You can’t always get what you want in life

But to paraphrase that Rolling Stones oldie, you just might find out that you get what you need.

One of the biggest challenges for me is music. I have written in this blog on several occasions about my experiences hearing music with my implant. I could hear the true notes of simple tunes like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with a week or so of practicing but a complex piece of music sung by a choir still sounds very Darth Vader-like.

So when my audiologist asked if I would like to participate in a research project for music therapy, I jumped at the chance. Here was the opportunity I was waiting for. I would devote 30 minutes every day for a month listening to and trying to identify specific musical sounds. It would be a great success and I would start to enjoy music once again.

Ah. It did not quite happen that way. Let me tell you a bit about the therapy itself. The patterns are atonal so you cannot easily memorize them. And as with all learning, they become more difficult as you go through the sections – nine in all, with several tasks in each one. For each task, you are presented with two patterns, each slightly different and played within a larger selection of music. The test is to identify when you hear one of the two patterns. Seemed easy enough. Not!

For one thing, the notes I heard with my implant did not always correspond with the placement of the notes on the screen. I know music. Before I lost most of my hearing, I played piano and violin and sang in the choir and glee club. I can read music and my brain still retains the musical memory so I know what it should sound like. The patterns in this therapy program appeared as notes on a staff (well, a seven line one) and I could hear in my mind what the sound should be. What I actually heard surprised me. In many cases instead of hearing notes that on the computer screen went up the scale, I heard them going down or vice versa. Very odd.

Eventually after much practice, I was able to hear some of the patterns as they should sound but there were still several that defeated me, so I just listened for what I actually heard rather than what I thought I should hear and was able to move through the sections reasonably quickly.

Then I hit section nine, the final section. Two weeks into my therapy month I hit section nine, task one. At the end of the month I was still on section nine, task one! I just could not get enough correct answers to move forward and the program doesn’t allow you to skip. I made sure I had a glass of wine at the ready each day after I finished the required half-hour. I would check the clock and stop at precisely 30 minutes. It was extremely frustrating, but I finally completed the requisite four weeks this past weekend and on Tuesday went back for my post test.

When I had my initial appointment a month ago, I was told that the researchers were finding that this therapy had a positive side effect.There may be a connection between music and speech. Many participants discovered that their ability to understand speech improved over the month. And my test results showed that as well. My ability to understand bits of speech in a noisy environment almost doubled from the first test a month ago.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a meeting of about 20 people. I was trying out a new personal F/M system that augments the sounds I get from my hearing-aided left ear and decided to sit at the back of the room for this meeting just to see how good the F/M was. I have NEVER sat at the back of the room for anything. I was always placed at the front in school and while I heard the teacher when she faced me, never got the benefit of being one of the ‘disruptive kids’ who had so much more fun in the back. Well, I heard just about everything at this meeting. My new F/M undoubtedly helped but I have a feeling that the dreaded section nine, task one played a key role as well.

I need to understand speech better. The more I understand, the less tired I am and the more I can participate in life. I can still hear some music with my hearing-aided ear even if I can’t get the full power and scope. So while it was a drag at the time, I really did get what I needed from this therapy.

And a PS. I saw a different researcher for my post test. She explained that cochlear implants are designed for speech, not music and music involves a totally different signal. There is rhythm, there are dynamics but most especially there is pitch. Speech generally covers a frequency range from 250 to 8,000 hertz. Music goes up to 16,000 hertz. Clearly there are some missing pieces and this helps to explain why I hear a range of notes that go down when the screen tells me they are going up. The brain is not getting the right signal and cannot accurately process what it hears. The research continues.

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7 responses to “You can’t always get what you want in life

  1. Absolutely fascinating, Rosemary! Three cheers for you and your hard work overcoming those challenges.

  2. Marilyn Morton

    I,too, am involved in the music therapy research and appreciate your suggestion of having a glass of wine on hand!

  3. Hi Rosemary,

    The audio therapy you tried, and the outcome you experienced, is very similar to what I experienced as a research participant with MED-EL. After choosing between two sounds, I learned to discriminate even the smallest differences. I highly recommend any form of audio therapy, because you can notice a significant and perhaps (cross fingers) lasting difference in understanding what you hear.

    Thank you for explaining the difference between speech and music frequency range so well. I found for myself, I prefer to listen to big band music, as there is no artificial amplification, and the individual instruments can be singled out better.

    Cheers!

    Laura

  4. Congrats to You, Rosemary. I admire your tenacity and your curiosity about
    your new world of hearing, which as you describe is full of surprises across a board spectrum. You must have a few favourite wines as a result ………..

  5. This seems really troublesome. It must destroy any enjoyment you might get from music. That’s a shame for you since you used to play an instrument yourself.

    Hi Jim,

    Just to clarify for you and others, I can still hear music with my hearing-aided left ear but not to the same degree as those with good hearing. I don’t hear all the nuances or even all the notes but I hear some!
    Rosemary

  6. Hi Rosemary,
    Congratulations on finishing that course. You really are so perseverant – way to go. Glad your new FM worked so well and the wine reward at the end of the session, that got you though the 30 minutes..

  7. Fascinating, glad there was some positive outcome. I admire your persistence.

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