How to Listen to Music When You Really Can’t Hear

Mother Jones magazine has a great article on what music can mean to the deaf and those who have difficulty hearing.

You’ve just gotten home after a long day at work. You pour yourself some wine and put on one your favorite albums to listen to while you make dinner. Maybe it’s Dylan, a Mozart symphony, Taylor Swift’s 1989—no judgment. You hit play and turn up the volume, but something’s way off. Those perfectly crafted songs sound more like TV static than music, and there’s nothing you can do to fix it.

That scratchy, unpleasant noise is how music sounds to people whose failed hearing has been revived by a cochlear implant. Unlike a hearing aid, which amplifies sounds, these devices—implanted by a surgeon—convert sound into electrical signals and deliver them straight to the brain’s auditory nerve. It’s a solid choice for people who can’t be helped by hearing aids, drastically improving their ability to distinguish words in a conversation. Just witness this video of a deaf woman hearing for the first time.

But the implants can’t restore normal hearing: Voices often sound artificial, mechanical, even cartoonish. With music, it’s even worse. “It’s very disheartening for me to go to, let’s say, a piano concert and see on the program three pieces that I either know really well—or I actually not only know, but have played,” one implantee explains. “And they start up, and I’m thinking, which piece is this?” To get a sense, listen to the recordings below, courtesy of the Columbia Cochlear Implant Center, of the blues-country song “Milk Cow Blues.”

Go here to, um, hear.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “How to Listen to Music When You Really Can’t Hear

  • March 14, 2016 at 9:40 am

    I feel discouraged turning on a favourite album and knowing what i am missing … or worse listening to something with hearing aids and hating how it sounds. I can only hope if and when I get to the point where my hearing has degenerated to the point of needing implants, technology will improved enough to enjoy music the way it should be enjoyed.


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