Can the hard of hearing play the Violin?

June 28, 2012 at 09:48 PM · I have trouble hearing. Profound hearing loss I suppose you would call it. I have been wearing some pretty serious high powered aids for over 30 years & that does not solve it all by any stretch of the imagination. However, I have learned to survive pretty well so long as I don't run into folks that just can't seem to leave well enough alone. I have always wanted to learn to play the Violin & don't see why I could not learn to play. However, a supervisor at work who apparently is an accomplished musician (as he advises & who once owned a music store & provided lessons on varius instruments) told me that I would not ever be able to play the Violin since I was a deaf & dumb. His reasoning was that unlike the guitar that I play at which has frets, the Violin has no frets & therefore I would not be able to understand the sounds well enough to play without watching my fingers as they move along the frets that do not exist. However, I do not understand that because I do not watch my fingers when I play the guitar, piano, nor do I watch my tongue when I play the harp. Is there anyone out there who has heard of a hard of hearing person being able to learn to play the Vioin reasonably well?

Replies (30)

June 28, 2012 at 10:26 PM · John,

Thank you for the response. I am extremely optimisic about it, but I got that bit of information from the allegedly knowledgable supervisor & it had me worried. The bone conductor thing sounds very interesting. Where do you purchase those? I am not completely deaf, just a severe loss from 250 to say 750 HZ, then profound from say 750 to 4000 HZ with an apx 110+ db loss then a gradual rise up to 7000 HZ with only a 90 db loss apx. Plus sensitivity to loud noise, but music is fine. Two sons are accomplished brass & percussion musicians. I actually lik what I can hear without the aids, even though I miss out on a lot of the higher ranges. With the analog aids that I have worn for the past 30 plus years the sinsitivity is pretty serious & I just have to take them out. With the new digital ones that several folks including the job talked me into, the sinsitivity is not too bad because they suppress the noise, but the sound is definitely different. There is no question about the sound difference tat I hear with any of the aids being different than without, even if the digital ones sound strange. Well I probably did not answer your question, I can try again better if need be. Of course if the sound is loud enough or if I can feel it, without it being irritating, then I can probably hear it. On there other hand there are a lot of day to day sounds that I seem to flat out not be able to hear, even with the aids, even if the sound is right in front of me, unless it is loud enough & in just the right position & sometimes if I am aware that it is supposed to be there. Sounds wierd I know, they said I wasnot supposed to be able to talk, but like I said I adapted very well & pretty well survived even without aids until the job required that I get them over 30 years ago & it seems to keep getting worse. I actually take all the aids off around the home (sometimes to the dismay of my wife & family unfortunately) because I just can't take the day to day noise more than I have to (I don't know how you folks survive it), the sounds that I do hear unaided are much more pleasant, & of course I try to keep these things for as long as I can because they do not come cheap.

June 28, 2012 at 10:50 PM · I guess the question is, can you hear what you are playing in any sense? You don't need your eyes to play violin, but I think it would be nearly if not impossible to play well without any aural feedback to hear if what you are doing sounds like you want it to. But as long as you have some hearing I would think that it's worth a try. I taught a violinist several years ago who had partial hearing loss in one ear, almost full loss in the other ear, but she still had enough to learn to play reasonably well. For what it's worth!

June 29, 2012 at 12:07 AM · There are quite a few professional musicians around who have a serious hearing loss - sometimes even from birth, never mind amateurs. So please, please do not let anyone put you off your wish to try learning violin... You'll be amazed by how much you actually "hear" through your arms and most of all your chin from the vibrations.

June 29, 2012 at 04:29 AM · I would give it a go. An acoustic violin is surprisingly loud under the ear. It will be easier to hear this then the sound of people talking.

As has been pointed out, the electric violin is also an option but I would look at acoustic violins first. Go to a violin shop and try a few out after explaining the problem to them.

June 29, 2012 at 11:24 AM · More than the sound, the violin produce a lot of vibrations… Being nearly deaf, you must have developed a lot some other senses… I'm sure with some training you can know that you play in tune just by feeling the violin. What you'll need the most is a teacher aware of the difficulties you're going to have to overcome.

P.S: I'm usually not one to link to commercial and other video but, for the sake of sharing

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ect56804xfA

June 29, 2012 at 12:55 PM · Websites about Evelyn Glennie, the profoundly deaf percussionist, are worth looking at, perhaps starting with the

June 29, 2012 at 01:01 PM · Something strange has happened with my last post, and it won't even let me edit it!

Here is a slightly different version of what I intended (shows the advantage of making a back up before filing the post!):

Websites about Evelyn Glennie, the profoundly deaf percussionist, are worth looking at, perhaps starting with Wikipedia.

Some years ago I heard on the radio an item about a lady violist in one of London's "Big Five" orchestras (RPO?) who was profoundly deaf. She could hear the music through the vibrations of her instrument, presumably including the ability to sense the accuracy of her intonation. She would get cues from picking up on other people's playing actions, and the conductor (of course). Unfortunately, I have no further information. Perhaps there are some here who may have a better recollection?

June 29, 2012 at 03:00 PM · I'm curious, Dave, WHY you want to play the VIOLIN.

Is it because of what you hear when others play the violin? If that's the case, they I see no reason why you shouldn't give it a go.

My own hearing has been degrading over the years. At my last tests, my hearing below 1 KHz was about -30DB. It dives down above that to about 4 KHz. This is a really critical region for violin tone, where all the key overtones sound. But I did find an inexpensive hearing aid that I wear in my right ear when playing and it boosts the 1 - 4 KHz region enough to provide me with the sound I recall hearing from the same instruments many years ago.

I really had trouble believing that my hearing was down 30 DB, but when watching TV I sit 3 feet from a speaker and my wife sits across the room and she's always telling me to lower the sound - that's a factor of 100 (20DB) right there. So I guess the measurement was right.

At my last hearing check some years ago, there was enough time at the end for the technician to check my hearing in the right ear with the hearing aid in place and it did indeed give me about a 10DB boost in the 1 - 4 KHz range.

I think it would be worthwhile for you to have your hearing checked and get a graph of your hearing loss with the aids in your ears (each ear separately).

Andy

June 29, 2012 at 04:46 PM · I'm 17, play violin, was born completely deaf in my left ear, and performed in Carnegie Hall this past January. It is definitely possible!!! My goal is to open my own studio that specializes in teaching kids with disabilities, primarily hearing loss.

It's been hard at times, no doubt. When I was little, I had to stand at the end of the line at recitals or I couldn't hear myself. When I was a guest conductor, I couldn't hear the 1st violins. When I got a better violin, I realized I couldn't hear well enough to tune in orchestra without fine tuners.

But you definitely can do it!

I've done some research, and learned that many people with hearing loss can hear viola range better then the higher violin range.

June 29, 2012 at 06:29 PM · Dave, your supervisor sounds like a complete twit.

You seem to be well into adulthood with a good sense of your assets and liabilities. I don't hear you asking when to reserve Carnegie Hall for your debut recital. You want to learn violin, enjoy the journey and see how far you can get? Have at it. Find a teacher willing to help you rather than insult you a la supervisor, and get started.

June 30, 2012 at 01:10 AM · Do you know someone who has a violin, who would let you try playing it? You might not make a wonderful tone on your first attempt, but you would at least get some idea whether you can hear enough to enjoy it.

June 30, 2012 at 03:14 AM · leave that commercial alone Pirisino, that's a staged commercial. My mom know that girl personally, and trust me, she's anything but deaf. also, has you look at the way she hold the violin, completely wrong.

anyway, if you're hard of hearing but can still hear so why not go a head and try it out. It'll be fun.

June 30, 2012 at 06:02 AM · I know it's staged, it's obvious. But it's kinda nice nonetheless ;)

July 10, 2012 at 02:50 PM ·

July 10, 2012 at 11:55 PM · Thank you all.

Amy I am really impressed. Do not stop.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Although I have a profound loss, I pick up on a lot of things & have survived pretty well for that past 50 some odd years, unless someone is giving me the dickens about it. I can hear the Violin, apparently the supervisor thought I was too deaf to be able to play the Violin proficiantly. Never the less, over the years I have learned to play at several other instruments & for the most part on none of them do I watch my fingers or tongue or what ever it may be that controls the notes themselves on any given instrument. I just always wanted to learn to play just about all my life. When I was very young I knew an old guy who plyed at the Violin & I was intrigued. He always told me he would teach me, but he died before we got around to it. He had one son who was blind, yet a much better musician than I could ever dream of being, but he himself played the Violin. I just happened to end up with this supervisor & we were talking one day & he started talking about his past & music & apparently he is very good & so I asked him about learning & that is what he told me & for the reason given. I really need to find I Violin & a good & capable teacher unless I can tech myself as I have done on many things & try it out.

I am really interested in the bone conductors as that really sounds interesting. I am going to mention it to the Audiologist next time I am in her office, that is indeed intriguing.

Thank you again, all of you for your help & suggestions.

Dave

July 11, 2012 at 01:38 AM · http://aliciadoyle.com/deaf_pianist.html

December 31, 2012 at 06:31 PM · Dave,

Unfortunately for musicians with hearing loss, hearing aids are designed for speech recognition, not for music. The nature of sound of music is quite different, so the regular hearing aids usually do not help a lot. Technology is there (in fact was there in the 1980-es), but the producers still do not care for musicians or people who listen to music and have a hearing loss. Simply, they perceive that the profit is not there. (The situation will change when all those kids listening to their iPods damage their hearing; iHear will follow!)

Search for "Hearing Aids & music" and other articles written by Marshall Chasin. He is an expert in this field and I feel blessed that he lives in Toronto.

One of recommended solutions is to use "K-amp" analog hearing aid. You are lucky to live in the States and can still obtain one easily.

I have been recently testing Unitron Max 6 digital hearing aid with a “-6 dB/octave microphone” modified to avoid distortion before analog to digital converter. First impressions are encouraging - no distortion, even when playing surrounded by a symphonic orchestra (!) with richer and better sound processing; it may suit your hearing loss in the lower frequencies (up to 1kHz) quite well.

Above 6-8kHz, still no luck.... we are deprived from higher frequencies and the overtones that provide the best violin timbre quality. Also, below 100Hz, no help in amplification is available.

In any case, finding an audiologist and a technician that are sensitive to musician's hearing needs and willing to work with you is essential. You have to play your violin during the fitting session. Things like noise cancellation, feedback cancellation and all "smart" features have to be turned off in your music program.

One of the recommendations is to switch to viola - one fifth lower can make all the difference in sound spectra and you can enjoy music making more!

As per the bone audio headphones, they will not help you if your hearing loss is in the inner ear. I have not tried them, but it does make sense that a long exposure to loud sound conducted by bones may damage your inner ear and the remaining nerve receptors. No need you use them with your violin, because your collar bone and your chin will transfer the vibrations anyway.

December 31, 2012 at 08:00 PM · Well I'm no expert on this, but isn't it true that when you lose one of your senses that the others get stronger? I haven't played the violin in a while, but I know that with the viola and cello, you can feel the vibrations. Maybe in order to learn the violin, you have to use your sense of touch. Once you have the muscle memory down, it should be easier. The only thing I can recommend is to start using other senses to play. Itzhak Pearlman is handicapped, but he still learn to play, he just had to learn slightly different way.

December 31, 2012 at 10:31 PM · I had an HoH stand partner one time. She had great difficulty hearing anything except her own playing--couldn't judge balance or relative intonation, which made her rather a liability in the orchestra.

Alone, she sounded fine, because her aids and bone conduction gave her her own instrument, but in ensembles, not so much.

January 1, 2013 at 03:36 AM · Why not get a violin in position, draw a few open string notes and see how you feel about it? I think that will be the best way to determine how well you might learn. It's very likely that you will be able to hear the sound through your jawbone and it might work out just fine.

I don't think it's fair for anyone to tell you that you can't, so if it's something that you want to do, give yourself a chance and try it. You may be pleasantly surprised. All my best to you and best of luck in your endeavors!

January 1, 2013 at 03:44 AM · Hi Dave. I'm currently studying to become a professional musician in a few years time and I am moderately deaf. I wear hearing aids in both ears and I have just had to overcome my hearing loss and other people telling me what I can or can't do. The thing you need to ask yourself is do you believe you can do it? If that answer is 'yes' then you will do it. Nothing is impossible, hearing loss or not. Don't listen to other people telling you what you can or can't do - go with your heart.

With regards to the quality that aids give you - @Rocky - Have you had a 'music programme put onto your aids? It effectively shuts off all the fancy things like compression used to recognise speech in noise etc and gives a much more rich, far less distorted sound. If not, ask for this setting. It works wonders for me.

There is a surprising number of deaf or hard of hearing musicians out there. More and more people are 'coming out' about it so to speak - there has even been a BBC radio 4 documentary recently about composer Michael Berkeley which also featured another couple of deaf musicians including a professional soprano.

All I will say for now though is believe in yourself.

January 3, 2013 at 07:11 AM · I'm not going to add much except that it's hard enough with intact hearing to be able to play the violin especially with all of the infinite nuances inherent in interpretation of the music itself. However, let's remember that Beethoven became deaf and went on to write some of the most profound music ever written by a composer. As I remember he thundered away at his piano, used ear trumpets and vibrations to feel the music.

January 4, 2013 at 02:40 PM · Eloise,

yes, I have got 2 music programs and all those features are switched off.

My point is that, unless something changes in hearing aids design, musicians with hearing loss will stay deprived and limited in their sound perception. If properly setup, hearing aids may help up to the point, but a lot is still lost.

The beauty of the violin is in the strong fundamental sounds and rich overtones. With the best of luck, a good hearing aid will help you to hear the former, but (in most of the cases) not the later. Violin frequency range is from 196.00Hz to 3,136.00 Hz, but the overtones go way beyond 3kHz and are not handled with hearing aid.

Once one joins other musicians with different instruments, the situation gets more complex and impossible to cover with a digital hearing aid; frequency range goes beyond and below violin's. The dynamics and peaks go up to 120dB, which most of the hearing aids simply can not handle. So, in a chamber music setting the challenges are even bigger.

This is not to say that one should stop playing or never get stared. Quite contrary. But one needs to know the basic of the sound physics and the limitations of the digital hearing aids in order to have a realistic approach and avoid disappointments.

January 4, 2013 at 05:09 PM · I wonder what Beethoven would have to say about this. ;)

January 19, 2013 at 07:38 PM · Brave Dave, if it is your heart's desire to play do not let anyone disuade you. You'll find a way. My great grandfather lost hearing in the civil war. My Dad told me how he put a knife between his teeth and laid it on the violin to play. I'm guessing it had something to do with transmitting vibrations. It occurs to me maybe playing without a chin rest would put the jawbone in direct contact with the instrument. And so what if you had to look at it while playing. Or maybe you'll invent the first fretted violin? I've had a long journey back to playing after being told I'd never play again. There are no limits on the spirit. I look forward to reading more about your journey.

January 20, 2013 at 12:43 AM · I know violinists who wear hearing aids, but they learned to play before they lost their hearing. At the same time, they seem to do just fine now, so I assume they hear well enough, thanks to the hearing aids, to manage the fine gradations necessary to have good intonation, etc.

Will your hearing aid let you distinguish clearly between pitches? How refined -- what's the sensitivity to frequency differences? (For instance, can you hear the difference between an A-440 and an A-430?) As long as you can hear pitches properly, and, say, distinguish a clean tone from a squeaky tone, I would think that would be sufficient to learn to play...

February 15, 2013 at 09:38 PM · Dear Dave and Rocky:

My name is Wendy Cheng, and I'm a viola student. I am also the president for AAMHL, the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss. Our website is at http://www.aamhl.org

I came to my love of music for bowed strings (and the desire to draw the bow across the strings) late in life. I started on violin during my sophomore of college almost 30 years ago. I switched to viola about 10 years ago after realizing I wasn't discriminating pitches well with my cochlear implant when I attempted to play in fourth position on the E string. I had always hoped to master up to fifth position on the violin before then . . .but that was not to be . . .

Dave, I agree with Lisa that your supervisor sounds like a complete twit. Until you take the plunge and try, you won't know how you will do. Here are some tips on finding a a bowed instrument that might work for someone who was born, or grew up with a significant hearing loss.

a) Not all violins will vibrate strongly when your finger is on the right pitch. (Plus, my fingers aren't supersensitive to vibrations as some may be led to believe.) What have worked for me is to find a resonant violin, like a Doetsch violin, such that you can hear each of the ringing tones whenever you play the notes G, D, A and E. Learn to listen for those tones that ring.

b) For the remaining notes that do not have a ringing tone, develop a spatial memory. Develop the muscle memory in your left fingers

so that you know how far apart is the distance between notes. Learn about half steps and whole steps and the muscle distance between them.

c) I use an Iphone app called ClearTune to help me tune and to stay in tune until muscle memory for a piece sounds as good as it can be.

d) I've never used finger tapes extensively on the fingerboard, although that option has been available. If you find that it's too hard to stay in tune without finger tapes, by all means use them.

Hope this helps and you get this post even though it's been quite a while since your original.post. I just found the original post this afternoon and had to answer. :-)

---Wendy

February 17, 2013 at 03:41 AM · Wendy,

thank you for contributing to this thread.

In the meantime, after quite a few adjustments, I decided to keep

Unitron Max 6 digital hearing aid with a “-6 dB/octave microphone”.

It works well for music, both for performance and listening, even in amplified environments, such as noisy jazz concert.

It is a bit of disappointment in non-music environments (speech recognition), especially noise-cancelling and unidirectional microphone program, used in a busy restaurant or coctail-party setting when I want to hear the person in front of me.

My old Oticon Tego Pro works way better in those environments, but I guess one can not expect both in a hearing aid.

February 17, 2013 at 12:20 PM · John - as a last resort people can become a conductor, as hearing, sight, and general compus mentus are not required or avaialable with 99% of conductors ...

February 17, 2013 at 07:53 PM · I'll bet you could learn the violin if you really wanted to. (Think of Hellen Keller - she learned to talk!)

Your first problem would be playing in tune. If you can't hear, it will be hard. If I were you, my first step would be to get a tuner, and learn to play simple tunes with it as your intonation guide. Start slowly. You may need to start with little tapes on the finger board. Learn to feel, rather than hear, if you're in tune (yes, it sounds strange, but if you feel carefully, you'll notice that you can tell if you're in tune or not).

After you have the basic notes down, it shouldn't be to hard to advance.

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