Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Building the Musical Muscle

Limb, Charles, Dr. "Charles Limb: Building the Musical Muscle." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. N.p., Dec. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_limb_building_the_musical_muscle.html

When we think about our senses, we don’t tend to think about them in terms of using our senses to protect ourselves. Nowadays, our senses want beauty, not so much function.

Music is an acoustic vibration in the air that tickles our ear drum. The vibration transmits into energy through our hearing bone that gets converted into a fluid inside the cochlear. It then gets converted into an electrical signal in our auditory nerves and ends up in our brain as a perception.

Many people lose hearing at the cochlear level. According to Dr. Limb, as a surgeon, he would recommend losing hearing compared to another sense because it is scientifically the most advance in research. However, as a musician, he says that receiving a cochlear implant is very heartbreaking.

Scenario #1: A girl born deaf and is growing up in a very supportive environment. She has received cochlear implants and 10 years later, she is talking and responding to interview questions regarding a book she wrote about being deaf. The girl goes on speaking about the benefits of having a cochlear implant because she will remove it when she doesn’t want to listen.

Many cochlear implant users struggle to hear music because it sounds very bad. Language is very precise and we do not care whether or not it sounds pretty. Music on the other hand, it something we listen to because it sounds pretty. Dr. Limb’s goal is to design a cochlear implant with music as the ultimate goal and better pitch perception.

A demonstration using MIDI files compared a piece of music that was played normally and then the same piece of music that was randomly distorted to be at least one semitone away from the actual pitch. This demonstrated what cochlear implant users hear. Another demonstration illustrates that cochlear users cannot identify instruments apart. They cochlear implants lack the ability to distinguish the difference between sound and timber quality.

Scenario #2: Joseph is performing a piece of music on the piano after 3 years of receiving cochlear implants. Even though he received powerful hearing aids, they were not helping his learning process. Dr. Limb continues and says that people can play piano without cochlear implants because it is a matter of training the brain to press buttons at the right time. Even people like Beethoven, who couldn’t hear, music and the brain have a special hard wired relationship.

Dr. Limb concludes with the following idea that we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. The restoration of basic function is OK, but we want the restoration of beauty.

Dr. Limb speaks on the importance of having music as the ultimate goal when it comes to restoring hearing. Music is considered an aesthetic beauty and it is very important that we can share this ultimate beauty with everyone.

According to other research, Musical Pitch Discrimination by Cochlear Implant Users (Ping, Lichuan; Yuan Meng; Feng Haihong, May 2012), cochlear implant users can detect the presence of changes of pitch more accurately than they can perceive the direction of changes in the pitches. Clear and regular harmonic structure in the lower-frequency channels will help cochlear implant users with pitch discrimination. The performance will decrease when there is interference in the high-frequency channels.

As a student, I had classmates who were hard of hearing. The teacher would speak through a FM transmitter and they would have an interpreter in the class signing. I recall my classmates received hearing aids as they did a combination of reading our facial expressions and tried to listen to our pronunciation. They were integrated in our class during math, science/social studies and physical education. The other times, they had their own teacher which modified the curriculum to meet their needs in the other subject areas. After watching the video of the little girl who had fluent oral communication skills, it makes me wonder whether children who receive treatment early can become more successful at learning to speak.

If I have students with cochlear implants, I would ensure that I integrate the students into the classroom as much as possible so they have an opportunity to build social skills. With the advancement of science and technology, cochlear implants will become more accurate and these students can engage in music class. According to the study, if we use lower frequency channels, pitch distinction will become easier for the cochlear implant user. Even though that limits our musical exposure, it does allow cochlear implant users to participate in musical experiences.
Ping, Lichuan, Meng Yuan, and Haihong Feng. "Musical Pitch Discrimination by Cochlear Implant Users." The Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology 121.5 (2012): 328-36. Proquest. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <http://search.proquest.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/docview/1018153457/abstract?accountid=14771>.

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