Hearing loss simply means that you have difficulty detecting and hearing specific sounds including environmental, musical, or speech sounds. Individuals who have hearing loss experience challenges when it comes to verbal communication and navigating the world they live in. As a soloist or backup singer, singing with hearing aids come with many challenges. This is because singing is a complex vocal ability related to tone and pitch. In order to execute and achieve the right rhythm, melody, and notes, you need your hearing ability. The purpose of this article is to help you understand why hearing aid users experience challenges with singing and to offer solutions on how to improve their melodic experience.
Why is it difficult to sing with hearing aids?
The ultimate purpose of a hearing assessment is to determine the level of your hearing ability through the administration of different tests. During this process, the hearing healthcare professional can determine if, and to what degree hearing loss is present (i.e. mild, moderate, severe, or profound). Depending on one’s audiogram results, strategies and tools are put in place, and in most cases, a hearing aid is provided. A hearing aid functions to amplify sounds that an individual has difficulty hearing according to their hearing assessment results.
Singing is an effortless skill that most people have because it requires voicing. Each individual is different and will have a unique kind of voice. The vocal range includes bass, baritone, tenor, alto, mezzo-soprano, and soprano. The music and entertainment industry demands perfection from all singers and artists. Legendary singers like Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, and Beyoncé have perfected their melodies to hit the right notes during every performance. Singers are aware that the production of musical tones through voice requires a sharp ear to ensure the right execution of notes.
It is common for hearing aids to not respond appropriately to the pitch of certain musical notes making it difficult to reach some notes. When you sing with your hearing aids on, you can hear the high-pitched sounds without having to put in significant singing effort. However, singers with hearing aids experience a certain level of discomfort when it comes to performing. For example, most people find it more challenging to keep track of their voice and end up getting the notes wrong. Another difficulty is matching their voice to an accompanying instrument. The principal reason behind this is that most hearing aids are geared towards improving the comprehension of speech and exposure to common environmental sounds, not necessarily musical activity.
Today’s advanced technology is helpful, but is imperfect and cannot restore hearing back to its normal functioning – at least not in the way glasses can correct vision. Your hearing aids may not have the appropriate settings and the quickness to adjust your hearing to the right level when you are singing, whether in a group or with an instrument. In addition, singers can experience a “lag” in what they hear during a performance.
Improve your singing experience while using hearing aids
- Speak to your hearing healthcare professional about technology-savvy hearing aids with newer, improved features and programs that can better accommodate singing and acoustics. There are hearing aids that include music-specific programs that can be structured according to your preferences (i.e. your vocal range and singing goals). These are not always helpful for singing but are good for listening to music – however, they are still an option to explore. Other options your hearing healthcare professional can provide are feedback suppression or noise reduction aids.
- Be mindful of your consonants. Singers with hearing loss have more difficulty distinguishing consonants compared to their normal-hearing counterparts. Before a performance or during rehearsals, include sounds like “ff”, “ss” and “sh” in your warm-up routine. This will help you identify differences in the words of the songs you sing.
- Consider attending aural rehabilitation sessions after your hearing loss diagnosis. Aural rehabilitation refers to a holistic and person-centered process involving the assessment and management of hearing loss. The aim of aural rehab is to optimize an individual’s ability to participate in any kind of activity that has been limited because of hearing loss. Aural rehab can help singers regain achievement and enjoyment for their musical capability through listening exercises that help with musical hearing.
- Get the help of a vocal coach/teacher. There are a lot of benefits related to singing in a structured environment with prompting and redirection. Vocal coaching/teaching allows you to learn more about your singing and how different parts of your body (besides your ears) are involved. You may find that your posture, breathing, and execution significantly changes and improves.
- Start simple and gradually build your confidence. Losing the ability to do something you were once easily capable of doing can be difficult. After receiving your hearing aids, do not put too much pressure on yourself to sing the way you used to. Complete your listening exercises and work on one or two notes at a time. This will allow your brain to adjust.
- Find a smaller room and lower the volume if you are in a band or sing with different instruments. Being in a smaller room with less sound helps you hear everything that is happening and lightens your listening effort.
- Know about the good AND the bad. Depending on whether you have unilateral (one ear) or bilateral (both ears) hearing loss, it’s important to learn about it. Knowing the level of hearing loss can be beneficial. In the case of unilateral hearing loss, the ear without hearing loss can help with the execution of higher notes with or without the hearing aid. With a bilateral loss, the ear with the most hearing loss of the two can be of benefit from a hearing aid because it can still catch on to some frequencies (pitch).