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Plasticity – train your ears

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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!

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144 Comments so far

  • tOM, Ottawa

    Hi. I can usually ignore my tonal tinnitus, but am having some problems understanding some (mostly soft) speech. Has this kind of training improved speech recognition?

  • plasticmusic

    Thanks very much.

    I’ll be using this to help me find out and fine tune what my tinnitus frequency is.

    I’ll be using the result to use a “notched band” music therapy protocol being investigated by

    Okamoto H., Stracke H., Stoll W. & Pantev C. Listening to tailor-made notched music reduces tinnitus loudness and tinnitus-related auditory cortex activity. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 107, 1207–1210 (2010). [PMC free article] [PubMed]

    It looks like it might help (don’t try notched white noise!) and it complies with everything I learned in Ed Taub’s neuroplasticity classes, so kudos to Ed.

    Fingers crossed, and thanks again. (let me know if you try it too)

    Best,
    Rick

  • Tina

    Hi Tomaz. Not sure if my tinnitus is tonal or not (must ask!) but noticed when I tried to find my level the tone in my left ear had gone! Have mostly a hiss at present – I do get several different noises. I can never make my mind up if I have tinnitus in the left ear as well as the noise seems to travel across my head. I found the last test in the series (no 6 I think) to determine whether the two tones were equal in volume impossible as I could only hear the one tone.
    The game is fun and I did two rounds!
    Tina
    p.s. I don’t do twitter or facebook etc

    • Paul

      My god I didn’t realise loads of people have it. I got it a month ago, and after a few days of on-line research and loads of ‘horror’ stories I really lost the plot, and upset my wife, who thought I was going to kill myself. There were those thoughts running through my mind, However, I’m stronger than that, and this guy here, has boosted my moral 100%. Thanks.

    • Joe Rogo

      Had the same effect on me. When I try pitch matching my left-side 2.8k-ish tone, it slips away from my awareness – hiss remians. Curious.

  • tOM, Ottawa

    fwiw, when playing, i find it easier to ask myself, does the tone change up or change down. If I can’t decide, then I choose “Same”

  • philosophyexperiment

    I have had tinnitus for 16 months. It started during a sinus infection that took 3 months to treat. The tinnitus in my right ear stopped when the infection was cleared but has persisted in my left ear. This is only my second day trying plasticity but so far I have noticed slightly less intensity to my tinnitus. While I am using the program, the perception of pain I have from the tinnitus goes away. I started yesterday when I thought I just couldn’t take the incessant noise and the pain that perception caused. I will post again after trying plasticity for a month.

  • alison little

    I have had tinnitus for years and never noticed it in the day and used a fan at night , but recently about 2 weeks ago I had a virus which affected my eustachian tubes and my tinnitus has been bothering me like when I first got it , however I stupidly still went along to a 1d concert woth my daughter , I wore earplugs but am experiencing tinnitus in both ears and panicking that this is it now , will I get back to how I was ??? Im trying not to get anxious and trying to stop myself from homing in on it , its exhausting as im constantly trying to distract myself , Thanks

  • Srik

    Hi Everyone,

    This is the first time I am sharing about my T and the things I did in order to cope up with T. My T started 2.5 years ago, the first year was horrible and whole of my life went upside down, but from last one year or so it went almost unnoticeable.

    I am 34 years now, I have some hearing loss from last 15 years. All of a sudden in June 2012 I experienced small noise inside the ear and the noise level was like that for first 6 months, and in Dec 2012 it went from low level to medium level. I have consulted few doctors and searched all the forums just like everyone. It took almost a year to digest the T fact.

    I have started changing my lifestyle to overcome T affect. I have stopped smoking and alcohol completely. Started going to gym and reduced salt intake.
    One fine day my friends dad (Doctor by profession) advised me to take the below tablets, I took medicines for about 3 to 4 months and found my T reduced a lot.

    Vertin 20mg – Daily once
    Levo Citrizile 10mg – Daily once

    I suggest you to take doctors advice before starting above medicines, as far as I am aware there are no side affects.

    I don’t know the exact thing which contributed in reducing my T, but I observed one thing whenever I started smoking my T noise was quite noticeable, so I stopped smoking completely.

    I thought of sharing this info with you all guys.
    Good luck.

  • Lord Denton

    Hello! I really like your game and I have a suggestion to make it even better! It would be faster if you could choose your answer using the left and right arrow keys. Not that it’s hard to do it with the mouse, it’s just a tiny bit frustrating. It’s not much, but it is the difference between playing 2-3 games a day and playing just one.

    All the best, -Lord Denton

    • Tomasz

      Compelled by the force of Your Lordship’s splendidly argued suggestion, I took the liberty to implement a keyboard manipulation facility in my application, in accordance with Your Lordship’s most astute design. It is my greatest hope that Your Lordship will be content with these alterations. Should Your Lordship wish to honour me with further interest in the changes I have effected under Your Lordship’s orders and guidance, I have compiled an exhaustive inventory which may be retrieved at this location:
      http://blog.szynalski.com/2015/08/23/plasticity-1-2/
      I remain, as always, Your Lordship’s most faithful servant.

      • peter bishop

        man you are awesome. helping others with tinnitus and hell of a sense of humour. rock on brother

  • Andrew Fisher

    Your online tone generator is much better to use than many of the others used.

  • Lauran

    I’ve had tinnitus for over 40 years–the hissing noise–and have no idea how or when it happened, although I suspect it started after a head injury from a fall from a bicycle as a teenager. Generally, I don’t hear it but, on occasion, the noise woke me up from a sound sleep.

    What I miss most is just silence. Reading the article on tinnitus attached to this blog that mentions most people today never experience complete silence comes as a surprise–and solace. There are far worse afflictions than tinnitus and many people experience pain with theirs, so I rarely complain.

    Thanks again for a fine article.

  • robert

    How do I know what a normal score is

  • Nigel

    This is so strange. The very first tones played instantly lower my tinnitus volume by 80% or so. And then for the first 10 or so different tones I can notice a physical movement / pressure change / something in my inner ear as it plays.

  • bullvinebyrne

    Fantastic blog, really helpfull. I have had mine for 2 months now, it was caused by an ear infection/syringing. I am definitely “in the loop” and finding it hard to break out of it. I think this is because I don’t hear it that often, only when I’m in bed and its really quiet then my mind help but listen to it.

  • Rog667

    Please post a warning that it plays high-pitched sounds, for those with Hyperacusis with their Tinnitus.

  • Kentone

    My T sounds like a jet engine running at high RPM all the time and am always looking for any help. Had the idea to find the freq. for starters and am wondering now if anyone has heard of using the same principle as noise canceling headphones to reduce the tone? Obviously the circuit can’t “hear” the noise to reverse and cancel it but with a known freq. it could be manufactured to match it I’m hoping? I only have it in one ear, am a musician and envision an adjustable tone cancelling ear-piece that can dial-in the specific tone for removal. I then can still hear music normally with regular headphones worn over the earpiece. Obviously that specific freq. will be removed from the music in that ear as well I assume but that would still be much better than having to simply ignore the Lear jet ready for takeoff in my head all the time.

  • Susan lowndes

    I am using my iPhone 5s and can’t get past stage one of voice calibration. Every time I hit ‘next’ it just stays where it is.

  • Toby

    Hi, how close together are the frequencies at each level? I’m interested as I’m a music student trying to work out how much micro-tonality I can discern. Thanks.

    • Tomasz

      I’ll just paste that part of the code. baseDeviation is given in tones, i.e. for level 3 it’s 0.5102 of a tone. It drops by a factor of 1.4 when you go up a level. But the actual difference also depends on the frequency. For frequencies < 600 Hz the baseDeviation is multiplied by a number between 1 and 2. This is necessary because frequency sensitivity takes a hit below 600 Hz.

      { baseDeviation: 1, points: 50, pluslives: 1 }, //level 1
      { baseDeviation: 5/7, points: 100, pluslives: 1 }, //level 2 – 0.7143
      { baseDeviation: 0.5102, points: 200, pluslives: 1 }, //level 3
      { baseDeviation: 0.3644, points: 500, pluslives: 1 }, //level 4
      { baseDeviation: 0.2603, points: 1000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 5
      { baseDeviation: 0.1859, points: 2000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 6
      { baseDeviation: 0.1328, points: 5000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 7
      { baseDeviation: 0.0949, points: 10000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 8
      { baseDeviation: 0.0678, points: 20000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 9
      { baseDeviation: 0.0484, points: 50000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 10 – theoretical just noticeable difference
      { baseDeviation: 0.0346, points: 100000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 11
      { baseDeviation: 0.0247, points: 200000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 12 – max reached by me
      { baseDeviation: 0.0176, points: 500000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 13
      { baseDeviation: 0.0126, points: 1000000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 14
      { baseDeviation: 0.0090, points: 2000000, pluslives: 1 }, //level 15

      After you give an answer, you can check the exact frequencies and volumes that were played by pointing at the indicator icon in the top-right corner.

  • Reg

    Love this! (And thanks for the keyboard shortcuts. His Lordship had a good idea there.)

    I’m using this not for tinnitus (although I have that) but instead to try to train my brain to use the input from my new cochlear implant. My brain is doing whacked-out weird things for the frequencies I’ve never heard before in my life, which is everything above 1.5 kHz or so. This is also a plasticity thing, and I haven’t found anything else out there as good as this program for targeted practice at convincing my neurons to reorganize themselves. You should sell this puppy.

    Question: Is there any way for me to retrieve my exact data from each session? I’d like to be able to quantify my progress in certain frequencies and see if I progress in some more than others. Raw data are fine. Or for DIY data collection, could we (wish list here) toggle an option in the beginning so that throughout the session we see the exact frequencies without needing to mouse over?

    • Tomasz

      Hi Reg, those are good ideas and I’ve thought about more detailed statistics. Maybe in the future. Unfortunately, right now the program doesn’t keep detailed statistics. The frequency readout would be easiest to implement, but I’m currently busy with other projects. Good luck with the plasticity thing!

  • op

    my score is above 128 000. is that good?

  • Zed

    Hi, would someone with high pitched T at 14khz benefit from the game? Noticed that plasticity’s range was limited to 8khz.
    Thanks in advance!

    • Tomasz

      No, because at 14 kHz the ability to discriminate similar frequencies is extremely impaired.

      • Marc Napoli

        Tomasz

        Any chance of extending this up to 11-14khz as a trial?

        I have the maximum frequency set in the game (10548) but I am able to differentiate between the tones fairly easily.

        I have had Tinnitus for a year somewhere above 10khz (it’s difficult to match but I know it is up there). Right ear can hear up to 15khz but left ear taps out at about 11khz. I suspect the drop in left ear high frequencies corresponds to my Tinnitus.

        Can we trial going a little higher to see what results we can achieve? I am committed to trying the game for 10 minutes a day for the next 30 days and will document the process.

        Cheers
        Marc

        • Marc Napoli

          To give you some idea: on the hardest difficulty and starting at level 6 I am reaching Level 13 with a score over 10 million. Would you consider changing the upper frequencies?

          Fortunately, I am noticing less intrusiveness throughout the day after one week, 2 x 20 minutes a day. Two changes are becoming apparent. In complete silence the volume seems to have dropped. The biggest difference however has been in quiet environments. It seems as though a small amount of ambient noise is now enough to mask where as before it was not.

          I’m 14 months into Tinnitus so I’m fairly attuned to the ups and downs of this thing. I still think about it every day. I still monitor the volume even when I know I shouldn’t. But I think your game is helping me, and I am going to continue practicing for a month before quantifying the results.

          Thank you for putting the effort into this tool.

          • Tomasz P. Szynalski

            Marc,
            I spent the last two days changing the frequency setting code. In the new version, you select the lower and upper frequency separately, with the option to have the range calculated for you after you enter a “target” frequency. Frequencies above 13 kHz are not recommended because the sensitivity of human hearing drops off rather precipitously. This will mean that tones at the upper end of the range will sound very quiet (or completely inaudible – especially for older folks) and similar tones will be very hard to tell apart (because human hearing is much less precise at very low and very high frequencies). Nonetheless, I have experimentally enabled support for frequencies up to 16744 Hz – you’ll have to manually enter the upper frequency to go above 13289 Hz.
            If you (or anyone else who likes Plasticity) can spare the money, a donation to support the continued maintenance of this site would be appreciated.

          • Marc Napoli

            Hi Tomasz

            I just donated $50 USD. Thank you for your efforts.

            Is there somewhere to access the new ranges?

            Cheers
            Marc

  • asd

    so cutting my ear off wont cure this amazing crap? im 27 why do i have this?!
    only solution is a bullet to the brain?

    • Leo

      I have severe t with a high A note frequency. Old musician from the 60’s and then worked under jets. I’ve been told t is nerve damage to the brain by ENTs. You may have damaged your hearing by injury or noise. There is a lipo acid that helps some people over a 3 month period. Walgreens? But never helped me. Still trying to find a solution.

  • Rick White

    I don’t think this will help me. I’m 66 years old, and have been a singer in R&R and R&B bands since 1964. I’ve played ans sang with multiple musicians good and bad; but I casn’t blame anyone for my 5 tones “per ear” tinnitus, but myself. I stood in front of Marshals and Ampegs and 2000 watt PA speakers without ear plugs. I have some hearing loss in both ears.
    The tone are in the range of a “hiss” and frequency of @ 9k hz to 10k hz.
    It’s 24/7/365 and it requires OTC drugs or alcohol (also OTC.. lol) t help me sleep at night. I’ve tried the “snake oil” remedies; such as lipofalvinoids and nothing works at all.
    I did some research a few years ago and discovered a $$$$$$$ treatment that uses Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, focused on a certain area of the brain and relieves Tinnitus in *some* patients “temporarily” the range of relief lasts from minutes to months; depending on the patient’s response to the treatment. There doesn’t seem to be any record of TMS curing anyone.
    I tried this test twice, so I can’t really make a fair judgement..But given that
    I have some hearing loss, and my age, it’s doubtful this test even over 30 days, will do much. I’ll try it. But I’m already failing some tones because I can’t hear anything, let alone whether the tones are “same” or “different”!!
    Thank you for the chance to do this, though. I appreciate it.
    Rick White
    lead singer for The Human Beinz “Nobody But Me” #8 Billboard 1968

    • Leo

      Rick, sounds like we musicians of the 60’s got similar results. Your story sounds like mine. The T is so loud I cannot stand silence and have to fall asleep to the tv or radio. There must be something out there but just have to find the solution. Marshall stacks with psychedelic feed back does wonders for the ears. I always played on the right side of the stage and T is worse in my left ear that faced the amps. Let us know if you discover something. I’ll do the same. P.S. I’ve used this tone maker for songs and frequency. It does something to my hearing like ‘muting’ the T when I hit the same frequency but can’t stand the High whistling of a boiling t-kettle constantly. The best way to describe it. 66 yrs. old now since 1964 with no relief.

  • John Dowling

    Great game but some of the questions do not have a noise attached. Is there a problem? I’m using Firefox.

  • rose

    Hi
    Is it possible you put this as an app in play store or even as an apk. I play an instrument and I use this as a drone tone and it’s very helpful. If it won’t require Internet connection even better.

  • Marc Napoli

    Hey Tomasz

    Just to confirm what’s currently happening with the tool. I am using the highest setting of 10548Hz (that is E9).

    When you say 2 octaves including 10548 is that a test of E7 – E9? (That’s about 2500hz to 10548.)

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      Marc,
      Many thanks for your generous donation. Are you sure you’re on the latest version (you might want to press F5 to reload)? The welcome screen should have two fields: minimum and maximum frequency. The new version no longer has the 10548 Hz limit.

      • Marc Napoli

        Hi Tomasz

        I had to Ctrl-F5 reload to get Chrome to pick up the change.

        I have also just noticed that Chrome is causing a problem. I tried the game with 4000 – 8000Hz and then the next game 8000 – 16000Hz but realised I was hearing exactly the same sounds.

        Then I flipped over to firefox to play the game for the first time through that browser. Wow… now I am actually getting way up into the higher frequencies! I can now change the frequencies between games and firefox gets it right every time.

        I went back to Chrome and cleared out all cache data and cookies. I start the game at 4000-8000 and that seems about right. I finish the game. I change the frequencies to 8000-16000 and it sounds exactly the same as the 4000-8000. Something is sticking.

        It would thus seem that I have been training at a much lower frequency than what I thought I was training at. (Remember my T is up high.. possibly 10000Hz). Even so, after one week I have noticed an improvement. Surprising.

        I will use firefox and stick to 2 x 20 minutes on 8000Hz – 16000Hz for the next week to see whether that accelerates the improvement.

        • Tomasz P. Szynalski

          I tested your scenario in Chrome (first 4-8 kHz, then 8-16 kHz) and it worked fine.

          • Marc Napoli

            OK i’m unclear why it’s happening to me. No matter I will continue through firefox.

            Due to the improvements I had the confidence last night to go out to a bar and be in a fairly loud environment for a few hours. This morning, the un-intrusiveness continues. That is a milestone for me after 14 months. I can’t thank you enough for the effort you’ve put into this tool.

            I will report back in a month with progress.

          • Tomasz P. Szynalski

            @Marc
            It’s great that you’re seeing some improvement, especially after 14 months. I’ll be looking forward to your report in a month.

          • Marc Napoli

            Hi Tomasz

            Here is my report from now one month of playing plasticity almost every day. I did take a seven day break in the middle.

            Side note: I took this break because I had an ear infection that was dulling my hearing, and it was playing on my nerves enough for me to stop playing plasticity for a week. The ear infection caused a lot of fluid in my ears and really dulled my hearing until the antibiotics finally resolved the issue. During this week I could hear the fluid rolling around in my ears and I was constantly attempting to unblock my eustachian tubes by stretching my ears, yawning, chewing etc. During this week my tinnitus was VERY intrusive, making itself known to me throughout the day in loud environments where I had never heard it before. This was quite unnerving, but I knew that it was due to my dulled hearing making it more difficult for natural masking from every day sounds to occur.

            With that week aside, my report for the entire month is a clear improvement in the intrusiveness of my Tinnitus. In quiet environments it takes much longer for the T to “attack” and the slightest noise is enough to completely mask it. This has lead me to “hear” it less, which has made me think about it less. I now know what it is like for tinnitus to be a background consideration with no fear or annoyance attached. I can safely say that I have not felt this free for the last fourteen months.

            I am not sure how much of this can be contributed to playing plasticity each day and how much is natural habituation. My scores seemed to have hit a plateau and my highest was Level 12 on Normal difficulty. If anything, I seem to drop out now on level 10-11 most games and can’t get back to Level 12. Every day I have played for approximately 15-20 minutes, always doing over 400 comparisons (a number suggested in the monkey study of tonotopic remapping).

            If I had to guess, I would say my tonotopic map has been somewhat remapped. I would also suggest that playing in the 300-8000Hz range is sufficient even for people with very high pure tone T. I can only guess mine is up above 11Khz as hearing tests show I have no hearing in my left ear above 11Khz whereas my right ear goes up to 15Khz. The tone is too difficult to match. My early attempts with playing plasticity at the 6000-12000Hz did not seem to have as beneficial an effect as playing at the 300-8000Hz range and if anything made things worse. Maybe something about playing in the 300-8000HZ allows these regions to grow which eats up the hyperactive neurons in the higher ranges. Complete guesswork there.

            I am going to continue playing for another 30 days and will report back once more.

        • Tomasz P. Szynalski

          @Marc
          So, after 14 months of tinnitus, you used Plasticity for a month, and you’re seeing your first significant improvement? That would indicate that the game may have had something to do with it.
          Anyway, thank you for posting such a detailed report and I have to say, it feels great to hear that a game I developed may have helped someone achieve freedom from constantly thinking about tinnitus. Congratulations, keep it up, and do stay in touch!

          • Marc

            Hi Tomasz

            Just to let you know – I never did continue with this. I don’t see T as a large problem in my life anymore, and thus didn’t feel like giving it any more attention that it deserves.

            Cheers
            Marc

          • Tomasz P. Szynalski

            @Marc
            Congratulations, looks like our stories are quite similar! In both cases, Plasticity training occurred around the “tipping point”, but it’s hard to say whether there was any causal relationship.

  • Marc Napoli

    Also, what are your thoughts on passive audio techniques versus something active like the plasticity game?

    It would make sense that to me that remapping of neurons can only really occur when you are active as opposed to passive. For example, in notching therapy you don’t need to make a decision or commit anything to memory. I think there is something in the very act of needing to engage other parts of the brain that adds to the plasticity element.

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      Yes, that’s the idea. The act of getting feedback (correct answer) causes your brain to grow new neural connections (or strengthen existing ones) much more quickly than passive listening. The fact that you are able to reach higher levels is evidence that your neural network has adapted to the task.

      • Marc Napoli

        Hi Tomasz

        One other suggestion – as the notes are played can you allow for a debug option where the actual frequency being played is displayed alongside the Same/Different buttons?

  • Marc Napoli

    Tomasz

    What are your thoughts on this?

    http://www.detinnitiser.com/

    Cheers
    Marc

  • Marc Napoli

    Tomasz

    One last game request. can you also add a “pass” button alongside the SAME/DIFFERENT buttons?

    The reason being some of the higher frequencies I cannot hear so I am simply guessing. I would prefer to get the answer wrong and then later be able to see which ones I was unable to hear.

    Cheers
    Marc

    PS. What did you write this game in? Would you be willing to share the source code for others to work on?

    • Tomasz P. Szynalski

      If you just want to know what frequencies are difficult for you, you can check the frequency after you answer, maybe write it down on a piece of paper. Not sure what the value added would be in having a list of frequencies where you answered wrong.
      Plasticity is written in JavaScript. About sharing the code, I don’t think the app needs that much “working on”. You could add some bells and whistles, but I think it’s good enough “as is”.

  • Keith

    It’s nice that there’s some hope even if that’s all it is, thank you for writing and sharing this software. My tinnitus is more white noise and a higher pitch than the generator can really reach with any volume, however I’m hopeful I can find a harmonic so at least I know the frequency. Best regards

  • Thurstan Hethorn

    Hi Tomasz,

    I like your work. I’m looking to use it as part of an assistive device/hearables hackathon.

    I intend to support you and certainly will not commercialise the product. If any money does come my way ie winning the competition or further investment I will definitely be in contact.

    In any case what you have done is very interesting and that you provide it for free/donation is very generous of you.

    Have to go and get into the project.

    Thanks
    Thurstan

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