Do any of you need a hearing device to hear your intonation?

Edited: May 13, 2019, 10:47 PM · I have some documented hearing loss. Mild in the middle spectrums, and moderate on both ends. So, I've been trying to suss out a new violin that I can better hear my ringtones to improve my intonation.

Have tried probably at least 6 in home, and 10 at shops.

Yesterday, I found a small "personal amplifier" in my bedroom, that I'd bought years ago. Something like $5-10 at a local electronics store, probably in the "As Seen On TV" bin.

I replaced the batteries, scrubbed out the corrosion, clipped it to my belt on my right side, turned up the volume, and VOILA, ringtones.

I had been trying a cheapo in-ear amplifier until now, and not so great in this department. Now I can chill a bit.

Anyone else having this problem, needing a hearing assist to find your intonation? Any problems you run into when using them to perform?

What kind do you use?


Replies (12)

Edited: May 13, 2019, 9:05 PM · If you have a diagnosed hearing loss, hearing aid is the way to go. One needs to be able to hear fundamental frequency. Overtones (sound envelope) have more to do with timbre than intonation. For example, overtones of a flute sound differ from violin's - that is how we distinguish between those 2 instruments.
440Hz (fundamental frequency) is the same on both instruments and all possible instruments - has nothing to do with "ringtones".
May 13, 2019, 9:26 PM · I'm going to assume that your hearing is OK. If you actually have hearing loss, then that's a whole different situation.

People who have played since they were little acquire the ability to hear themselves without realizing they have acquired it, so they assume that something is wrong with someone who can't do this, but it takes a surprising amount of time to acquire this skill as an adult. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you haven't been playing all that long. Amplifying your sound would discombobulate your perception enough to help you "hear" the intervals. Whatever works! And it is true that a violin played in tune does resonate differently than one played out-of-tune, so that could be what you mean by "ringtones."

I have recorded a lot of singers, and something I have noticed with the REALLY great singers who haven't been trained traditionally is that their voice so completely fills their heads--their bones are ringing!--and they have trouble hearing anything else. Not unlike a violinist with a fiddle under their jaw. I just had a guy here who sounds like Roy Orbison, but often about 20 cents sharp--he is much closer in pitch if he is playing his guitar live, but that's not how you make a record. I just tuned him. These singers have to learn how to listen and tune their voice to what is coming in from their guitar, or their headphones, or whatever, and it's not easy to do when your whole skull is resonating.

Any of us who have been through a traditional professional music training regimen has spent hours and hours in ear training. If you haven't done this, then you are finding those recognizable sounds by amplifying yourself. Recording and listening back is also useful in this sense. Give yourself time and be patient. You will get it in spite of your conscious efforts--it is something that is difficult if you are focusing on little details, and you might get worse as you work at it, before it falls into place. Tune and tune and tune. People here are horrified when I say this, but working with a decent chromatic tuner on your music stand can help too. Yeah, yeah, the major thirds are wide and the fifths are short--it may be closer than you are getting without it. You can listen to the equal tempered intervals that the tuner says are in tune, and then let your ear do it better. By the way, one way you can trick a tuner is to play a double-stop. Playing the individual notes of a perfect fifth will make the top note flat with a tuner, but if you play the interval as a double stop, the tuner will respond more accurately. You have to get the sound of being in tune into your ears, memory, and build the proprioception necessary to get your intonation up to snuff.

I wouldn't ever use something like this in performance, and it's weird to me to see violinist/fiddlers with a tuner clamped to their violin. I mean, if you are putting it out there, get your ear in shape. But in practice, I think you do whatever gets you the next step.

May 13, 2019, 10:17 PM · I changed my OP at top. I do have documented hearing loss. Sorry, failed to mention that. I wasn't just looking for some gimmick.

I use the term "ringtones", perhaps incorrectly. But I meant the sound when the instrument is played in tune, and the sometimes feel under the finger (maybe just feel to my ear, but....) I do notice that my intonation is MUCH better using a hearing device. I more instinctively go to the right finger position, even if I don't land exactly right at first. Before, sometimes I wouldn't know which way to adjust, thinking I'd landed flat and needed to move sharp, when actually I'd landed sharp.

Yes, I haven't been playing that long. Well, 16 years poorly self taught, with many long gaps in playing, and now concerted lessons the last 9 months or so.

Tuning - I'm much more able to hear if things are out of tune now (talking about on the open strings, not intonation), but my sense is better on the E string and gets worse as I move to the G string.

Interesting point on singers. I belt when I sing, particularly some notes that are a reach for me, and can't hear much else when I do that, and I have very little singing training.

Edited: May 13, 2019, 11:46 PM · There is an online hearing test:
that you can use to test your hearing. For most hearing problems the results you will get will agree with what a professional audiologist will measure. I know I've used it and it agreed with 2 pro testers. I do wear digital hearing aids now. Most of the cheaper hearing enhancement devices enhance just a small frequency range around 1 KHz. From what I have seen and observed in others, I'd say that if the results of this test show that your hearing is not degraded more than -20 DB over the range from about 200 to 2,000 Hz you are probably OK for music but if it is worse it is probably worth checking further.

My experience has been that one's hearing has to reach a certain level to get clear resolution of pitch - I won't get into why that is likely. The best my hearing aids do is get it up to that level somewhere within the range I mention above - at higher frequencies it rapidly degrades.

I understand that full-function digital hearing aids will be available without prescription for about 1/4 the CostCo price later this year (the CostCo price tends to run about 1/2 what audiologists charge).

I read the memoir of a Julliard-trained musician who is now a percussionist with ther San Francisco Opera Orchestra who is functionally tone-deaf ("STICKING IT OUT" by Patti Niemi).

May 14, 2019, 7:58 AM · Where did you read this about the 1/4 cost hearing aids. I think the hearing aid industry is predatory. Absolutely no reason for hearing devices to be that expensive.
May 14, 2019, 9:04 AM · David, you are certainly correct about the predatory pricing of prescription-required hearing aids. I have read they are actually worth around $250 even though they may cost 10 times more. The current issue of Consumer Reports has an article on "Sound Advice About Hearing Loss." I did miss-quote a price point, which was not given and schedule. "A 2017 law calls for the creation of a new entry-level category of hearing aid, which will be available over the counter." Rules and regulations for this are not expected before at least August 2020. "Last fall the FDA approved the marketing of the Bose Hearing Aid, the first self-fitting hearing device." "Bose doesn't have a release date yet."

When my digital hearing aids were first fitted at CostCo I found the result unbearable and useless. I had to go back and have them seriously "detuned."

After I found the on-line hearing test I mentioned above I was able to measure my own hearing deficit to compare with the professionally generated audiograph and then use my over-the-ear headphones to also measure my hearing while wearing my hearing aids. With this information I was able to return to CostCo and tell the audiologist exactly how many DB more or less I wanted at each adjustable frequency. I've kept it at that level for the past 18 months. Not perfect, but very functional. Otherwise I'd be as deaf as my grandfather was. I've been using these hearing aids for at least 16 hours every day for the past 4 years.

Edited: May 14, 2019, 10:16 AM · This is a really good thread, thanks for starting it David. Couple of things to add.

1) If you're a Costco member (or friends with one), schedule a free hearing test at Costco. You'll get good data on your hearing, good advice and there's no pressure to buy anything because their audiologists are not paid commission. A good reason to do this is that for a lot of people, their hearing loss is greater than they know (because they're gotten used to it).

If you do need a hearing aid, Costco's prices are around one-third of the rididulous prices that most audiologists charge for exactly the same brands and models. And Costco's policies are consumer friendly.

2) If your hearing loss is mild to moderate, you probably don't need anything high-tech or expensive. Just a simple analog amplifying hearing aid (sometimes called "personal amplifier" or "hearing amplifier") might be all you need. They're inexpensive unless you want something very small and hidden.

3) The devices sold as "personal amplifiers" really are simple hearing aids, but some states have regulations that make it illegal to call them hearing aids unless they are sold by an audiologist (It is not hard to imagine who lobbied to pass these rules).

Anyway, there's no downside to trying a "personal amplifier" from Amazon or Ebay but make sure you buy from someone who has a return policy.

Edited: May 14, 2019, 1:30 PM · Hearing aids are designed for speech recognition and most of them are not useful for music. The main limitation is the input, but also DAC, digital to audio converter. Although computer power is making miracles, results are still way behind natural hearing of music. Do not be fooled by "music" programs. See articles written by Dr. Marshall Chasin or visit his web site. It appears that analog hearing devices, although primitive for speech, did a better job for music.
May 14, 2019, 2:48 PM · I found my cheapo Amazon in-ear device to be a VERY good alarm system to alert me to double stops or drones that were not up to snuff. Unless one LIKES distortion that is. Some people pay good money for pedals that will do that.
May 14, 2019, 3:04 PM · My 4 year old CostCo digital hearing aid seems to me treating me OK for music, both listening and playing.
May 14, 2019, 4:21 PM · Andrew, what brand/model?
Edited: May 14, 2019, 5:22 PM · David, my hearing aid is the CostCo house brand, Kirkland. A behind-the-ear model that cost me about $2000 for my two ears. CostCo provides lifetime free service and will replace the devices free during the first 2 years if you damage or lose them.

The price has reduced about $200 since I bought mine 4 years ago, probably because it now links by bluetooth for adjustments (such as they are) to your own smart phone instead of a device they provide with it. The price listed in the current Consumer Reports is $400 less than I paid.

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