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I have a question I'm hoping someone may be able to help with. I'm 52 years old and have been a professional musician all my life. I play violin, viola and cello and these days do mostly remote session playing. Intonation has never in the past been a major problem for me but as I get older I'm finding an increasing number of intonation mistakes when editing my own material that only become apparent when I layer parts. I have also noticed that I find conversation difficult without facing a person and am unable to hear high pitched noises that other people can. I acknowledge that I'm probably losing some high end hearing, a consequence of a lifetime listening to unmastered music on headphones. Does anyone know if there is a link between this kind of deafness and the ability to accurately intonate? Thanks.

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    It's not clear exactly what you mean by "intonation problems," nor whether you observe these in any particular range of pitches. Certainly if you can neither hear nor feel (for very low pitches) a note, it's a lot harder to ensure pitch accuracy. – Carl Witthoft Dec 17 '18 at 13:29
  • Thanks Carl, I am frequently required to multitrack a number of instruments together. Sometimes playing the same notes. Whilst playing I dont hear any problems, but Im monitoring on headphones. Standard practice for studio string players is to do this with one headphone on and one off the ear, this is what I do. On listening back to check the piece with standard speakers I find I can hear that some of the instruments that I`ve recorded are not always in tune. It tends to be that they are often sharp rather than flat and it seems to be most noticeable in higher parts, that is in the violins. – velvetcave Dec 17 '18 at 15:00
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    You really should see an Audiologist or Otolaryngologist. Hearing loss can easily be diagnosed and quantified. In some cases it's treatable. – Hilmar Dec 17 '18 at 17:29
  • So, I've been working all day with a +5db boost above 10kHz on my guide tracks which through self testing is roughly where my hearing tails off. So far I've seen a big improvement, particularly in ambiguity of intonation whilst I'm playing. If the solution is this simple I'll be very relieved. – velvetcave Dec 18 '18 at 15:30
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velvetcave, I also have high end hearing loss. I use hearing aids to help bring the high ends back in, that said, my hearing loss SOMETIMES causes me NOT to hear certain notes which will screw up my intonation. I still play, but wear my hearing ends and over the ear headphones, instead of in-ears and I find my intonation to be good as always! I second the advice to have your hearing checked. If you're near a Costco, they'll do it for free AND their hearing aids (Kirkland brand) are at least a thousand dollars cheaper (per pair) than other brands and work just as well !!

  • Thanks KoshVorlon. I`ll get it checked in January, it's usually a quiet time for my work. Sadly no Costco in the UK but I'd be surprised if I couldn't get hold of the aids you recommend. I'll see what the test throws up. – velvetcave Dec 27 '18 at 16:24
  • Velvetcave Actually, there ARE Costco stores in the U. K. costco.co.uk – KoshVorlon Dec 27 '18 at 18:15
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I think what's happening is this:

  1. Your hearing gets weaker.
  2. You turn up the (right-ear only) headphone louder than you used to, so you hear the backing well.
  3. As a result of 1.+2., now only your left ear hears your instrument properly, and only your right ear hears the backing. Whereas when your hearing was better, the left ear also still caught some of the instrument's direct sound.
  4. Relative pitch perception gets worse. It's well established that a single ear can detect pitch differences more accurately than two ears separately can. A single ear with two signals will receive the beat of the difference between the frequencies; with two individual ears this does not work. Even if you also have your mic in the right-ear phone, this won't come through as well as it would in a properly balanced two-ears mix.

Fortunately, this problem can be solved easily: just abolish the one-ear monitoring technique. I've never found that to work well anyways, even with good hearing.

In fact I believe the only reason that method is standard is because studios used to have not enough buses to give every musician (in particular, everyone in a whole string section!) their own monitor mix. One-ear headphone is then a simple hack that allows everybody to share the same mix. But nowadays with digital consoles, that's not an issue anymore, and particularly not when you're playing alone anyways. So just set up a proper monitor mix for both ears, and use normal headphones or in-ears.

  • That sounds very sensible and reasonable advice, thanks. It's interesting, I used to have the left earpiece only partly off, so I was getting some mixed signal and some direct instrument sound on the left, with full mixed signal sound on the right. As I noticed my pitch perception deteriorating I switched to only having the right earpiece on (also adjusted the balance so no signal was going to the left, added advantage of reducing bleed). I`m certainly going to try this. – velvetcave Dec 27 '18 at 16:20

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