(Last updated Oct 6, 2018)

Listening to Live Music with Hearing Aids

For musicians and lovers of live music, one of the hardest things to cope with when dealing with hearing loss is the loss in fidelity of live music. Many of the tones in music are high frequency in nature, and since most hearing losses are also high frequency in nature, it becomes very difficult for many people to get the same pleasure from music as they once did. Many people complain that they can’t separate tones from one another, and when you think about it, that’s all music really is- a collection of tones with patterns and relative positions we really enjoy. When this ability to distinguish between the tones erodes, so does our enjoyment of the music.

Many people will turn to hearing aids to correct this problem, and sometimes they can. A lot of advanced hearing aids today have what’s called a “music program.” That program can be accessed via a remote control or by pushing a button on the aid itself. When you activate the music program, the frequency response of the hearing aids change so music (hopefully) will sound better- but that’s not always the case. Many people will complain that even on the music program, music just doesn’t sound right. Here are some of the most common complaints:

  • Everything is way too loud, I have to pull my hearing aids out
  • The higher frequencies are producing a “doubling” effect- I hear each tone twice
  • My hearing aids are automatically supressing certain pitches while over-amplifying

Music programs can sometimes of be a lifesaver, but in the vast majority cases the settings will have to be adjusted (a lot) by your hearing provider. Here are some of the adjustments that my clients have found the most beneficial for both listening to live music and playing instruments. The more “linear” I program the music setting, the better. For example, many hearing aids use “compression” to limit the gain of certain frequencies. Sometimes this compression really does not work well with music, so I prefer to keep compression at a 1:1 ratio in the music program. This gives a much more natural sound to music, and prevents the hearing aid from “pumping”- which is the effect of sounds getting constantly louder and quieter as a result of compression. When there is no compression, you get more of “what comes in, comes out” from your hearing aid- less processing takes place.

Another adjustment that works a lot of times is to raise the MPO of the hearing aid (maximum potential output). The MPO is there to act as a “governor” of sorts on the aid, it prevents it from getting too loud. When I raise that MPO, it again, allows for a more linear listening experience- the hearing aid doesn’t try to process the sound so much. One thing to keep in mind is when you get rid of all the compression and raise the MPO like this, the hearing aids are much more liable to be way to loud for you at certain times, so if you have a remote you’ll want to use it a lot- or simply set the hearing aids at a lower volume in the music program.

Music programs have come a long way in hearing aids, and most people that wear hearing aids will tell you that listening to music is a little bit better with each new hearing aid they get. Even with these advancements I still find that a lot of people really struggle listening to music with their hearing aids on. Out of all other options, I’ve even programmed hearing aids in peoples homes while they played their instruments, and that can make a real difference. Being able to watch how the hearing aids respond in real time and making adjustments “on the fly” can be very beneficial. If you can persuade your hearing provider to do an in-home visit for this, it will be worth it. You could also ask them if you could bring your instrument to your next in-office appointment- I’ve had several guitar players do this and one was so grateful he even gave me an old Tom Petty guitar pick!

If you’d like a free phone consultation with a licensed hearing provider, please feel free to call us at 800-731-6794.

Jeff Hall Jeff Hall Jeff is a California licensed hearing aid dispenser and the President of ZipHearing- one of the largest discount hearing aid suppliers in the United States. Jeff lives in San Diego, CA with his wife and young daughter.

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