Helping people with hearing loss appreciate music

Music is all around us – in the wind, in the air, in the rain – and is an important part of our lives. Now, a new tool developed by a team of scientists, at the University of Southampton, can help people with severe hearing loss appreciate music.

Now, a new tool developed by a team of scientists at the University of Southampton, can help people with severe hearing loss appreciate music.

The computer-based Interactive Music Awareness Programme (IMAP) – now available through the website, www.morefrommusic.org – to help cochlear implant users to distinguish, recognise and appreciate different musical sounds. Special software available via the website The programme has been downloaded more than 300 times by cochlear implant users, hearing aid users and professionals who work with them. The exercises are also used in workshops organised by the University of Southampton Auditory Implant Service.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers, led by Dr Rachel van Besouw, is working directly to help those with severe to profound hearing loss to perceive music through their cochlear implant using a unique and innovative online tool,” says Dr Benjamin Oliver, Lecturer in Composition and collaborator on the project.

Music is a fundamental element of our world but for those with cochlear implants, the ability to hear and enjoy music can prove disappointing.

Music is a fundamental element of our world, but for those with cochlear implants, the ability to hear and enjoy music can prove disappointing.

Although people with mild hearing loss can still hear music, those with severe to profound hearing loss may suffer severe loss listening to music. For them it is rather like seeing a beautiful picture pixellated. Now, thanks to research, an online tool is available to help those with a cochlear implant begin to perceive and appreciate music – many for the first time in their lives.

To inform the development of IMAP, the team held workshops with cochlear implant users to gain a better understanding of the music styles and structures that can be appreciated by people with an implant. Drawn from across the University, the collaborators included a hearing scientist, an audiologist, musicians, a composer and music therapist from Southampton’s Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, Auditory Implant Service and Music department.

“Amongst cochlear implant users, often the first thing they want to access is speech and to be able to communicate with other people but many people are often interested in accessing music too. This can be tricky because music through a cochlear implant is a very different experience from what it would be like for a normally hearing listener. However, research suggests that increased engagement with music can really help people with a cochlear implant to gain enjoyment from music,” explains Dr Oliver.

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