By Hannah Beckett
This is not a sponsored post.
All piano technicians can relate to the unique stress of unwanted noises affecting their ability to work efficiently and effectively, especially those who may experience the same hearing condition as I do. I recently found a game-changing solution for reducing aural fatigue and intrusive sounds and would like to share my experience with the product so that other technicians can experience the increased quality of life that I have.
I really hate sounds.
Thumping, drumming, clicking, whirring, ticking, munching, smacking, popping, humming, and especially birds chirping: all of these sounds make me want to flee in the opposite direction. I already have a high startle response to normal sounds, and unnecessary repetitive noises trigger a flight response that turns into anxiety when I can’t remove myself from the situation. A repetitive birdcall that went on for months outside my window was enough to prompt a move. Think I’m overreacting? That’s what I thought for years too until I discovered the condition called misophonia.
As it turns out, many people have a heightened awareness of certain types and ranges of sound that can make navigating common, everyday situations more challenging. Like most conditions, there’s a spectrum of symptoms and experiences.
The best way I can explain my placement on the misophonia spectrum is that I hear things in layers. If I’m walking down the street with someone, I hear my feet on the pavement, the cars going by, the birds chirping, and of course, the person with whom I’m conversing. The problem is that I hear it all at top volume, and my brain churns into overdrive to process the many sounds and figure out which one is the priority. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to eliminate seven layers of sound to focus only on the most important layer: the person I’m talking to. The result is that I get tired. My patience levels dwindle as the aural fatigue sets in, and it becomes harder and harder to mask my frustration with the chaotic world around me.
I didn’t realize that I heard things differently from other people until I was well into my 20s and happened to pick up the book Musicophilia by Dr. Oliver Sacks, which I can’t recommend highly enough. The author’s work in the neuroscience field focuses on the way brains process sound, and Musicophilia chronicles his findings from patients whom he has worked with over many years. His book gave me the language I needed to be able to understand and talk about the way I hear and process sounds, ultimately leading me to my misophonia diagnosis. Suddenly, everything made sense, and I realized I hadn’t been imagining my neurodivergence at all.
Perhaps it was fate, but long before I knew I heard things differently, I found my way into a profession that allows me to put this challenge to fruitful use. My heightened awareness of sound found a home in our niche industry of piano technology, and now, instead of seeing it as a curse, I see it as a profitable advantage. Surprisingly, there is something very therapeutic about tuning when you have misophonia. Intensely focusing on one sound is relaxing for my brain, and because of this, I spent most of my career tuning without earplugs. I don’t play the notes very loudly when I tune, I use test blows very sparingly, and I don’t tune more than three pianos in a day.
While having a well-trained ear is the bedrock of being a good piano technician, this industry has also taught me the value of accepting and caring for my auditory needs as a normal part of life. The technician community has also proved to be a huge source of support and validation in my life around an issue that used to be a source of alienation. Now, instead of being made fun of by friends when I express an aversion to attending loud concerts, I have a community of friends who can actually empathize with me and love to compare notes about their unique hearing protection methods. While not all technicians struggle with misophonia, it is undeniable that a common characteristic of our motley crew is that we’re all aware of sounds in very unique ways.
Recently I purchased a pair of Loop earplugs in an effort to manage trips to Trader Joe’s at rush hour. I live in a densely populated area, and the chaos inside grocery stores with loud music and large crowds between the hours of 3-5 p.m. is particularly overwhelming for me. I bought the Loop Engage Plus model, which is designed to isolate the sound of voices and minimize competing frequencies. After breezing successfully through the grocery store for the first time in years, I realized I had found a loop-hole (see what I did there?) to the limiting nature of my misophonia.
At first, I only used them when I had to venture out into the world. I wore them in public spaces, on public transport, during social events, or at home to drown out neighborhood dogs and landscaping noises. In all situations, they allowed me to relax and focus on the task at hand without the additional stimuli causing chaos in my brain. But then, I found myself in a tuning situation we all dread: It was an upright Baldwin in a house on a busy road under construction, a lawnmower just outside the window, and people frequently talking in the room next to the piano. I decided to experiment and see if the Loops would isolate the piano. By the end of the appointment, I had a Baldwin that actually sounded better than usual and a full tank of patience still intact.
It was a complete game-changer. I now wear them regularly while tuning and have been experimenting with five other Loop-wearing technicians to see what superpowers we can unlock. So far, the earplugs have passed tuning tests for everything from barking dogs to loud children to kitchen appliances running at high speeds. I find they even make my tunings better on low-quality pianos. I can’t prove it, but they seem to weed out the noise from poor scaling or bad terminations - particularly in the treble. Furthermore, it makes back-to-back tunings and pitch raises ten times less fatiguing on the ears.
A pair of Loops is infinitely reusable and costs less than $50 - a price that is much more attainable than a lot of high-end earplugs on the market today. If you’re like me and are turning into a grumpy piano technician, consider getting a pair. Whether you wear them while tuning or just to engage with the world at large, giving yourself a break from sound is a great way for a tech to engage in some solid self-care.
But whatever you do, do not wear them at the dentist’s.