Musi-CI: music as brain fitness in hearing training for cochlear implant users.

Authors: Joke Veltman1, Cilia Beijk2, Adinda Groenhuis3, Alex Hoetink3, Wendy Huinck2, Marjo Maas4, Huib Versnel3
1Stichting Musi-CI
2Department of Otorhinolaryngology, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen
3Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Head & Neck Surgery, University Medical Center Utrecht
4HAN University of Applied Sciences

Background: A cochlear implant (CI) allows people with severe hearing loss to hear again. While most CI users perceive speech quite well, they cannot enjoy music and even avoid it since the sound perceived through a CI is metallic and artificial. Music does no longer sound like music. Joke Veltman, pianist and CI user, is developing the Musi-CI training, a music hearing training for CI-users. She collaborates with a team of specialists. The main aim of this training is to let CI-users enjoy music. During an intensive training program, CI-users learn to explore music and push their music experience limits. More information:

Methods: During a three-month period, the Musi-CI training provides 8 sessions in small groups of adult post lingually deaf CI-users. The training consists of modules based on neurologic music therapy, the Ronnie Gardiner Method (RGM), aural training for amateur musicians, singing and dance.  Perception of musical beat – this gives an initial structuring of the musical sound – is the starting point of the training; rhythm is subsequently embedded. The perception of the atmosphere in music is deepened, because not so many details have to be recognized to feel and sense the ‘bigger message’ of music. As a result of the corona crisis the training is continued online, mainly via Zoom. Although the difficulties of understanding of speech and listening to music are more serious, many participants appreciate this initiative. The exercises in feeling the beat, clapping according to RGM, and assessing the atmosphere of music are the best possible.

Challenges: The perception of melodic contour is the hardest challenge for CI users. Frequent training is required to be able to train this. To meet this challenge with current CI settings, we are developing a serious game to train melody recognition. Our requirements for the design are incorporated by a game developer who is now building a pilot version, which we will test on the third group of CI-users in the Musi-CI training this autumn. Maybe new signal processing methods might better convey the melodic contour?

Results: Until now, most of all participants (± 30) report listening more often to music with more music enjoyment. The first group of participants reported this also 6 months after the training. Some participants report that before training, they were avoiding all confrontation with music or even daily sounds in general. Since the Musi-CI training, they have shifted to tolerating or even enjoying music.

Discussion/conclusion: We conclude CI-users feel a specific need for music therapy that in the current regular hearing therapy sessions is not sufficiently met. A combination of live Musi-CI training with serious games could significantly promote the self-motivation of participants. Games to train your abilities to follow the movements of melodic contour, to train to feel the beat of music and to discriminate timbres better would be a valuable addition.

If you want to get a more thorough experience of how music sounds with a CI, you can watch the
short film ‘Listening with an ARTificial ear’: