Tag Archives: Hearing loss

Learning to play music and deal with hearing loss: Part Two


**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.

Shirley and her harp at Treetops 2015
Shirley and her harp at Treetops 2015

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.

Learning to play music and deal with hearing loss: Part One

DealingwithhearinglossBy Shirley Allott

I was born with normal hearing and attended school and did nursing training without any problems. Music education was not part of my upbringing even though my father played harmonica and concertina and my brother learnt mandolin. I taught myself to play the recorder and to read music and I sometimes played with my father and brother in family music sessions. However, my main interest was painting and textile arts.

As an adult I had some piano lessons with my children, and then we all had accordion lessons but I continued to find relaxation in textile art.

When my children were finishing school I decided it was time to get my bachelor of nursing so I went  to university and over several years completed a number of degrees in the health sciences. By this time, I was starting to experience difficulty with hearing which made lectures and tutorials difficult but I still managed to do well.

While at university, both my older children became involved in historical re-enactment. I was fascinated and got involved too. With my knowledge of textiles I made costumes for myself and for others. I went to a feast where I heard medieval music being played and I was fascinated.  I brought out and dusted off my recorder and started to play again. My daughter decided to teach herself violin and she and I played music together. She started to have a monthly session at her place with friends.

My daughter knew I was having difficulty hearing and she would always face me whilst we played. I really enjoyed these times.

My daughter decided to leave university, and do an apprenticeship as a baker, then she moved to Western Australia with her partner. I missed her desperately, and our times playing music together, as well as her support with my hearing loss.

As a response, I took up a new challenge: English concertina and went to Celtic Southern Cross Summer school. I experienced playing music with others and loved it.

Over the next couple of years my hearing loss markedly increased and I found myself withdrawing socially. I stopped going out with friends and going to gatherings. I was embarrassed as I often had to ask people to repeat what they had said. I’d looked into hearing aids but they were very expensive, far too expensive I thought. George (Shirley’s partner) was very supportive and encouraged me to get hearing aids. I think he was finding communicating with me difficult.

There was a period of adjustment to the aids and I could engage socially again. I found the concertina became difficult to play as I heard a different sound with my hearing aids and the concertina echoed.

I wanted to play music so I needed to find an instrument that would work with hearing aids and to find a way of dealing with the change I was experiencing with sound through wearing the hearing aids.

I was at an event in Western Australia when I met a lady  playing a harp and she invited me to have a go. I had bought a harp a couple of years previously at Maldon folk festival but I hadn’t done anything with it. I realised as I plucked the strings that I could both hear and feel the vibration of the harp, and I knew that when I got home I would have to learn to play my harp.

Read in part two about how Shirley learned to play the harp using determination and technology too, and Shirley’s insights into the benefits of playing the harp for a hearing impaired person. Part two is here!