What I Wished: My Music Teachers Knew

By Cheng, Wendy | Volta Voices, July/August 2012 | Go to article overview

What I Wished: My Music Teachers Knew


Cheng, Wendy, Volta Voices


People with hearing loss are fully capable of learning and playing music. With the right support, students with hearing loss should be able to learn to play an instrument well and be able to play with others. Based on my experience, I hope to provide some practical tips for parents and music teachers to encourage musical development in the next generation of students with hearing loss. I only hope their musical journey(s) will have less hurdles then my own.

Whenever I think back to the public school music teachers I met during my K-12 years, I think, "so many opportunities lost." Lost opportunities that I regret, especially for someone who is an athletic/scientific/mathematical klutz but who has music in her soul. Lost opportunities that I can only try to capture as an adult music student.

Growing up, I wore a hearing aid in my left ear but I did not know about and did not use assistive listening devices (ALDs). I was often filled with anxiety when my fourth grade music teacher walked around the room or when I was facing her back and not her lips. And because fourth grade recorder class was so stressful, I made a painful decision not to join junior high school band even though I passed a required musical aptitude test with flying colors and was eligible to participate. I did not realize then that band instructors normally conduct band class standing in one place or sitting in one chair and did not walk around as much.

In high school, I fell in love with the sound of the violin. By that time, I had four years of classical piano under my belt but to me, piano has always been Mom's instrument and not MY instrument. Many people, including my piano teacher and some string teachers, tried to dissuade me from learning the violin because the intonation requirements for mastering the violin were so high. In my senior year of high school, I passed the audition to join an all-girls choir but was subsequently asked to leave because I was not singing in tune with the alto section.

I finally learned about ALDs just before high school graduation and my parents purchased an FM system for me before I started college. I began violin lessons as a college sophomore and I insisted that my instructors used the transmitter unit of the FM system during my private lessons while I wore the receiver unit. I stopped taking lessons while attending graduate school, but went back to lessons once I was gainfully employed after graduation.

Based on the above experiences, these are my tips for parents and music educators who work with children with hearing loss:

Speak the Same Language. Parents should realize that audiologists and music educators will use different terminology to describe the same thing. Most audiologists do not have a musical background, so instead of asking the audiologist to adjust the hearing device "so notes an octave above middle C need to be louder or less tinny," it might be more helpful to say that notes between 262 Hz to 523 Hz needs to be adjusted for loudness and timbre. You can find note-frequency conversion charts on the web similar to this one: http://onefryshort.org/images/frequency_chart_lg.gif.

Understand the Limits of Technology. All music educators need to understand the limitations of cochlear implants and hearing aids. These devices by themselves are often effective only if the music teacher is standing close to the student. They can lose their effectiveness if a teacher moves more than a few feet away. Even with aided hearing, a student's ability to hear at a distance or hear soft whispers will never equal what one who has typical hearing is able to hear. Secondly, these devices amplify everything. This has ramifications on how the student will perform in music class.

The most challenging task that music instructors will need to remember is that they cannot talk over music that is being played. In group rehearsals and private lessons, most music teachers are used to giving verbal feedback while the students are playing. …

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