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Music and Low Frequency Hearing

It was only a few weeks ago that my boss at work asked me what frequency an octave is.  We were planning to do an acoustical test for some fire insulation and it came up in the discussion.  He figured as a musician I would know.  Never having studied acoustics, I didn’t, but Google did of course.  An octave is a doubling in frequency.

Right after I looked this up I received a package from UNC with all the different CI literature in it.  It talked about frequencies and the piano keyboard and frequencies and the cochlea.  So interesting.

In all these years I hadn’t really thought about my audiogram and a piano keyboard.  Looking at my audiogram it looks like my hearing vanishes somewhere between 1000 and 2000 Hz.  1000 Hz is C6 – 2 octaves above Middle C.  Yeah, that sounds about right from my memory of playing with a keyboard.

This page has a list of all the notes and their frequency and wavelength: Frequencies of Musical Notes

And this page has a Flash keyboard to play with: Flash Piano – the Method Behind the Music

Edited to Add: Here’s an even better piano to play with that goes from C2 to C7. Virtual Piano: Online music innovation at its best

I was looking for a piano online that went above C6 but haven’t found one yet.  In Garage Band on my Mac however there is one that goes from C2 to C8 (except it has middle C as C3?! let’s ignore that).  Above C6 (1000 Hz) notes do not sound distinctly different to me, and above C7 (2000 Hz) I can’t hear much beyond the F (2800 Hz).

What does all that mean to a non-musician, or non-piano player? Well Middle C is an easy note for men and women to sing. High for men, low for women, but not a stretch for either gender.  C6 is a very high note for a woman to try to sing, I think A5 was the highest note I ever saw as a soprano in choir.

What does all this mean to me in my cochlear implant journey?  Well it means that the human singing voice, and I suppose the frequency range of most instruments in a band (minus piccolo!) are less than 1000 Hz and thus in the range of what I can hear with my hearing aids.  Wait, really?  So why get a cochlear implant if you can already hear everything?  It all comes back to understanding speech.

Here’s the speech banana:

graph known as the speech banana

If you look at the line from 1000 Hz at the top down – anything to the right is what I can’t hear, even with a hearing aid. I’m deaf in those frequencies.  A CI helps a lot with those frequencies, but can often make the frequencies below 1000 Hz sound strange or at least different. How strange and different? I can’t tell you that as I haven’t experienced it.

Traditionally a cochlear implant meant that you would lose all hearing that you had left.  It would be replaced by hearing through the implant.  The new technology known as the hybrid implant, or electric-acoustic stimulation (EAS) tries to preserve residual hearing so that you can continue to use a hearing aid for the low frequencies and add the high frequencies through the CI.  I promise I’ll write more about this next time.



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8 replies on “Music and Low Frequency Hearing”

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    Sara says:

    Wow! What an interesting post. I love this, it makes me understand more about your hearing. I don’t really know much about CI or new technology, so this is all very intriguing and new to me. You put it in such easy to understand comparisons. 🙂

    Nice coincidence that your boss asked about that and then you got the packet.

    Sara’s last blog post:

  2. Share

    Julia says:

    Would a CI in one ear and a HA in the other work for you? That’s what my (16 month old) son has. He had a decent low-frequency aided response in his left, so we opted to implant only the right. That way we preserve the continuous low-frequency hearing. He’s doing really well with the combination, and already showing signs of enjoying music.

    1. Share

      Sara says:

      That’s what I’m planning to do. I’m glad it’s working well with your son!

  3. Share

    Eric says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story/journey on this blog. I stumble across this by chance surfing for additional info on hybrid cochlear implants. You and I have many things in common and I am definitely interesting in following you progress with getting a CI. I am a 45 y.o. physician living in Biloxi, MS with onset of gradual ski slope hearing loss; almost all of my loss is greater than 1,000hz. The loss started about age 39 but I didn’t realize it until about three years ago. I now have to read lips. I have a completely in canal aids but DO NOT wear them…they really don’t help with senorineural hearing loss. I go for my yearly audiogram this Thursday and will probably bite the bullet and get BTE’s.

    There is more and more info coming in on the trials of the hybrid implant. I have contacted Dr. Bruce Gantz in Iowa (a pioneer in the hybrid CI) and he is doing trials on the Cochlear Americas product. It seems to me that both products are good. Right now, I don’t qualify for the study and in fact I would be considered only moderately impaired at this point. My loss is progressing however, and I do procedures in an operating room type environment where everyone but the patient wears a mask…so you know how difficult communication becomes. I am probably going to try to read lips and try a BTE for another 1-2 years, before proceding with a hybrid implant. Your story gives me hope.

    I love skiing and my son and I are flying out next Sunday for Powder Mtn, Utah for a week of skiing. I try to ski once a year. I hate that I can’t hear people on the lifts now. I also worry that skiing may be curtailed with an implant although I have never heard of any contraindications (?).

    I have grieved the loss of my hearing for the past several years and have become more isolated from social events. I love music (going to see Ben Folds in Mobile in April) and the thought of life without sound quite frankly scares me. Most days, however, I would kill just to hear the human voice adequately to function.

    Again, thanks for sharing your story.


  4. Share

    I posted something on this awhile back with a chart that shows the frequency range of most instruments. Thought you’d be interested. I also have good low tones. Used to play the piano for years and years.

    I have near perfect low tones, but am deaf above 2000 hertz. Between 1000-2000 I’ve got a severe hearing loss, and can still hear middle C with hearing aids. However sound distorts quickly the higher on the keyboard one goes to the point I may only hear/feel a click. So I no longer play. It makes me crazy when I know I’m hitting the right notes, but they sound all wrong or make no sound at all. I don’t quite qualify for a CI yet, but qualified for the experimental hybrid.

    Yeah– it’s ALL about speech comprehension and actually I hear lots of music pretty well still, which is why I’m not sold on the hybrid.

  5. Share

    george says:

    awesome post dude, i hear less with one ear then the other, my hearing gets weird after about 10 000, in my left ear, and with my right ear i can hear up to 12 000. its pretty weird when you can hear something in one ear but not the other.
    lucky enough for me, those high frequencies dont really affect me. i am 25

  6. Share

    wow this is an eye opener.. I always had this problem when I used to listen to music which the headphones on, and felt that one side is not working. I am wondering if this could be because I am starting to hear less from one ear. I guess I should speak to an alert one medical alarm operator? Do you think I could need an hearing aid when I am just 28.

    1. Share

      Sara says:

      Hey Charles,
      There are web sites and even iPhone apps that you can use to test your own hearing informally. Many people suffer a mild loss in their high frequencies even in their 20s.

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