear monitor as the best solution. It was the only way that I could get quality sound for both my vocal and piano. I just keep my aids right at the piano so I can pop them in at the end of a performance and have conversation with those who had come. The last audiologist who I met with is also a musician and really understood what I was looking for. He said that presently the manufacturers are not focused on live performance when it comes to hearing aids. They design them for speech. Is the technology available? My guess it probably is, but with the necessary frequency adjustments and decibels needed for music, they probably won’t do it because of liability. I heard it explained this way. If someone is speaking around 120 decibels, they are probably shouting, but fortissimo in music at the same level is to be expected from time to time. Our current hearing aids don’t know the difference.
For now the in-ear monitors will have to do. It’s extra work and setup, but always worth it for my live performances. Hopefully someday I won’t have to keep switching back and forth.
Jeff, thanks for keeping us updated on your experiences! Best, Nancy