What is the Best Musical Instrument for People with Hearing Loss?


I just read a fascinating article by Marshall Chasin, AuD, who is the guru of musical knowledge in the Audiology community. He was explaining in an article for Hearing Review why the clarinet is by far the best to play. To me, it makes sense that when listening to music, it is also the easiest to hear and appreciate.

According to Dr. Chasin, the clarinet functions best in the low frequencies. In fact, all woodwinds (oboe, saxophone, and bassoon) share the same perceptual feature. That is, only the lower frequency sounds are required. One can filter or chop off all the higher frequency components of the clarinet and it would still sound the same. Musically, a woodwind player is interested in hearing the lower frequency inter-resonant breathiness and tone and as long as the lower frequency sounds are audible, that would be enough.

In contrast, a string instrument such as a violin has a much more broadband perceptive requirement. The musician needs to be able to hear the balance between the lower frequency fundamental energy and the higher frequency harmonic energy. In part, it is this balance that defines a Stradivarius and distinguishes it from a student model violin. A clarinet player only needs to hear the low end notes, despite being able to generate the higher frequency harmonics.

I started playing a clarinet in grade school and lasted only one year. I found the upper register too difficult to generate the “wind” of breath needed to play. I quit and went to guitar. In my adult years, I developed adult asthma, so it is possible that I had a “real” reason to dislike the clarinet rather than laziness.  We are also learning that the conventional settings on hearing aids is insufficient for appreciating music and that specific programming is needed to handle the width of the musical sounds. This is all making more sense.  And today, I really like listening to the clarinet and other woodwinds. It must be all the low frequencies.