Saturday, March 22, 2014


More about my hearing

I was about to add the word "loss" to the title of this post before remembering that I intend to write about pitch distortion and not loss.  To explain, start with the musical scale.  Notes on the "tempered" scale are written A B C ... a b c ... a' b' c' ... for the various octaves.  In terms of frequency, the note written C and called "middle C" has a frequency of 261.6 hertz (beats per second).  Going up an octave, we have
  • c, an octave above middle C at twice the frequency: 523.3 hz
  • d = 587.3 hz 
  • e = 659.3 hz 
  • f =698.5 hz 
  • g =784 hz 
  • a = 880 hz 
  • a# or b-flat = 932.3 hz 
  • b = 987.8 hz 
  • c' = 1046.5 hz 
  • c"# = 1108.7

When I was a lot younger I had perfect pitch memory.  I could be away from music or any musical instrument for a week or more and yet, when I heard a musical note, I could identify it by name and octave range.  By the time I was 80 years old I realized that I had lost this ability to remember the pitch of a note.

In 2011 I had a serious automobile accident in which the air bags deployed with a deafening clap.  After spending a few days in a hospital recuperating I was at home.  I picked up a recorder (longitudinal flute, called Blockflote in German) whose pitch range runs frof F (349.2 hz) to f' (1396.9 hz).  As I played the scale I noticed that the notes from b (987.8 hz) to the upper end of the range were out of tune.  The note c' didn't sound like it should, but a minor third higher in pitch; that is, I used the fingering for c' and heard the note as e' flat (1244.5 hz).  The higher notes were consistent with each other.  It was as though my mental musical scale had a gap in it, starting at a frequency of about 1000 hz.  Notes above that pitch sounded and still sound today displaced upward in pitch by a minor third or in frequency by a factor of the fourth root of 2.  The tempered scale consists of notes that differ in frequency by the twelfth root of 2.  Thus, an octave consists of frequency intervals of that amount to distribute the twelve separate notes evenly in our perception of pitch.

I have not lost the ability to hear the high notes above 1000 hertz but instead I hear them at the wrong pitch.  Hence, there are many of my favorite musical pieces that I can no longer enjoy listening to.  I have to remember what they sound like.  A good example is the violin concerto by Mendelssohn, particularly the third movement when the violin skips around the high c note.

If anyone reads this post and has any idea as to what specifically happened to my hearing, I'd appreciate a comment.
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