How My New Hearing Aids Affected My Adult Piano Lessons

An Amateur Pianist with High-Frequency Hearing Loss

Nancy M. Williams at piano
Photo by Frank Schramm.
I expected, when I upgraded to my new Widex Inteo hearing aids, for the technology to 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 Connexion 26 gene—the aids allowed me to savor the full richness of high notes in my classical piano music. Now when I play the high C-sharp in the Chopin C-sharp Minor Nocturne, I hear not a stripped-down ping, but full 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 had reached the conclusion that despite several years of adult piano lessons, I was not that good at achieving balance. “I can’t hear the melody well enough,” my piano teacher Stephen would tell me during one of my adult piano lessons. So I would mentally lower the bass engine and rev up the treble engine. I was not able to hear the imbalance myself because it was a symptom of my outdated aids.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 did not suppress loud sounds, advisable for a student of adult piano lessons pulsing a series of forte chords in a Rachmaninoff prelude.

2) With music rather than conversation the objective, the setting raised 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 adult piano lessons and piano practice could have accomplished.

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4 Comments

  1. I have owed a Steinway Grand since I was 17 and needed it to practice for my ARCT from the Royal Conservatory.My high pitch deafness has gotten progressively worse.I am relying on my aids from Widex and can still enjoy my music and gave up teaching 1 year ago.I am not ready for a cochlear imlant.

  2. I’m grateful that my hearing loss is not severe; also worse in the high frequencies. I thought my hearing loss didn’t influence the way I perceived music. Since I got my Widex Clear 220’s I was amazed how loud the church organ (that I play) was and that my registrations were way to heavy on the “treble” side. Makes a HUGE difference.
    As I’m a music teacher as well (piano and beginner violin) it is much easier to hear my students speak.
    Strangely enough I have hyperaccusis especially in the higher frequencies; it almost disappeared since I’ve been wearing my Widex; tinnitus also not bothersome!

  3. Hi Caren, your comments were very interesting. I have heard that hearing aids can help manage tinnitus because aids help people focus on external, actual sounds; very good to know that it did so for you. If you have a chance, check out Joyce Morton playing Un Sospiro here; she also needs hearing aids to play: http://www.grandpianopassion.com/2013/07/01/joyce-morton-liszt-un-sospiro/. Regards, Nancy

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