Music Not so Good so far

I wanted to add a post about how music is for me because this question comes up a lot.  Both from people just curious about the implant and candidates who are wondering what may lie ahead for them.

Prior to my implant I had 20-30% hearing in both ears, mainly in the lower ranges including, thankfully, a usable amount in the frequencies most common for speech.  I could enjoy music, the beat, the quality of certain voices, melody.  I couldn’t understand most lyrics and tended to prefer simpler music featuring a solo singer or melodic instrumentals.  I loved dance music, 70’s and 80’s pop, disco…

When I was doing my own research on CI’s and music, I was told that music appreciation with an implant can vary quite a bit.  Some implant recipients say it’s great and some say it’s terrible.  My older brother who had a similar hearing history as me, has not had good luck with music.

With my implant, so far, there are some things that sound “okay” such as Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” with a simple bass line beat.  (Sadly, I can’t say I care for that song very much.)  Most music sounds pretty bad to me.  I do not yet have any programs on my processor that are optimized for music so my guess is that music is being treated like speech and that just makes it sound weird because it’s not.  Certain elements in the music are accentuated and the melody and subtleties get lost.  I’ve been experimenting with different songs on my iPod and I’ve yet to figure out why certain music sounds better or worse.

I’ve talked to some implant users who say they are loving music again.  More often it seems that older familiar music sounds best to them.  In some cases, I think it’s individuals who lost hearing suddenly and have good, complete music memories ready to be reactivated.  It’s definitely somewhat of mystery though and there is much discussion and some research going on in the CI community.  Recently I saw Dr. Charles Limb speak at the Hearing Loss Association of America conference in Rhode Island.  He’s a musician, avid music fan, and a CI surgeon.  He’s also doing research on music appreciation for cochlear implant users and there’s an interesting TED talk where he discusses his work and research:: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/charles_limb_building_the_musical_muscle.html  One funny moment at the conference was when he played sound files to simulate what music can sound like via a cochlear implant.  Funny because there were many CI users in the audience so how could they really evaluate?  He realized the dilemma and was a good sport about acknowledging the irony 😉

There are some aural rehab tools out there via the cochlear implant manufacturers websites.  I haven’t explored these in detail yet.  One that I’m aware of is called Hope Notes, by Cochlear America.

I hope I don’t discourage any candidates who may read this.  First of all, everyone’s experience is different.  There are so many factors that come into play.  The top priority for cochlear implant technology has been speech recognition and while I’d like music to be better speech is the most important thing for me.  Secondly, I ain’t done yet.  My journey is still in progress and my hearing is will continue to evolve, including my experience with music.  Stay tuned…

Aural Rehab Activities

Because I want to improve as quickly as I can I’m making an effort to do some rehab activities on a regular basis.  And while I think my rate of improvement with the implant may be to a large extent out of my hands, doing something gives me the illusion of some control.  I think it’s actually helping too 🙂

Here are some of the aurl rehabilitation tools I’ve been working with:

  • Advanced Bionics Listening Room: Teens and Adults.    You might have to create a login but  I don’t know that you need to be an AB user to take advantage of these resources.  Give it a shot if you’re interested.There’s a lot of different practice tools here.  Among the resources availalble is a pc based program for listening practice called CLIX. I plug in with my direct connect cable to use it.  There’s a placement test and exercises at various levels depending on how you score overall.  The general format is like a word recognition test.  You hear a word and then select the “correct” word from a grid with 4 choices.  However, unlike the word recognition at the audiologist, here you can repeat it.  Usage tip: To retake the placement test, on the Main Menu click on ‘Test – On Your Own’.  It looks like a column heading but it’s not.Overall I’m doing well with this tool.  However, I seem to have plateaued and I’m stuck on the last two levels, which I guess are the most difficult.  For the life of me, I can not reliably distinguish between cake/take, taste / paste,  knees / keys,  narc/ Mark.  I’m planning to take some notes to my next appointment with the audiologist.  I don’t know if I will improve with repetition and time or if I need adjustments in my programs.
  • Med-El  – Sentence Matrix.  I like that this tool is web-based and can be used from any computer.  There are various settings you can select such as male/female voice, slow-fast speech speed, and amount of background noise (none-high).  The voice says a sentence and you click on the words, which are laid out in a matrix with multiple choices per word in the sentence.  Usage tip: Click on More in the Sentence Matrix description block from the main page to start.
  • Cochlear America Telephone listening practice.  This one is very cool I think.  You dial a phone number and are able to do several listening activities and read along on the web site for the text.  Each day there is a new word list and small passage.  So far the passage texts have been excerpts from fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm, which is fun.
  • HearCoach. A free app for iPhone.  It focuses on word recognition, with and without background noise, and number recognition.  There are multiple levels of difficulty for word recognition with high levels having increasing amounts of background noise.  I made it through a couple of levels but I’m at a point now where the background noise makes it ridiculously difficult for me and I think my score is just function of random guessing.  Hmm…  what to do, what to do.
  • Audio books.  Listen to an audio book while reading along on the hardcopy.  The recommendation is to start with a simple book, either children’s or young adult, something that’s familiar.  I’ve been trying to take advantage of the public library’s digital catalog to do this and use a kindle book plus audio book using 2 different programs on my laptop.  Finding both available simultaneously can be tricky.  My first book was Charlotte’s Web.  Now I’m working on adult fiction and mainly taking what’s available.  A friend at work loaned me the Hunger Games in both hardcopy and audio, which was my favorite so far.