“I love this song,” my son calls out from the ocean where he is swimming off the back of the boat. The boat’s speakers are weak, but strong enough for my family to enjoy the music in the background. They all break into their best rock star moves, bopping their heads to the music and lip-syncing into their pretend microphones. I watch them and smile, but I don’t join in. Not yet.
“What song is it?” I ask. They are too busy jamming to reply at first, but eventually one of them will voice the lyrics out loud. Only then do I stand a chance of making the connection and getting in on the act.
We Hear with Our Brains
If I know the song, something clicks in my brain, and what was once an indecipherable field of noise snaps into focus. My brain connects the bit I am hearing to a song I must have heard under different conditions (or perhaps when my hearing was more intact) and boom — I can now “hear” the song clearly. I sing along too.
But if it’s a melody I don’t know, their crooning doesn’t help. The indistinguishable sounds remain a blur because there is nothing pre-recorded in my cerebrum to fill in the blanks. We truly do hear with our brains.
It reminds me of something Roxana Rotundo discusses in our hearing loss documentary ‘We Hear You.’ After getting her cochlear implant she needed to relearn people’s voices. It was much easier for her to do this with voices of people she knew well. “The brain acts as a hard drive,” she says, “storing voices and when the connection is made between what I am hearing now and what my brain has stored — the memory of the voice takes over.”
The same process is happening to me — but with songs rather than voices.
Tips for Enjoying Music with Hearing Loss
Listening to music can be challenging for people with hearing loss. Sometimes it doesn’t sound the way we want it to or think it should because our devices digitize the sound. But there are ways to make it work — especially if we leverage the concept of hearing with our brain.
I share my tips below. Please add yours in the comments.
1. Turn up the volume.
Some people like to remove their hearing devices, put on high quality headphones and turn up the volume as loud as it needs to be to hear. Be careful to do this only for short periods of time so your hearing is not damaged further.
2. Connect directly to the sound.
Use Bluetooth or t-coil settings to bring the music directly into your ears via your devices. T-coil connections works well for concerts and musical theater as well.
3. Use a music program or analog devices.
Try a music program on your hearing device or utilize analog technology when listening to music to minimize distortion.
4. Read the lyrics in advance to improve comprehension
This is very helpful when listening to new music. I used this trick on the latest Taylor Swift album and it helped a lot. Read more about that here.
5. Stick to music you already know.
While this is a bit limiting, it allows you to benefit from any pre-existing brain connections to the song and will help you partially fill in the blanks you are not actually hearing.
Readers, do you hear with your brain?