Plasticity – train your ears


Plasticity is a pitch discrimination game — that is, a game which tests and improves your ability to distinguish between similar sounds based on their frequency (pitch). You hear two sounds, which may have the same or different frequency (with 50-50 probability) and your job is to say whether they have the same frequency or different frequencies. At first, the differences are fairly obvious, but as you level up, they become smaller and smaller, which makes your job harder.

Plasticity can be a fun game to play (at least, if you believe some of my friends). In addition, it might be helpful if you want to improve your pitch discrimination skills – for example, if you’re a musician.

Plasticity is based on the Firefox Audio API and, as such, requires Firefox 4 or higher. Plasticity uses the HTML5 Web Audio API. It has been tested to work (at least) in recent versions of Chrome and Firefox.

I wrote Plasticity to treat my tinnitus (a phantom sound in my head). The idea was to re-wire the auditory cortex in my brain through repeated training in order to change my perception of the tinnitus sound. The name “Plasticity” refers to cortical plasticity – the ability of the cortex to reorganize in response to stimuli. Did Plasticity help my tinnitus? Well, I no longer have a tinnitus problem, though I am not sure to what extent Plasticity contributed to the improvement. If you have tinnitus (especially pure-tone tinnitus), you might as well give it a try. Here are some tips on how to use Plasticity for tinnitus.

Feedback request

If you’re using Plasticity for your tinnitus, don’t forget to post a comment below. I want to know how it went!

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25 responses to “Plasticity – train your ears

  1. Why is there such a low upper limit on the frequency range? 10548 or something? Thanks.

    • Human hearing has a large dropoff in sensitivity above 10,000 Hz. Tones above that frequency sound very quiet and there’s not much you can do about it, even if you try to equalize perceived volume. This makes it difficult to tell the difference between sounds at those frequencies. If frequencies above 10,000 Hz were allowed, user performance would be very uneven. On an easy level, it would look like this: lots of easy questions interspersed with really hard ones (those above 10,000 Hz). I tested this and it doesn’t make for a very enjoyable experience.
      In fact, unless you target a particular frequency, the limit is even lower: about 7900 Hz.
      Is the 10,000 Hz limit a problem for you?

  2. I just began with this. I can’t say much after two days, but it feels like there is a chance it can help my tinnitus.

    Does this improve your hearing too, or to say how clear you intercept sounds?

    • It improves your ability to tell similar tones apart, so in a sense it improves your hearing. I haven’t noticed much difference in everyday life, but if you do music, you might.

  3. Before I start, I was thinking about if the results can be shown more advances. Like summing up in what frequencies one scored the right/wrong answer.
    I’m also having problem determining my frequency I don’t really understand how to do it. I run Firefox although nothing happens when I’m on the online tone generator, I tried the Java page, but what should I do? Play the piano and resemble my T with the Piano tone, to get my frequency?
    Maybe it’s just the best to leave it as it is to have a variation as T might change from day to day.

    Short background story, I have had T since 2000 from a noise trauma, standing near a very very loud nightclub speaker.
    The T I developed in my right ear, only right ear, even possible that we all have infections when we are children and I always found my right ear as some how less good than my normal left, but nothing serious, but tended to be more fragile and because of the noise I got T.
    The T was very low, never bothered me, I could only hear in at sleep if I concentrated hard.
    Since 2000 I have been going to all sort of clubs, listening to loud headphone music etc etc and never got any problem,

    Two months ago I put on the headphones and played music for 1-2 hours. This time I really played the music high, I later measured it to 98-103 dB.
    After this I developed high pitch T. A tinnitus that I can could hear all the time even in medi noisy areas, as in the car/bus/train/school/work…

    Now my troubles started and I started to be very careful and look for solutions to get rid of it.
    I still am.

    On October 23 I got this tinnitus. Two weeks later I started to use a ultra sound device, results? Well hard to say if it did anything, I’m still evaluating if it did, although I stopped using it after one month.

    23 November I started with an homoeopathic medicine, that has helped me allot.

    5 Dec I started putting eardrops in my ear using Noni extracts, evaluating.

    15 Dec I started with Plasticity.
    I’m living a healthy lifestyle, eating healthy, making sure I get all the natural vitamins, and believe Vit C is important.

    So many things add up when working with tinnitus trying to get better, and also the background story is important, what kind of tinnitus one has, if it was from a noise trauma or health issues… how long have you had it before starting to battle it etc…

    What I can say now after two months I feel much better, my tinnitus pitch has changed, it’s no longer strong, it’s no longer full of energy, sending out strong noises and most important what I felt after two months was that the first to second month testing listening the music through headphones or speakers the T raised in power and bother the music. Now when I listen to music I only hear to music even in the lowest settings.

    To say something about Plasticity is I believe that just after five days that it helps allot.
    After a session my T can dissapear sometimes more or less, for a minute. And can stay much lower up to 15 minuts…
    I think it does something, it’s a helpfull tool, just like my other treatments, and I believe much patients have to be taken, and I’m going to play it for atleast one month, to see if it further betters my tinnitus.

    My tinnitus today is far from what I want it to be, but also far from what it was two months ago, then I could hardly enjoy life, it was taking over my life and ruining it.

    I will follow up after further progress.

  4. I’ve had T since the age of 12 (i’m 38 now) and can say that I got completely used to it for years and it never bothered me after a few months. Last year a friend developed T and in reassuring her I started to listen to my own T again, and sure enough it seemed to get louder. I’m now having to learn to live with it again which is proving stressful (but haven’t lost all hope!).

    One thing I should mention is that my hearing has been described as excellent (back then and very recently), but I do have neck and jaw pain and was diagnosed with TMJ a couple of years ago. the problem is the medics I speak to still say there is nothing they can do, in contrast to the information I have found in that there is plenty that can be done and T has been known to subside after successful treatment for TMJ. I’m in the process of hunting down someone in my area who may be able to do something.

    If any of you have T and no hearing loss I would approach someone trained in TMJ disorders and get them to do something to help you. Otherwise, just know it does become ‘your silence’ after a while. Hearing therapy also helped me alot when it got ‘louder’ last year.

    • Did you use any antibiotics? Antibiotics are ototoxic and can permanently worsen tinnitus or cause it for them that don’t have it, as many medicines break down the structure of the ear.

  5. I am just starting with Plasticity and will let you know how it goes. I have T in both ears, multiple tones, so I don’t expect it will be as helpful as for those with one tone only.

    Nicoli, is your T now in both ears, or still just one?

    • My T was always in one ear. I finished with the Plasticity after one month. It did not lower my T, but I can’t say for sure, it might have lowered it a bit. Yet I have the feeling I perceive it less now, I don’t think about it that much.
      I might give it another try soon.

      What really helped me was a homoeopathic medicine named “Ear Ringing Formula” from Newton Labs.

  6. Great article! I suffered huge anxiety with the onset of my tinnitus, now I can sleep through and sometimes even find it soozing – lol. But when I have episodes of loud tinnitus even for a second, it freaks me out. Just remember and believe in power of your mind. I find it useful to say to yourself that the noise is phantom noise and it is not really there and another thing I found useful was the trick you called the Refrigerator Trick, it works.

    • Thanks for writing! I also find it soothing sometimes — it’s like a reminder that my brain is still working — my brain’s dial tone :)

  7. norman strath

    Hi everyone, I am 52 and had T for 10 years now and can identify with the loop affect. I am in the loop now but reading this has helped me break the loop. When i used to go to bed i could hear my T quite bad but used a technique of letting my mind wander to a free place and imagine myself doing things like playing as a child running through the fields and things like that anything really that would take my mind off it. I can now sleep very well without any additional help. I also have a mindset that T in it`s self will not kill you not the actual noise so get used to it what is the worst that can happen. i also used to wear hearing aids which would help mask the T but when I took the aids out my t would get worse. Also if you can play music all round the house at low volume. That can help a great deal. Sound Enrichment it is called just google it.Well done to all the people involved.

  8. thanks for your efforts.

    As the tinnitus actually affects the whole brain ( I can actually feel it, and it affects my memory and temper ) I feel that your training in combination with meditation will be more effective. When I meditate, ( vipassana ) it sometimes brings me relief, and I feel this is because it relaxes me a bit. Sometimes it does, but I’m yet to really go hard at it.
    If you read the article above, I think Tinnitus needs a multi-pronged attack.
    Again, thanks for reaching out and using your brilliance to help others.

  9. They have done some studies with Tibetan monks in relation to plasticity

    I suspect it needs the emotional involvement. In Chinese medicine, depression is cited as a common cause of Tinnitus.

  10. I developed tinnitus in both ears due to exposure to ambient noise pumped in through vents into an open office space work environment (The idea is to have the office noisy enough that you cant hear your colleagues). However unfortunately it was difficult to know it was noisy because the sounds sent through the vents were ambient white noise, hence I didn’t realize the damage being done. I was doing long work shift so that didn’t help.

    This tool is very cool, however it would be good to know what frequencies you aren’t good at at least after say 5 turns, i.e. a report. Maybe then you could hone in on certain frequencies more easily.

  11. I tried plasticity for a week a while ago but I dropped out, like your FAQ says, because of boredom. I know have the motivation to start again. But could you perhaps increase the upper limit? Using your tone generator I found my tinnitus is somewhere above 13,000 hz, so from what I can understand, I should benefit more from playing the game if the tones were set around that frequency, right?

    Anyway, thanks a lot for making the game, hope it helps you and everyone else who comes by it!

    • Peter,
      One problem is that speakers have difficulty producing very high-pitched sounds — you would have to really crank up the volume to be able to distinguish similar tones. But then the lower-pitched sounds would become unbearably loud. Plasticity tries to compensate for speaker (and ear) sensitivity, but for very high pitched sounds this becomes hard to do.
      Another problem is that above a certain frequency, the ability to distinguish frequencies is much lower (in relative terms). A difference of 1/4 tone is very easy at 1,000 Hz, but very hard over 10,000 Hz. Plasticity doesn’t have any mechanism of correcting that difference.
      If your tinnitus is around 13 kHz (you might want to check again, it’s easy to get wrong), I would recommend training around the 14917 Hz limit.

  12. Hi,
    Thanks for the online game, it is fun. Is there any way of adding a result function that tells the player which frequencies they got wrong?

  13. 25 years ago, when I first heard the hissing sound in my left ear, I thought I was going to go mad, lose my hearing and never hear the voice of my grandchildren. My GP dismissed my condition by saying ‘there is no cure’. Leaving me desperate, I researched for help but there was very little in those days. After 4 desperate years of living with the condition, I got a part-time job. Being busy at work and with the children, I gradually forgot about my condition. I never noticed that the noise wasn’t there. After 12 years, the tinnitus returned with a vengeance perhaps due to an accident at work. I didn’t know how to adapt to this new situation, I was really stressed, after 7 months I went on holiday to the Far East. Upon my return to the UK, I couldn’t hear the tinnitus anymore. Last December I was in another stressful situation at home, sitting alone at home, I heard a slight sound in my left year. My brain started paying attention to the noise especially as the house was quiet and I had nothing to do to take up my free time. A few weeks later, I was in my vicious circle once again. I couldn’t sleep, went to my GP and once again was told, ‘there is no cure’. I thought after 25 years, the GP’s have no understanding of this condition, nor any sympathy. Yesterday I found this blog, what can I say, it’s been a life saver. Today, each time my brain concentrated on the damn noise, I’d slap myself of pinch my hand. Thank you, thank you for posting this blog and for everyone’s comments. Goes to show, stress can bring upon this condition, have some background noise at all times. Keep your brain busy with thoughts, so that the brain cannot focus on the noise.

  14. Thank you so much for these tips and very helpful advice. I have just developed Tinnitus and hope to face this in a positive way. Regards, Justin

  15. This is a very helpful tool, I use it and notice a difference. The severity of my tinnitus is high, on a scale of 1-10, I’m at a constant 8 or 9. I notice that after a few days of game playing I’m at a 4 or 6. Thank you!

  16. For someone with tinnitus that is a ten, tinnitus is life threatening. Pure madness. Aliens inside my head. Different noises every day. Unable to be masked. Unable to put in the background. Then out of nowhere, it goes away for a day. But never overnight. Usually comes back while I’m falling asleep, seemingly louder than before. Has cost me my business, my retirement, my home. Will be the end of me. I heard it all. I’ve read it all. There is little or no hope.

  17. Thankyou for your web pages. I will try the training.
    Now in my 50’s I have had tinnitus for about 10 years. Loud clubs, played in & saw many bands, working in construction – drilling, hammering etc, riding & racing motorbikes. One day the post gig / post race meeting howl / whine became permanent. Like the whistle from a TV. I could live with it – although quiet moments in the countryside were not so for me – then last year was persuaded to go to a music festival & forgot my earplugs. Really not good. Since then the whine has been several x louder & very hard to ignore. The clock you mention in your comments reminds me of the clock in our front room when I was a kid. We grew up with it & friends would say “that clock is so loud” but we had stopped noticing it to the point that we had to concentrate to hear it! I hope somehow we can train our brains to not notice our tinnitus.

  18. Hi!

    My tinitus is pure sine waveform at 95Hz, any chance you can extend plasticity down to this frequency range?

    Thanks and greetings from Croatia.

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