Music enriches our lives, says renowned blues musician and cochlear implant recipient Richard Reed, whose music experiences after implantation weren’t easy. But some simple strategies paid off. Richard shares his tips to help you find music in your life.
Music is everywhere in the world. It enriches our lives and accompanies our rituals – from birthdays to weddings and beyond.
But for many cochlear implant recipients, whether you’re trying to experience music for the first time or reconnecting with it, enjoying music can often require time and effort.
For Richard Reed, a professional musician, finding ways to reconnect with music after experiencing hearing loss and becoming a cochlear implant recipient, was crucial.
Music has always been Richard’s life. After joining his brother Tom’s band at the age of 12 as an organ player and playing at school dances and local concerts. Before long they started touring and playing nightclub gigs and concerts.
Richard joined musical greats at major gigs across the US – the San Francisco Blues Festival with renowned guitarist Otis Rush and the New Orleans Jazz Fest with Earl King. He toured with Junior Walker & the All Stars and many other R&B, blues and rock bands.
It’s ironic then, that an antibiotic rather than loud music destroyed Richard’s hearing.
“Music was the one thing that might have consoled me when everyone and everything else went so oddly noisily quiet, but that was gone, too,” says the musician.
“When I first got my cochlear implant, music sounded like a wall of loud, rhythmic white noise. And singing sounded like a bunch of cartoon weasels arguing.”
After 10 years of hearing loss, Richard was ready to get the music back, but he realized “a cochlear implant recipient’s brain needs to re-learn how to interpret sounds.”
“You use a different part of your brain to process music, so music and singing can be demanding with a cochlear implant. Pitch is different, timbre is different, even acoustic instruments can sound electric. It’s a whole new challenge.”
Richard says simple and familiar melodies will always be the gold standard for initial forays into music with a cochlear implant.
“Once in a while, try listening to different versions of a song from your childhood. There’s a nice rendition of ‘Peter and the Wolf’ on Spotify with narration by David Bowie (there are snippets on YouTube).”
Richard also learned to enjoy listening to new pieces by favorite artists: “I discovered new simple music that I hadn’t heard before, but in a style that I had always loved.”
“Music might not sound the way you remember it, but don’t be disheartened. Take this challenge as your chance to make new favorites, to find music where you don’t expect it,” he says.
Richard’s 10 tips to reconnect with music:
- Begin with simple music – a plain melody performed on just one or two instruments. Rich, complex sounds are harder to understand.
- Try familiar music initially rather than new pieces. Gradually introduce new but similar music and extend your library slowly. Repeated listening is one of the big keys to success. Sometimes we have to find music merely tolerable before finding it enjoyable.
- Some late-deafened cochlear implant recipients find it difficult to enjoy familiar music because it suddenly seems so different. Start with a new song in a similar style, perhaps by a favorite artist. Slowly try to appreciate new favorites.
- Be prepared to experiment; try not to let genre matter too much.
- Attend outdoor concerts; the sound doesn’t bounce around like it does in clubs, places of worship or cavernous auditoriums.
- Invite family or friends to a concert for an experiment. You can control your personal acoustics using your remote assistant and where you sit. Pick out a musician or instrument, focus on them for a whole song, then switch and trade text critiques with your friends.
- Drums and rhythm instruments are noisy, but they’re also among the most natural sounding for many cochlear implant recipients. Try to increase your tolerance of percussion instruments in a live setting where you can get further away from the stage while still able to watch the drummer.
- Consider listening to difficult pieces occasionally, or try a challenging environment, as a way of making simpler music “easy” by comparison.
- Learn to love the music in the everyday sounds around you. These may not be ‘music’ as we normally think of it but there is joy in learning to hear and appreciate the musicality in the world.
- Grab an instrument and start playing. Find a range of notes that you enjoy – there may not be many at first – but it only takes two or three that don’t sound so strange to be on your way.
For more ways to reconnect with the joy of music again, check out Bring Back the Beat, a music appreciation learning app!