3 May 2021

Ringing in the ears? Music might be just what you need

| Ian Bushnell
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Kristen Sutcliffe

Kristen Sutcliffe is the bassoonist with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra and an audiologist. Photo: CSO.

The bad news for the 15 per cent of people who suffer from tinnitus – that annoying ringing in the ears – is that there is no cure. But the good news is it can be managed, and a free workshop on World Hearing Day tomorrow (Tuesday 3 March) will show how music can provide relief for what can be, quite literally, a maddening complaint.

Delivered by Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) bassoonist and practising audiologist Kristen Sutcliffe, in association with ACT Deafness Resource Centre, the workshop at the Hellenic Club, Woden will provide vital information about tinnitus and how music can help as sound therapy and as relaxation, with examples performed by classical guitarist Steve Allen.

Kristen, herself a tinnitus sufferer, has been conducting the CSO’s Rediscovering Music program for people with hearing loss for many years.

She says that one-in-six people will experience sporadic tinnitus and many cope well, but for 1-2 per cent of sufferers it can be so severe that it can make them suicidal.

Music can help, but not just any old music.

“Music has been shown to be really helpful but we have to be careful about the way we choose the music we’re listening to,” she said.

“We want something that’s not too loud, nice and gentle with no sudden changes, and it works best without lyrics.”

That’s because lyrics engage the language centre of the brain which can interfere with the therapeutic benefits of music, she says. A slow-flowing piece using acoustic – not electric – instruments works best. Strings are perfect.

Kristen says stress can also increase tinnitus symptoms, so music can be calming and relaxing, as well as masking the annoying ringing sound.

It was also beneficial to incorporate environmental sounds such as surf breaking on a beach, often used in hearing aids as a masking agent.

“Tinnitus is not something a lot of us know about,” she says. “It might be something you experience from time to time, you know it’s there but what is it? Sometimes it’s just that knowledge that can help people cope with it a bit better.”

ACT Deafness Resource Centre CEO Glenn Vermeulen said: “This is a wonderful opportunity for people to learn about music as a practical tool for tinnitus relief.”

The workshop will be captioned.

Music for managing tinnitus
6:00 pm, Tuesday, 3 March, Hellenic Club Woden
Free (registrations essential).

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