Does Hearing Loss Affect The Ability To Sing On Tune?

A patient recently asked me if developing a hearing loss would change their ability to sing or make it so they could not have the ability to sing on key. Well, my initial reaction was that it shouldn’t matter but I wasn’t quite sure so I thought I would research it more.

So will hearing loss affect your ability to sing in tuneSinging will not be affected by a typical gradually progressing sensorineural high-frequency hearing loss. However, significant low-frequency hearing loss, a sudden sensorineural hearing loss, or conductive hearing loss may change the way you hear your own voice and make it more difficult to sing on key.

There is surprisingly very little research available on this topic. In fact, I couldn’t really find any research and so I posed the question to 6 of my audiologist co-workers during lunch to see if we could come up with a consensus.

For Most Individuals, Hearing Loss Will Not Affect Singing

Hearing loss affect singing

The consensus of my colleagues and I is that for most people hearing loss does not affect your ability to sing on key for a couple of reasons.

  1. Hearing loss progresses very slowly over many years and the brain is automatically adapting to the new hearing ability in how you hear yourself compared to others without you ever noticing.
  2. Most hearing losses affect the high frequencies. In order to sing on key, you need to match the fundamental frequency in someone else’s voice or for a certain frequency of a key. Let’s take for instance middle C on the piano. The frequency of middle C is 262Hz.

In a hearing test, the lowest frequency that is tested is 250Hz. Most people have normal hearing at this frequency as humans tend to lose their high-frequency hearing first. If you have normal low-frequency hearing, you likely will not have difficulty with your singing ability.

Times In Which Changes In Hearing Have The Potential To Make It More Difficult To Sing On Key

There are three instances that I can think of in which your hearing loss may impact your ability to sing. There are two types of sudden hearing loss. The first would be a conductive loss in which the sound is unable to make its way to the cochlea (the organ of hearing). This is due to a physical problem with the ear such as earwax impaction, ear infections, fluid in the ear, or otosclerosis.

The second is when the cochlea itself is damaged immediately such as when you have a sudden sensorineural hearing loss due to a viral infection, inflammation, or head injury.

If you just had a sudden hearing loss please seek immediate medical attention as quick treatment with a steroid may help. A sudden sensorineural hearing loss immediately changes your hearing ability and thresholds. In addition to a change in hearing thresholds, sounds typically become distorted as well.

When you have a quick change in hearing your brain has not had time to learn what to expect in the environment and it will make it difficult to know what to expect. This will likely impact how you also hear your own voice and thus will impact singing.

With conductive hearing loss, your bone conduction scores remain good and you will naturally hear your own voice louder due to hearing your own vibration.

This is known as occlusion. It means your own voice sounds echoes or like you are speaking/singing with your head in a barrel. If you feel like your own voice has changed, it is that much harder to match your pitch to someone else’s even if your opposite ear is still normal.

Hearing Aids Often Change How You Hear Yourself

Just like how we talked about in the last section conductive hearing loss causes occlusion, and hearing aids also can cause occlusion when it plugs up your ear canal. See our article about overcoming occlusion in your own voice with hearing aids.

I have had many patients who report that they do just fine with singing with their hearing aids and other patients who prefer to pull their hearing aids out when singing.

I remember a recent patient who sang with the famous Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square here in Salt Lake City, who reported that they loved their open-fit RIC hearing aids and used them just fine when singing with the choir. However, another musician who had more occluding CIC hearing aids reports that they often did solos in church and chose to remove their hearing aids prior to singing.

As such, there is no straightforward answer as to if you should wear your hearing aids while singing or not. Remember, hearing aids are intended to amplify normal conversational speech and their focus is not on music. So the choice is yours to make. I would try to sing with my hearing aids and without them to see which one seems best to you.

If you choose to wear your hearing aids while you sing, it may take some re-training of your brain. Just like your piano teacher from many years ago would say “practice is essential” so don’t make the decision based off of 2 minutes of trying but instead give it a full effort.

Final Thoughts

As I said before, everything expressed in this article is my best guess as to how hearing loss affects singing ability, I am an expert on hearing aids but not on singing so take the advice for what it is worth. 

Furthermore, I could not find any research studies that have directly or indirectly answered this question. As with all questions, the answer to our question is it depends. 

Hearing loss may affect the singing ability and it may not. It depends on the amount, type, and frequency of your individual hearing loss.

Related Questions

Do musicians suffer from hearing loss? Musicians run a higher risk of hearing loss than the general public. The amount of loud noise exposure directly relates to most hearing losses and musicians by nature have been around more loud noise in bands and orchestras than the general public. However, noise affects each individual differently and it is possible for a musician to not have hearing loss while being around a lifetime of loud music exposure.

Can you sing if you are deaf? A pre-lingual deaf person will not be able to sing as they have never heard the speech or developed the ability to talk. If a person went deaf post-lingually or after they learned to speak, they would be able to sing and vocalize but not match another person’s tune or key.

Can a deaf person with cochlear implants sing? A recent study showed that “Children with cochlear implants showed significantly poorer performance in the pitch-based assessments than the normal-hearing children.” However, the study group had no problems with rhythm.

Jonathan Javid Au.D.

Jonathan Javid Au.D., a seasoned audiologist with an extensive background in the field of audiology. With over 11 years of invaluable clinical experience, Jonathan has dedicated his career to helping individuals enhance their hearing and improve their quality of life.

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