This article on singing with hearing loss is a personal account that aims to help those who have or are experiencing problems with tinnitus or partial hearing in one or both ears. Please note that the author is not a doctor or medically trained so readers are advised to seek professional advice in all matters relating to their health.
I have suffered with tinnitus ever since I can remember, mainly the ‘white noise’ kind but also the occasional high-pitched whine or ringing sound at varying degrees of volume. Surprisingly enough, this has not affected my ability to hear things clearly, except on particularly bad days so unlike some less fortunate folk, I have learned to cope with the constant background noise in my head.
Things changed dramatically when a car accident severely affected my hearing and left me with partial hearing in one ear. The Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist and ear specialist both advised that a hearing aid would be of no use and probably be more confusing to use than what was left of my natural hearing. Feeling somewhat deflated by the news, I spent the following week wondering if I would ever be able to sing again and due to my other injuries, it was over a year before I even attempted a few notes!
During this awful period, various friends and family members constantly told me to stop shouting during our conversations! Without realising, I was raising my naturally soft speaking voice to a much higher volume and overcompensating for the loss of hearing. Something had to be done!
Over the next few months, I researched hearing loss and possible solutions. There was little on the internet about the subject, but I have friends who suffer from some form of hearing disability. Each case was unique to the individual, but the inability to hear certain frequencies in their range, disorientation and occasional loss of balance appeared to be a common factor with many. We discussed various related issues like singing in tune and the loss of vocal dynamics (soft/loud), in some cases I discovered that these could be overcome!
I experimented with an old studio trick, gently plugging one or both ears with my fingers whilst singing. This increases the singer’s awareness of the natural reverberation that occurs in the head when the voice is used and discovered that blocking the ‘bad’ ear, helped in correcting pitching issues. Recording my voice at every opportunity has always been part of my vocal regime and proved invaluable during my efforts to re-train my auditory awareness.
Ear plugs are often recommended to avoid hearing loss and simulates the ‘finger in ear’ effect, but not something I had previously used, so I tried using ear protectors but to little effect. This is a personal issue as I am unable to tolerate anything inserted in my ear for very long as it causes my ears to itch. This is NOT due to wax build-up which is something I have never experienced!
After several weeks of using the blocking and recording review process, I slowly learnt how to use the ‘bad’ ear again. It took a fair amount of practice to regain the natural pitch I had previously taken for granted, and I still experience the odd slip in tuning!
Rehearsing with a band for the first time was initially a frustrating experience … too many sounds going on, and an inability to hear myself properly sent my tuning issues off the scale! The solution turned out to be a simple one … turn down the volume! Sure, the guys in the band whinged a bit at first, but now appreciate how rehearsing in a small room at lower volumes enables them to hear everything that is going on instead of battling against a wall of sound!
Singing on stage with the band was another adventure, by necessity, the volumes were increased, and it took time to become accustomed to listening with my ‘inner ear’ without being distracted by the other instruments. I considered using an In-Ear Monitor (IEM) but these are costly and pointless to purchase considering my ears’ aversion to anything placed in them; besides which, I like to hear chatter from the audience and found that strategic placement of the floor monitor or working in front of the P.A. speakers worked well enough.
Despite the tinnitus and partial loss of hearing, I am fortunate to have found a way to continue singing and realise that there are many in similar situations who cannot. I hope my experiences help some of you to explore the possibilities further and encourage everyone to sing even if the result is not as you would wish it to be.
Written by RoXi
Question: What Type of Earplugs Are Available?
There are basically 2 types of earplugs, the basic foam earplugs that you squeeze smaller and put in your ear then they expand to the size of your ear. These give you very good protection but can make the sound muffled and bassy, but are very good for very loud gigs over long periods. The better ones for musicians are nylon and sometimes joined together by string so less easy to lose.
Question: What Earplugs Can You Recommend?
The Elacin 20 Ear Defenders are a good place to start at around £10.00, or Alpine music safe earplugs from £20.00, which you can customise to vary the amount of ear protection they offer.
There are also companies that custom-make ear protection to your individual needs, but they can be expensive at around £100 or more.
Protect your hearing at rehearsals and concerts with ear plugs designed with musicians in mind!
Hearing Loss Resources
BUPA Hearing Loss Fact Sheet
Includes an overview of how the ear works, symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss.
Does Choir Singing Cause Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Article by M. Steurer, S. Simak, D.M. Denk and M. Kautzky from the Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, General Hospital Vienna, University of Vienna Medical School, Austria.
This article at Wikipedia includes information on the classification, causes, management, prevention and treatments for hearing loss.
HSE – Noise: Hearing Protection
Information on when and how hearing protection should be used by the Health and Safety Executive.
Information on hearing impairment and loss
Includes tips and advice on how to avoid hearing loss.
On Stage Monitoring
Comprehensive article by Gavin Harrison of Sound on Sound magazine.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People provides information for tinnitus sufferers, hard of hearing and deaf people. Their site includes a searchable directory of uk services and a host of free factsheets and leaflets on all aspects of hearing loss, tinnitus and deafness available for download.