I Want My Music Back

As a hearing aid user, I want to enjoy music the way other people do – clearly and on demand. Whom should I ask about this – my audiologist, a hearing aid manufacturer, or the government who helps me pay for hearing aids? All three, maybe?

As my hearing loss progressed through the years, so did my music loss. and I would like to have it back, please. I know the technology is out there because I’m always reading tantalizing news bytes about breakthroughs in this area.  But how do I, the consumer at the end of the supply chain, access all these new advancements? The information on research and new technology is usually written at a high level, outside my comprehension. How about something phrased more simply, from a reputable source such as: “Want hearing aids to let you hear the music again? There’s an app for that! To get your magic-music-making hearing aids, visit your local hearing care professional and say ‘I want the music back!’”

Like most people, I love music. Plato said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” And once you have flown on the music, losing the ability to enjoy it can be a deep source of grief. When I can really hear it, music still sends shivers up my spine. But I frequently have difficulty getting a tune, or hanging on to the violins or flutes that soar off my audiogram. I feel deprived, cheated.

My family was very musical – I am the descendant of song-and-dance men on one side and church-singing preachers and teachers on the other. There was always music in our house. My father bought the best stereo ‘hi-fi’ he could afford because he wanted me to enjoy music in spite of my hearing difficulties. I would spend hours lying on the floor with my ear pressed to the cloth-fronted stereo, listening to records. On family road trips, in a time before everybody was glued to their own smartphone, we sang and harmonized. Our collective taste in music wasn’t terribly cerebral, but we loved a good tune.

I’ve always known I don’t experience music the way ‘hearing’ people do. At a performance of Handel’s Messiah when I was in my teens, someone said, “Wow, that harpsichord is amazing!” I saw the beautiful harpsichord on the stage, but could not pick out its unique sound. And I have never heard the sound produced by musicians hitting that triangle thing; with all due respect, professional triangle players just look kinda-stupid up there with the rest of the musicians (maybe that’s why they’re at the back.)

Things got worse when, at age 41, I graduated from a single behind-the-ear to bilateral completely-in-the-canal hearing aids. At a dance, the cacophonous sound of the band almost flattened me. I thought maybe I was still in an extended period of brain adjustment, but even now music produced by more than one instrument at a time often becomes noisy music soup.  It’s difficult to pick out the different bits – like the keyboard, or the bass guitar, or really  any specific instrument. Even the singer’s voice is swallowed up by the instruments, taking lyrics completely out of my reach. Ambient music at a party is often wasted on me. If someone asks if the background music is too loud, I usually answer, “Oh, is it on?” If music were played at the level that I need to enjoy it – somewhere well above ambiance-level but below blowing out the windows – the party would be very different and I still might not ‘get’ the words if I didn’t already know them.

But things have come a long way for music lovers with hearing loss. I now have digital in-the-ear hearing aids with T-switches (that I had to ask for) and things are better. I think. But for the best sound, I have to bring music right into my ears. With my Bose over-the ear-headphones positioned just-so, there is no hearing aid feedback. On walks, I use a neckloop-iPod combo, avoiding overhead telephone wires, which make my head vibrate with static. Last year at a hearing loss conference concert, I sat next to a friend, a recent CI recipient, and watched her face as she heard and enjoyed live music for the first time since becoming deaf years ago. And at Christmas time, the look on the face of another friend (who hadn’t known she could connect her CI directly to her iPod), as Silent Night came into her ears, was enough to revive your belief in Santa Claus.

But I know that there is more live music-pleasure available to me and I”m asking:  how can I get it back now?  There are good music programs available for hearing aids, but do I have to buy a new set? If so, that would be a shame, because buying new hearing aids is an expensive step for those salivating to hear what innovation is offering.  If  I didn’t have to wait  two years to qualify for the government hearing aid subsidy, I would buy another set faster than you can say name that tune.



About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. Hi Gael, I heard you speak at the conference in Ottawa last year and really enjoy your sense of humour! Am I understanding correctly that you are getting a cochlear implant later this year? I know we all have different hearing losses and problems. Right now I can’t hear speech with my right ear and with my hearing aid in my left ear and without speech reading, I was told I have 37% understanding. I thought I was enjoying a good quality of life but lately I can see I am being avoided as it means effort to have me hear. I cannot take part in group conversations and can no longer understand on the phone. It is difficult to speech read when on the phone, right???!!! With my hearing aid, I can hear birds sing and other sounds but I have trouble understanding speech. have spoken with Myrtle Jenkins and I know she is very positive about her cochlear implant. I just wish I wasn’t being told, “don’t have high expectations, and there is no guarantee.” This makes it more difficult to make the big decision as there will be many trips by shuttle from PEI to Halifax. I would appreciate any feedback. Thanks. Joan

  2. You may want to contact one of the expert audiologists in this field.
    One is Kate Gfeller at the University of Iowa.

  3. You may want to contact one of the expert audiologists in this field – e.g. Kate Gfeller at the University of Iowa.

  4. This article made me realize something I hadn’t thought of before – I prefer to hear a single instrument over multiple. It’s just a clearer, more enjoyable sound to me. One exception may be drums – drums in addition to another instrument seems to work as well.
    I’ve always enjoyed music, but have never been able to pick out nuances of sound, notes, specific instruments, and the worst part, lyrics. Lyrics play such a huge part of today’s music, and I miss out on a lot because of that. I can only follow lyrics if I know the song and maybe, maybe if I can see the singer and lipread… maybe.
    Things will be different and interesting when I go under the knife or a CI later this year!

    Thanks as usual, Gael!

  5. Hi Gael. I’m 41 and I find myself wanting to tune out more often, rather than seek out the latest technology to help me hear accurately and, most importantly, not give me headaches!

    Like you, I love music but I can now only enjoy the sound of jazz, with its deep tones, not the high pitched, screeching sounds that trumpets make. Or the type that bands play in New Orleans. I get major headaches from that type of music. To those that love this type of jazz, please don’t misinterpret what I said. All music is beautiful. I just wish some doesn’t cause physical distress for me.

    On a side note, I don’t know if my hearing aids need tuning, or I need to be fitted with something different to accommodate any changes in my hearing. (My last test showed no changes but, lately, I’ve been enduring more physical symptoms as a direct response to noise.)

    Therefore, I’ve stopped listening to specific genres from my music collection because I get sensory burnout easily. From your research and knowledge about the latest technology available to us, do you really think there is a product out there that will restore my capability to listen to all music, not just “deep, smooth soul” jazz? More specifically, will it restore “peace” while I listen to music?

    I look forward to reading more of your experiences as you trial the latest technological devices available in the market. I don’t have this luxury as we all know the costs are not conducive for the hard of hearing that relies on government funding and/or grants.

  6. One more note. Clear Communications has a new series of its Quatro coming out in September that will network CI and HA as I understand. That will be phenomenal if it performs as touted.

  7. The Stereo Amplifier is the most important part of a “server” that networks with your auditory sensibility. The Apple 2.4 Bluetooth bandwidth was basically accepted by the hearing aid manufacturers. So made for “Apple” is where the thrust is. Sure Google and Android will follow – but that is exactly the point – follow. I purchased, and it still needs to be installed, a Pioneer Elite series Amplifier with a blue tooth rocket fish adapter. so the smart phone and varying neck loops that feed directly or just concurrently with the ears is the key. So the goal is to get my CI and HA to work in conjunction with my wireless and desktop computing technology with the stereo rack. If you want it back – that is where to go. Pioneer – Made for Apple. So the information technology and the A/V technology can integrate – but it is tough and still unfolding. You will get your music back – believe me!

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