By Hanneke Rabe
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything” – Plato
Music is found in every culture across the world. Humans have always been driven instinctively to produce and enjoy music, which was evident through cave paintings dating back to prehistoric times. Neanderthals barely mastered producing fire before moving on to making their own musical instruments – the “Divje Babe Flute”, made from the femur of an (unlucky) cave bear more than 43 500 years ago. The people wanted rhythm, they wanted a beat!
Fast-forward a couple of thousands of years and the world saw musical geniuses like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Chopin – a far cry from blowing on a hollowed out bear femur around a camp fire. More recently we were blessed with Frank Sinatra, Queen, Elton John, The Beatles…
Who knows what we did to deserve Justin Bieber.
Considering how rich music makes our lives, you can imagine how devastating it must be to lose your ability to appreciate music when you start to develop a hearing loss. Ludwig van Beethoven wrote to his brother in a, now famous, letter of his fears of losing his hearing and not being able to enjoy what he loved most in this world. From the very beginning, hearing aid manufacturers have acknowledged the importance of developing technology that supports music appreciation.
At first we failed, miserably. Because hearing aid processing strategies always prioritised speech as the most important auditory signal to focus on, the quality of music was often compromised. Hearing aid users frequently complained about music sounding “distorted”, “lacking specific sounds”, and causing their hearing aids to whistle (feedback). It was back to the drawing board for hearing aid developers who had to start by asking themselves what music was.
Newer hearing aid technology now allows for the hearing aid to automatically detect the presence of music in the listener environment and to switch to a “music mode” specifically designed and optimised for listening to music. The microphones enter an Omni-directional (360⁰) mode and allows to capture as much of the soft-level detail present in music as possible. Features like “feedback cancellation” or “noise reduction” are generally deactivated, and the incoming sound is more simply modified to fit your hearing loss numerically and give you a much more comfortable and fuller sound experience.
An added advantage is the direct connectivity of certain hearing aids to other Bluetooth devices e.g. smartphones, smart TVs, and other hearing aid accessories. These helpful tools bridge the gap of distance between the sound source and the hearing aid, allowing patients a much clearer sound experience. And on that note, I leave you with this: We think music is important!