Does Hearing Loss affect Harmony Perception?

My background involved a lot of musical harmony. Thru college I sang on several barbershop quartets. The first time I noticed discordant harmony after my hearing started to go: I was attending the college graduation of a friend where a very prominent college chorale was performing. After we left I asked my wife if it seemed that they singing off key. She said it sounded very good to her. Ever since that time I have noticed that music sounds off key. Have any of the readers here experienced that?

I have. I don’t have the music theory background to say much, but for sure things sound discordant that shouldn’t. Individual pitches seem not too bad, but chords or rich sounds do. Lush strings and any type of early reflection/reverb really bother me now.

It’s a common feedback management strategy to slightly shift the frequency a little bit in order to minimize feedback. I don’t know about other hearing aid brands/models, but the Oticon OPN I wear does a 10 Hz shift as part of the strategy to reduce feedback. I can’t really tell that this change makes things sound off-key to me. I consider myself musically inclined and can carry a tune. But I’m sure there are other people who are more perceptive of frequency changes than me.

Phase change is another common feedback management strategy. Not sure how easily detectable the phase change is to human ears.

The first thing you can try to do is to turn off the feedback management of your hearing aids to see if it helps.

I have Phonaks and just about everything sounds bad through them. But especially music. With the Audeo V90s, any constant type of tone took on a warbling quality, probably due to feedback supression. The B50s I am currently trying don’t seem to do that as bad. I don’t really know why.

Someone else responded about feedback suppression affecting harmony. When I go in next week I’m going to ask about that. I have KS8s and I’m not experiencing any feedback issues. With the KS4s that I had previously it was a big problem.

I’d say ask your audi to create a separate program for you that is dedicated to music listening. For that program ask the audi to turn off all the speech comprehension enhancement features like feedback management and compression. You’ll probably want to add back in a little feedback control so you can minimize feedback.

I think on most HA adjustment programs feedback management can be adjusted incrementallly. First ask your audi at what step the feedback management is set on your current program. Then, on the new program, start with feedback management totally turned off and then turn it up little by little. At each step put your hands near your ears and gradually move your hands closer to your ears until you start to hear feedback.

Ideally you want to achieve a setting that allows you to hear harmonies with as little warbling as possible but still gives you enough feedback control so that giving someone a friendly hug doesn’t set off embarrassing feedback. You’ll probably learn to keep your ears away from someone else’s face when you hug them. Good luck.

Another thing to consider is that some HAs have a low input headroom level. Loud sounds, especially loud music, will overwhelm the HAs before they even start to process the sounds they are receiving. Widex HAs are known for having a particularly good amount of input threshold. Phonaks are not good in this way. I’m not sure about other brands. This is not something your audi can fix with the adjustment software. This is probably something a music lover would want to consider when buying a new set of HAs.

OK, I’m going back to your original question and in it you make no mention of hearing aids. I think hearing loss can effect the ability to discern pitch. My lay understanding is that the cochlea is a pretty precise device when new, but as you lose hairs, it’s precision decreases. Lose a lot and you’ll have “dead spots.”

If you were talking about effect of hearing aids, besides feedback management, there’s frequency lowering and general distortion, but remember with hearinng loss we’ve all got distorted hearing.

Thanks for your input. I was wondering if other people, without the use of hearing aids, had experienced this loss of harmony. My theory was that when hair cells die, neighboring cells take over, but not quite accurately. I am following closely any activity around stem cells or progeniter research. Music was always a big part of my life.

Good suggestions. I will have the Audiologist do some of the things you are suggestions. I am using KS8s with telecoil.

I’m a bit of an audiophile and have not noticed pitch problems. I have my Rexton’s adjusted by Costco to have a music program as ziploc describes. I had him turn off or down as much digital processing as possible and the overall amplification is somewhat less than for speech programs. It is working pretty well for me.

The other thing that messes up music is Phonak’s Soundrecover feature. Basically shifts frequencies from areas of high loss to lower loss. Totally messes up music. Everything is out of tune. Get a music program setup with everything turned off. Not an easy thing to do because some of the compression features are buried in the settings.


Hearing aids can certainly mess up music. But yes, without hearing aids hearing loss can also change music perception. Certainly there is a loss of frequency resolution, and pitch shifting also can happen. If there’s a significant asymmetry between ears sometimes one tone will turn into two because it’s shifted in one ear and not the other. Temporal resolution is also lost with hearing loss.

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I wonder if it could also be the receiver. On my first Opn1, I was always puzzled that the bootup jingle ended with out of tune high notes (in a musician). They were slightly flat. The. I got got a new receiver and bam! They were in tune.

Yeah, if the receiver is bad, many weird things can happen for sure, including distortion, saturation, things sounding it of tune.

I have been experiencing distortion of music for years now, and finally gave up trying to even play the piano and organ. But the good news: I got a CI installed in one ear, and it is bringing (as my brain learns more and more how to hear) music enjoyment back. I am so glad because that has always been a big part of my life. I can hear the whole piano range now, and tell what pitch is playing, which I had mostly lost.

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On this subject of harmony, I discovered something very interesting about my hearing: I downloaded a program to my iPad. It is called Function Generator Pro. It allows you to send a pure tone to your left and right ear independently. I use KS8S with the MFi feature. When I send a tone to my left ear and then to my right ear, the pitch is slightly different (the left ear pitch seems slightly higher than the right). I wonder if that could explain my perception of disharmony. If you have an IPad, maybe you can try it to see if you have the same issue. I’m going to talk to my audiologist to see if the incoming frequencies can be shifted in the hearing aids (probably not).

I don’t know if you read my post, but I would like your opinion about what I found: I downloaded an application on my IPad which allows me to output a given frequency at a selectable amplitude to each ear separately. When I do the tone to one ear and then switch to the other, the pitch is slightly different. I thought this might account for the discordant sound of music that I get. I come from a strong background of musical harmony.

Sorry, I’m only here sporadically unless a direct reply triggers an email. :slight_smile:

Given the asymmetry between your ears and the amount of damage to the left ear it’s not that surprising to me that you’d be hearing pitch differently in both ears. The hearing aids can’t compensate for it, unfortunately, and it wouldn’t generally be a linear shift anyway (e.g. you couldn’t just shift all tones up one semi-tone in the left ear and have them match the right). Just out of curiosity, how far off are your two ears? How far off are they for low tones versus high tones?

If you’re trying to improve you music program on your hearing aids, I’d recommend asking your practitioner to mute the left ear and adjust for the right (leaving the two linked). Pull up a song on youtube that you are familiar with and which sounds “off” to you and play around until it sounds better–you may want more highs and lows that a typical speech-focussed program, and your own voice might wind up sounding odd but that’s okay so long as you aren’t singing.** Then unmute the left hearing aid and if it is distorting things drop the volume down until it sounds better, leaving your right ear dominant for music-listening.

Also, how long has this been going on? I’m put in mind of something I heard or read recently about a patient who got a short-array CI in one ear and then a few years later got a full array in the other ear. After training/adaptation they ended up pitch-matching across ears even though the two CIs were stimulating completely different areas of the cochlea (given the different lengths of the arrays). The brain adapts. I wonder whether one could train diplacusis away somehow. I don’t know what the input would need to be, but I do know that the beneficial auditory processing effects of music are only available to people who play music (vocal counts), not to those who just listen. You need to be actively working at it. Perhaps you should take up a new instrument.

Alternatively, it might be a good time to explore different types of music. Harmonies may not work so well for you anymore, but there’s some neat rythmic stuff out there. (Also, if you are attending live concerts you might want to slap a couple of layers of scotch tape over your hearing aid microphones to reduce the input and avoid distortion that is happening there, too.)

**(Wait, you ARE a singer. You’d need second music program for when you yourself are singing).

My audiologist mentioned a guitar-player patient of hers, whose ReSounds have the All-Around program and three different music programs. Now I’m getting an inkling of why. Obviously musicians, including amateurs, have to pick an audiologist carefully.