Things I’ve learned, published for the public benefit
Hope This Helps header image

Plasticity – train your ears

image

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, Firefox and Safari – including mobile devices (in the latest release).

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!

Tags:

146 Comments so far

  • Pam

    Thank you so much for such a useful blog.
    Had tin for number of years and do find hearing problematic. It’s got bit worse lately, but because it’s brain-related I’m going to try hypnotherapy. Will let you know how I get on.
    It got really bad a couple of weeks ago – to the point of me really panicking that this is how it was going to be and I couldn’t deal with it. I went to the Chiro to dismiss anything neck related, and that calmed it down a bit, but he was telling me that some recent studies have suggested it may be caused or exacerbated by excess salt. I have cut back and I do think it’s a bit quieter.
    One of the biggest tin reductions came after I had a morning in the garden and was doubled over with a trowel most of the morning. Feeling very happy in the afternoon, I was shocked to realise my tin was almost gone. It came back gradually, but nothing like it was. I could have cried!
    Will keep checking in for other suggestions and thanks again. BTW, pretty sure mine was caused as I was in a group for some years in the late 60s.

  • Jacki

    I think you should add a button for “I can’t hear any tones”. There were several times when I didn’t hear anything so I was just guessing, so my results weren’t very accurate.

  • Mikael Karlsson

    It does help me!
    Plasticity helps me listen in my tinnitus frequencies, now octave 8, on my left ear.
    It also helps me to mask the frequencies,
    I have changed masking frequency over time,
    not sure anymore what octave it started, 6 i believe, but now it is only octave 8.
    I still always have the (white noise – masking freq) on when I sit by the computer, which happens to be a lot.
    I used Audacity to create white noise and bandstop filter.
    I think my tinnitus is now hardly noticable even.
    I have been a musician, but now I play chess for hobby, which also helps me focus.

  • Velders Annika Sarah

    Hey can anyone help. I have been having panic attacks because of my tinnitus. Feels like I am losing my mind at times.

    I didn’t sleep at all last night.

    Feeling very low

  • Jose

    Hi Tomasz,
    I found your website by chance and it’s very interesting! Doing some speakers test I founded that record from 6000Hz and up were inaudible played with my amp and my headphone! I knew that I had tinnitus because as child I was able to hear at will the constant sound in my head, but I never have been annoyed by it! I can forget it completely!. I tried your tone generator and I was capable to catch something at 8000Hz and up but only increasing the volume and switching play-stop buton (In comparison my tinnitus was to loud! ).
    I tried your application (between 4000 and ~8000) and in a couple of time
    I was unable to ear any of the 2 speech but I had to choose between “Same” and “Different” perhaps a third button like “inaudible” because I choose one randomly (some time guessing well!).
    Now I’m wondering what I’m missing when I listening music with my
    high headphones!
    Thanks
    Regards
    Jose

  • Jess McCrossan

    Is there a way to know which ones on the test are wrong? The same tone (I think) I got consistently wrong even though it sounded the same. Its much lower than my tinnitus ringing. Im curious to know what it is!

  • John

    I like your interactive tester. I do have tinnitus. My ears (or my brain) are like a cheap hifi amp from the 60s with a poor signal-to-noise ratio: I have a constant level of something like ‘white noise’. I had a preliminary audiology test that showed losses >25dB at frequencies over 5kHz. Despite that, I can function perfectly well as a musician and sound tech (have done that for 30 years). I still have a good ear for sound, and others recognise it, not just me. For example, when setting up live sound, I can consistently pick a ringing or feedback frequency within the octave, often closer than that. And the harshness that comes from too much in the 2kHz to 4kHz region. My ears are deficient, according to the tests, but others agree that I have a ‘good ear’, and I am 63 years old.

    I am convinced that the brain has an inbuilt graphic equaliser and AGC: they do their best to compensate for my physical deficiencies, but not perfectly. I do have difficulty in noisy environments, for example, hearing a conversation in a noisy cheap restaurant where no attention has been paid to acoustics. When listening or watching TV with friends, I often find I want the volume considerably louder than they do.

    Interesting discussion, thank you.

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      John,
      Thank you for sharing your very interesting observations. I agree that the brain does a surprisingly good job of compensating for hearing damage. Tinnitus could be a side-effect of that compensation: as you try to amplify a weak signal, you obviously increase the noise. Let’s also suppose the amplification is not precise: it’s applied to a fairly large frequency band, not just the exact frequencies where hair cells are damaged. The result would be correct compensatory amplification of certain frequencies and overamplification of others. The latter could manifest as tinnitus.
      (There’s research that shows hearing loss produces tinnitus below the frequency where hearing is impaired.)

    • Joe Rogo

      Wow! You & me, brother. I’m near 68yo, and people ask me to do their sound often. I’m trying to retire from it, because my tinnitus makes me cringe at the thought of doing what I love to do anymore, so I’ve narrowed what I say yes to, to acoustic, percussion, but no drums (except outdoors), and any guitar/key/instrument amps turned into the stage from upfront, so I control the house.

      I feel personally that I’ve lost my perspective, so I’m always asking people if it’s too loud/soft/tinny/dull, and they look at me like I’m nuts and tell me it’s just right, or even great. Then they ask me to come back and do it again the next time.

      Our hearing is indeed adaptive. We all adapt to whatever environment we’re in, which quickly becomes the normal. I read an article on PA EQ years ago that changed the way I set up. The advice is – do NOT flatten your PA within the venue. If you run flat EQ in a tinny venue, the PA sounds out-of-place dull. And a flat EQ in a dulled venue sounds tinny to the people who have adapted to their environment. Flatten your PA outdoors, then only correct extreme anomalies indoors. Change the way I set up PA for the good forever.

  • Ryan Shannon

    That’s a lot of comments to read through so I’ll just ask “IF”:

    >>> on the test screen require a next button because some of the tones
    I cannot hear at all so “Same” “Different” and “Next Tone(s)” would be
    helpful.

    Thanks

  • Christopher

    Tinnitus, on an emotional level, comes from refusing to listen to your inner voice and your intuition. Make more decisions in your heart, and always listen to your inner voice, along with avoiding loud music and concerts, and you will find that over time, it will heal. Here is a poem that I hope you all enjoy:

    Ringing in the ears
    Can bring up many fears
    And in some cases
    Cause many tears

    Because the gift of silence
    often is not cherished
    until the noisy pitch starts
    and the quiet has perished

    So let us restore hope
    and pray that you can heal
    start using this free tool
    the results can be real

    listen to your intuition
    and follow your inner voice
    always live in your heart
    it will find the best choice

    to move forward with your life
    take it one day at a time
    the plasticity tool helps too
    and makes the sun shine 🙂

  • Alistair

    Hi,

    My tinnitus goes up in volume when I use electrical equipment, computers, drive in a car etc and stays quite loud for awhile.

    I thought I’d try Plasticity for fun and it immediately dropped the volume to the lower level it sometimes sits at. It was a pleasant surprise. Obviously it’s not a cure but it was nice to feel it drop. I’ll keep using it each day to see how I get on and will be giving this site to my local tinnitus group.

  • Joe Rogo

    Tomasz,

    I just started here with trying to map my tinnitus, and will be pursuing the plasticity. I have one question, and a couple observations. I haven’t had time yet to read comments, so hope there’s no repetition, but you’ll know I’m not being led in my comments. I have a left-side tone around 2,800, and both sides have an array of steampipe-like steady whishing from about 4k and up.

    Q: When doing the plasticity, I’ll call it an exercise rather than a test, is it a good idea to re-play tone pairs to make certain, or is this best done on a quick first reaction?

    Observation on plasticity: What I’m finding quite often is that on the first play, some matched tones seem to go up or down, then on a replay, they go the other way, then with repeated plays, they finally match and stay steady. Is this my brain learning, or is this some sort of cortex-induced inertia from the previous tones?

    Observation on tone matching: I’ll think my left-ear tone is obvious at the moment, so try matching, upon which I immediately lose track of my own tinnitus tone – it actually seems to slip into the background noise, and I can’t find an exact match. What’s going on there?

    Thank you so much for these tools, and the hope that this brings. I’ll check back her, but feel free to email me if you can spare the time.

    Joe

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      Hi Joe,
      Thank you for your donation. I appreciate it.
      About your first question, I think whatever helps you learn faster is best. I replay the tones a lot when I play the game.
      I’m not sure I understand about the tones going the other way on a replay. Do you mean that it sounds like a rising interval on your first listen, but then it changes to a falling one? If so, that’s normal when the sounds are very similar in pitch.
      Your tinnitus can slip into the background due to masking. When you hear similar tones, the brain will attenuate the tinnitus.
      Hope this helps.

      • Joe Rogo

        Yes, Tomasz, for matching tones on Plasticity, many at first impression rise or fall, then next play go the other way, and further repetitions show that clearly, they match.

        Glad to hear it’s normal. Brains are funny things.

  • Carsten

    Hi Tomasz,

    thank you so much for this tool! My Tinnitus got worse in March 2019. Working 2 month with your website helped me a lot. My Tinnitus (8500 Hz) is now only a quietly hiss. 🙂 I started in March with 5000 points, in May my Highscore was over 100.000 Points!

  • Gary S

    Hello and first, THANK YOU for putting this site up! Nice to do some hearing checks and so appreciate your interest in the tinnitus and Alzheimer’s therapeutic work.

    On the Plasticity test, I wonder if you could add a selection besides Same and Different. Having moderate tinnitus and trying to see if audio therapy can help, I sometimes find I cannot hear the test tones at all (using the tinnitus target, where test tones go from an octave below to one above the target). When I see the page say I have to choose either the tones were same, or different, and I couldn’t even hear them, I’m not sure what to select. Maybe a “Didn’t hear” choice could be added so that users aren’t faced with just picking either existing choice randomly and possibly ending the round.

    Anyway, again, thanks so much!

  • Debbie C

    Thank you, Tomasz. I’ve been playing your plasticity game since March and it seems to be helping to reduce the volume of my tinnitus. I sent in a donation a few weeks ago to thank you! Thanks again!

  • Mikki

    Thanks this is interesting.

    I wonder whether it is better to train close tinnitus frequency or far off? I noticed that I am much better in discriminating sounds close to my tinnitus frequency (11 000hz) than I am at far off (lower frequencies). Since I like to unlearn the tinnitus sound it would suggest I should train far off tinnitus frequencies?

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      Not necessarily. You probably want to train neighboring frequencies, since they are physically close to your tinnitus frequency in your brain. If you choose a range that includes your tinnitus frequency, only a small percentage of tones (perhaps none) will actually hit your exact frequency (assuming you have pure-tone tinnitus). The vast majority will be in the neighborhood.

Leave a Reply to Andrew Fisher