How do the hearing impaired experience music?

December 5, 2014

“The mathematics of rhythm are universal, they don’t belong to any culture,” John McLaughlin


Rhythm is the pattern of regular or irregular pulses caused in music by the occurrence of strong and weak melodic and harmonic beats. The question is how do the hearing impaired experience rhythm and music? On the surface, music appears to be an art that can only be enjoyed using our sense of hearing. The truth is that music is not only enjoyed by people with hearing loss, there are also talented musicians and dancers who are hearing impaired.


Rhythm for those who cannot hear

There are various types and degrees of hearing loss. There is a wide spectrum of hearing between completely unable to hear and a normal ear. This means that each person’s experience of rhythm and music is personal and different. Many people think that those who suffer from hearing loss only experience music through vibrations. Everyone also experiences music on a physical level. Imagine a beating drum that mimics your heartbeat or the buzz when the bass is plucked.

Super senses

When a person loses the use of one of their senses the others become heightened. People with hearing loss become more sensitive to vibrations that  heighten their experience of rhythm.


How do cochlear implant recipients experience music and rhythm?

Cochlear implants have been designed primarily to transmit sounds that are important for speech recognition.

Thus, the implant does not transmit a replica of musical sound as we hear it through a normal ear, though it does provide a fairly normal representation of rhythm. Studies conducted at the Iowa Cochlear Implant Clinical Research Center (University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, department of otolaryngology) show that many people who use Cochlear Implants perceive the rhythm of music, or the “beat,” very well.

This might explain, in part, why some implanted teenagers say they prefer rap music, which consists mainly of rhythmically spoken lyrics over a steady beat, or why some adults enjoy dancing to music with a prominent and steady beat.[1] Check out our December Newsletter to watch the video of Kate Alwood (6) singing.

The enjoyment of music and rhythm is very personal but we can all agree that the pleasure it brings is unanimous.  With the help of an audiologist, people suffering from hearing loss can optimize their enjoyment of music.

[1] http://www.asha.org/

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