To shed some light on this question, let me offer the story of my good friend, Claire Duchesneau, a hearing-impaired singer. When she was a young woman, Claire was able to hear normally. She played the guitar. She wrote and sang songs. She performed.
Then, in her early 40s, her hearing began to deteriorate. The loss happened so gradually that when she was finally compelled to have a hearing test, she was surprised to learn that she had hearing loss in both ears. Eventually, she had herself fitted with hearing aids and life went on.
But her desire to sing was still strong. So she introduced herself to me by email and asked if I was interested in working with a hearing-impaired person who wanted to regain her ability to sing in tune. As a longtime singer and vocal coach, I was intrigued by this challenge and immediately said, “Yes!”
The end-result is that after four years of lessons, along with steady and patient work on her part, Claire was singing and performing again. She also recorded a CD. You can hear Claire tell some of the highlights from her own inspiring story in this short interview I recently recorded with her.
Claire is a person who could sing well as a younger woman. When she suffered hearing loss, she could still remember what it was like to sing in tune and re-create melodies with her voice. Apparently, it is not the same story for many others in the human population.
According to Dr. Sean Hutchins, the Director of Research for The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, “Singing is a complex expression. The majority of people, around 60 percent, have a difficult time with it.” So, even those who have no measurable hearing loss may still find it difficult to sing the right notes, when prompted. Research shows that the brain misdirects the request.
So when we ask this question, “I can’t hear very well, can I still sing?”, first we need to determine where we stand hearing-wise: Are we losing our hearing and therefore hearing aids can help us to keep singing? Or, do we hear well enough, but cannot easily sing the right notes due to an apparent brain glitch?
Do you know which description is true for you?
And if it is our brain that’s at fault, what then? Can we learn how to hear those notes and sing more in tune after some consistent practice? The answer again is, “Yes!”
The late Alfred Tomatis, an ear, nose and throat doctor from France, is renowned for his research on hearing. He worked for many years with both professional singers and non-singers.
Tomatis believed that there is a big difference between hearing and listening. He wrote: “If one gives the imperfect ear the chance of hearing correctly, the voice instantly and unconsciously improves.”
A longtime student of Tomatis, Paul Madaule, founded the Listening Centre in Toronto based on Tomatis’s work. Madaule believes that while “hearing is passive… listening is active, and it involves the intent to reach out.”
Toronto’s Listening Centre offers intense listening sessions that aim at heightening the clients’ engagement abilities. They provide an auditory “tune up” that exercises the muscles of the middle ear. But what if we cannot or do not want to seek this kind of formal help? Are there simple things that we can do, day to day, to improve our singing?
Here are a few suggestions:
This may be a bit of a scary option. Many of us don’t want to know if our hearing has changed. But the sooner you get your hearing tested, the quicker you can catch your hearing loss before it affects your life in a big way.
The National Institute on Deafness (NIDCD) claims: “Of those who are age 70 and older who could benefit from wearing hearing aids, fewer than 30 percent have ever used them.” Your hearing may not necessarily get worse without hearing aids, but your ability to understand speech may deteriorate with time.
As you read in her story above, Claire Duchesneau decided to try singing lessons as a way to get back to good singing. You may not want to devote as much time to practicing as she did, but at the very least you will be tuning up your listening skills, while you learn to sing. And listening of this kind keeps you vibrant and energized!
There are many ways to train your ear. You can sit at a piano and play notes that you then sing – one by one. You can also do this on a guitar. Or you can follow along with someone who helps you to stay in tune.
Here is a video I recently recorded with a simple exercise for this very purpose. There are many useful videos on YouTube. Just Google the words, “beginner’s ear training,” to find more help. Ear training can be fun!
Especially in these socially restricted Covid days, it’s important to call or Zoom with friends and family members often. These loving connections will help you to retain both your hearing and your brain’s integrity.
When we engage in new challenges (such as singing lessons), our brains are stimulated in refreshing ways. A stimulated brain wants to connect. Connection helps us to hear and listen better.
Sing along with your favourite songs. Learn a new song every now and then. Find a singing buddy; that is, someone who loves to sing, just as you do. You can sing to one another online using FaceTime, Zoom, Skype etc.
Finally, keep this in mind:
“Music does make you smarter, but… simply listening to music will not have any long-term impact. However, studying music and learning an instrument are associated with improved cognitive abilities over the course of a life.”— Sean Hutchins from his article, “Music and Cognitive Benefits.”
Join Barbara’s free weekly newsletter to learn more about her upcoming course, Wake Up Your Life with Singing!
Are you concerned about losing your hearing? Is singing important to you, but you worry that you cannot hear well enough to sing? Have you tried to use hearing aids? Have they helped you? If you do use hearing aids, and you still sing, what advice can you offer?