**This is the second part of Shirley’s story. Read as she explains the strategies and methods she has adopted to compensate for her hearing loss, which have enabled her to continue learning and playing music. It’s an inspiring read and a testimony to sheer determination. Read part one here.
By Shirley Allott
I watched others playing harps, read harp books, looked online, and practiced and got used to the sound and vibrations. I also found a harp teacher who helped me to understand harp technique, playing chords, and rhythm.
I wanted to play music with others but I found sessions difficult as it is difficult for me to recognise and distinguish pitch. There were only occasionally other harps I could watch at the sessions I went to, so I needed to find other strategies. I could read music but I understood very little music theory. I needed to know how chords worked so I read and studied everything I could in books and online and I learnt how to play chords and I learnt which chords are used in each key and how these are played on guitar so I could watch the guitars. I came to recognise changes in vibration and tone within chord changes.
I found out about Community Music Victoria not long after I started playing the harp and this has really been helpful. Through Community Music Victoria, (CMVic) I learnt new ways of learning music and I gained confidence. I met so many people with different skills and experiences.
Rhythm has always been difficult for me. Before I started going to CMVic events I tried using a metronome for rhythm and I tried an app on my iPad with a flashing light. Both needed concentration and I couldn’t play while trying to hear a tick or watch a flashing light.
At CMVic events I realised I needed to feel rhythm. Marimbas were so helpful. I didn’t play one, but I realised I could feel rhythm as well as pitch through their vibration. I love having marimbas, drums or a double bass at a music gathering because I can feel the beat so well.
I have found that learning tunes can be a challenge as I learn by eye, and the feel of the tune, but not by ear. Music notation for me is easiest but it is not always available.
Through going to CMVic events I have learnt there are other ways of writing down a tune – letters or a chord list on a piece of paper or on a white or black board. Sometimes another person writes down an outline of a tune and I copy it.
Technology is also helpful. I can photograph a tune on a board and I can make a film clip of finger movements on a harp with my iPad. I can later play it back, slow the film down and watch as strings are plucked. I can also record a tune with an app which will give me an outline of the notation. Once I know how a tune goes and have played it a few times, I can play it without any notation, but not always as it is usually played.
I continue to watch others and feel vibration and rhythm and if I know what is in the music, I can adjust what I do.
I am also learning to record a tune on my iPhone or iPad and play it back using my hearing loop which delivers the sound directly to my hearing aids. I am still exploring what I can do with this technology. I have a streamer with my new hearing aids but I still need to explore the possibilities with this. I have recently completed therapeutic harp training with international harp therapy campus in the USA. I researched the harp and palliative care after my mother’s death and I found the international harp therapy campus with Christina Tourin. I learnt that as well as having a clear tone, the vibration of the harp is important in therapy.
If you are experiencing hearing loss Deafness Forum of Australia has a useful list of contacts, organisations and resources which may be of use to you.