Study highlights hearing aid limitations for orchestra musicians with hearing loss

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What do musicians with hearing loss most fear? A new study suggests their hearing aids have limitations when it comes to following the finer details of music and instructions from conductors.

Hearing-impaired adult amateur instrumentalists interviewed as part of a University of Western Ontario study revealed that their main reason for using hearing aids is to hear the instructions given by conductors.

This Qualitative Study of the Effects of Hearing Loss and Hearing Aid Use on Music Perception in Performing Musicians showed that hearing the music they and colleagues are playing is not their primary concern. Indeed, some of the 49 participants (aged 55 to 83) said that hearing aids have limitations that hinder their perception of finer musical parameters such as balance and dynamics, so they perform without devices.

The study's authors, who include Cathy Benedict, Director of Research at the Don Wright Faculty of Music, think the findings may lead educators and conductors to review the priorities of hearing-impaired performers, changing how they instruct, and ensuring that orchestra social events are held in acoustically friendly venues.

"These findings suggest that providing hearing-impaired instrumentalists access to musical experience via participation should be prioritised above restoring the perception of musical descriptors," the study concludes.

The scope of the conclusions is limited, however, by the study's focus only on amateur musicians, not those who must earn a living from performing. Future research can also explore the issue more deeply by looking at "instrumentalists who no longer listen to or perform music because of hearing loss"

Source: Science X

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