June 9, 2021

Hearing the Music


A significant number of people experience hearing loss over the years, and that can affect how you hear and play the piano – and consider how Beethoven composed music when he became deaf!

Performing music can lead to hearing loss, depending on the piano size, brightness and whether it is opened or closed. Probably more important is the size of the room, the acoustics, and amplification equipment (and direction). Playing with several other instruments can also affect hearing over time.

Hearing aids then may be needed, but they can be problematic for the music performer – and music listener. Hearing aids are usually set to optimize vocal sounds, which have a smaller range of frequencies and volume. In contrast, the piano has about a forty percent bigger range than a female voice. It may seem logical to turn up the volume in order to hear music better, but that can actually make hearing loss worse. It’s actually better to turn down the music volume and turn up the hearing aid volume. In addition, some hearing aids can have different settings, depending on the type of sound and the environment. Noise-cancelling headphones are another good solution; they can be worn over hearing aids to make it easier to listen to music at home. Some public venues such as churches and theaters can provide a hearing loop, which emits a wireless signal that can be picked up on a T (Telecoil) setting of a mobile phone.

Hearing aids alter the sound of the piano for the pianist: an effect called occlusion. Sometimes using just one hearing aid helps. It is also possible to have a more open ear piece or a hollow earmold, both of which lower low frequency amplifications.  The audiologist can also make adjustments to the hearing aid to align with the instrument’s sound characteristics.

As for Beethoven, he could “hear” the music in his mind.