Tweak Your Favorite Tunes to Lessen the Din

Tinnitus can be like the soundtrack to a scary movie—a constant, high- or low-pitched drone, whistling, clicking, even roaring sound in your ear that never stops. There’s no medicine or procedure that can be relied upon to make it go away. Nor is there a single specific cause—tinnitus can be brought on by loud noise or a head injury, it is sometimes a side effect of medication and sometimes can arise seemingly out of nowhere. It’s common, too: According to the Cleveland Clinic, 12 million people in the US suffer from persistent tinnitus that interferes with daily life.

What I’m about to tell you may come as music to your ears, then, if you or someone you know suffers from tinnitus: A new treatment shows great promise—though it is important to note that the initial research was done on a very small group. That said, this is a simple, straightforward technique that can actually be enjoyable (and if you’re good with computers, you might even be able to do it on your own). It’s called “notched music,” and it’s a technique that lets you change your favorite music and then use it as treatment for your tinnitus. That’s it—no drugs, no procedures.

When you “notch” music, you remove a one-octave frequency range, in this case the range that is centered on the tone of your own tinnitus. The treatment is very simple: After you have found the tone and removed that frequency range from your favorite music, you just listen to it often. How does it work? Over time, the brain begins to respond differently to frequencies that it is not regularly exposed to—therefore, the loudness of your tinnitus gradually subsides (it typically takes six months or so) though it is unlikely to disappear altogether.

This therapy was tested on 23 patients at the University of Munster in Germany. Researchers found that after one year of listening to notched music for approximately 12 hours per week, patients reported a significant reduction in the loudness of their tinnitus. In comparison, there was no change at all in the two control groups used in the study, one of which listened to randomly notched music, the other to unnotched music.

How to Do It

To notch music, you’ll need a “tone generator” to pinpoint the frequency of your tinnitus and music-editing software to notch your digital music files. Examples I found online are ToneGenerator ($80) and WavePad ($80), both offering free demonstrations at From there, it’s easy—just listen to the music you love and see how it helps. It’s a low-cost, non-invasive solution that sounds to me like a treatment worth trying.