Music rediscovered

Musician Richard Reed shares insights and tips at UK event.

Music is everywhere in the world around us. It’s something that can enrich our lives but, for those with a cochlear implant, it requires the investment of time and energy.  As a renowned jazz musician and CI recipient, Richard Reed assures implant recipients that it is worth the effort.

“When I first got my Cochlear™ Implant,” Richard said, “music sounded like a wall of loud, rhythmic white noise. And singing sounded like a bunch of cartoon weasels arguing.”

To illustrate his experience to the audience, he played sounds on the piano that gave a sense of how incomprehensible music seemed at that time.

Richard explained why you need to be prepared to re-learn what you already know. For example, even acoustic instruments will sound electric because, after all, you are now hearing with an electrical stimulus and not an acoustic one. That may mean that your brain will need to re-learn how to interpret the sound.

Another example Richard gave is that, when we hear a note played on a piano, it is not a pure sound, but is made up of a mixture of fundamental and harmonic notes. With a cochlear implant, you may hear that mixture differently so that a simple note to someone with natural hearing becomes complex and difficult to comprehend for someone with a cochlear implant.

These examples are worth mentioning because Cochlear Implant Technology is primarily designed to re-connect you with the people around you, to enable you to enjoy conversations again. It’s designed to help you hear speech.

But music is different; you use a different part of your brain to process music, so music and singing are very demanding when you hear with a cochlear implant. Pitch is different, rhythm is different. It’s a whole new challenge.

Everyone’s experience is unique but, for Richard, lower pitches sounded more natural than higher pitches. He used that as an access point to re-learn other notes by playing scales, arpeggios and octaves over and over again, gradually extending the range of notes that he could hear correctly.

Richard explained, “I found that some intervals between notes were easier to hear than others and I used that to help me learn how to hear a fuller range of notes again.”

Like many cochlear implant recipients, Richard looked forward to enjoying some of his old favourite pieces of music but was disappointed because they didn’t sound like he remembered them. He took a new approach and soon found joy in listening to new pieces by his old favourite artists.

“I discovered new music that I had never heard before, but in a style that I had always loved.”

Richard also encourages others (not only cochlear implant recipients!) to listen for music in the world that surrounds us.  The sound of shoes on gravel, the wind rustling through leaves, the jangling chimes of a set of keys – these are all part of an orchestra of music that is playing around us every day.

Richard’s contagious enthusiasm and his ability to communicate his personal experience inspired those who attended the event and conversation buzzed afterwards as recipients discussed their own experiences of listening to music.

The essence of Richard’s message was straightforward. Music will never sound the way you remember it, but don’t be disheartened. After all, music may sound different now, but how did it sound when you had hearing loss?

“Take this as your chance to meet new favourites and to learn to find music where you don’t expect it,” says Richard. “Waves on a beach, a tree branch tapping at your window – music is everywhere in our world if you listen for it.”

Richard Reed’s tips to help you on your music journey:

  1. Rich, complex sounds take longer to learn because they are harder to understand. Begin with simpler music – a simple melody or a small number of instruments.
  2. You have to walk before you can run. Grab an instrument, find a range of notes that you enjoy listening to then take it from there. 
  3. You may find it easier to enjoy familiar music rather than new pieces. If that’s so, relax and enjoy it – gradually introduce new music that is similar and extend your library slowly.
  4. Conversely, it may be difficult to enjoy familiar music because it sounds different. In that case, start with a new song in the same style, perhaps the same artist. Learn to love some new favourites.
  5. Learn to love the music in the everyday sounds around you. These may not be ‘music’ as we normally think of it but there is joy in learning to hear and appreciate the musicality in the world.

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Please seek advice from your health professional about treatments for hearing loss. Outcomes may vary, and your health professional will advise you about the factors which could affect your outcome. Always read the instructions for use. Not all products are available in all countries. Please contact your local Cochlear representative for product information.

Views expressed are those of the individual. Consult your health professional to determine if you are a candidate for Cochlear technology.

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