What’s That Sound?


ear anatomyWe all have ears. Why do we not all hear the same way? Barring physical anomalies, all the parts of the ear are standard in pretty much every human. Male or female, an ear’s an ear, right. Or is it?

According to a brain imaging study done by the Indiana University School of Medicine, men listen with only one side of their brains, while women use both.

I said, MEN LISTEN WITH ONLY ONE SIDE OF THEIR BRAIN.

men don't listenSorry … that was to engage the other side, guys.

You can’t actually hear how your own voice really sounds without recording it. When we speak or sing, the sound is transmitted through the bone of the skull and jaw, combined with the sound coming through the air. What you are really hearing are the vibrations of your vocal chords, mixed with the air passing through your mouth, and bouncing off all that bone.

Which might be why we just love singing in the shower – it acts like our own personal sound booth, amplifying and perfecting what we think we hear. Most showers are small, and made with ceramic tile, which absorbs very little sound. All of that proximity bounces sound around, adding volume, power, and resonance to what you’re hearing. The reverb even helps to correct your pitch, and enhance the bass, making it sound deeper. Thanks, science!

But in a nutshell, that’s why you sound better in the shower than you do at your local karaoke bar. I have a dream … karaoke shower

We know that sounds hit your ear differently at different times of the day, and in different places and circumstances.

My hearing is a lot more acute in the morning. Hearing is the first sense I experience when I wake, likely a throwback to our cavemen days, when it was an important defence mechanism. I sleep like the dead, and rarely hear any noises during the night, but come morning, I’m as sensitive to vibrvenus fly trapations as a Venus fly trap.

I wake very early, and for a while, I keep my environment nearly soundless, save the odd meow from my furry overlords. I tend to turn off the beeps, boops and bings from my computerized devices, and use the time for contemplation and writing. Once I decide to enter the world of sound, my ears are primed and capable of hearing and understanding recorded words, even in foreign accents, at the lowest possible volume setting.

Sound sounds differently at different temperatures. The colder the temperature, the further sound can travel. Since most of us live in countries where it’s colder at night than in the day, we tend to hear noises in the night more clearly than we do in the daytime hours.

When music is involved, however, things get very complicated. That difference in how we hear at different hours applies across the ‘board,’ as many sound engineers have found to their shame. Bass notes ‘soften’ as the night wears on. What can sound amazing during a late night session is very likely to sound muddy and overly bassy the next morning. For the clearest mixes, daytime sessions are generally the smartest way to go.

For musicians in general, and vocalists in particular, pitch and tone are our tools of the trade. Some people are born with perfect pitch – not I, though I do have very good relative pitch, making it easier for me to hear and create vocal harmonies.

perfect_pitch“Perfect pitch (also referred to as absolute pitch) is the incredibly rare ability of a person to instantaneously identify or sing any given musical note without a reference pitch. It is estimated that 1/10,000 people in the USA are born with this cognitive trait.

There are two types of perfect pitch: active and passive. A person with active perfect pitch is able to sing or hum any given pitch; that is, if they are asked to sing a B flat without hearing the said note or any reference note, they can sing it without any problem.

If a person with passive perfect pitch is asked to sing the same B flat note, they cannot. However, if a random note is played for them, a person with passive perfect patch will be able to name it without any problem.

For many, perfect pitch can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. On the plus side, the possessor of perfect pitch can tune a musical instrument without aid, correctly judge whether or not a piece of music is being played in the correct key, and identify specific instruments as playing in or out of tune.

This skill would certainly come in handy for a piano tuner, instrument maker, or conductor. On the negative side, those with perfect pitch are likely to find it harder to enjoy music. They can hear all of a performance’s flaws in intonation. What’s more, if the performance is played in a key other than the original, those with perfect pitch will likely find it to be cringe inducing.

In their mind, they already know what the performance should sound like as far as pitch is concerned, so anything they hear is going to be compared to their internal tuning fork. Basically, anything that doesn’t align to their mind’s perfect pitch will sound out of tune. For some, that’s as bad as nails on a chalk board. “  (https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-perfect-pitch-723911)

You cannot learn perfect pitch; it is a gift/curse you have to be born with. Most musicians have a good relative pitch sense, which allows them to play songs by ear and improvise. Relative pitch, however, is a skill that can be learned with enough training and practice.

If you are lucky enough to have become an old musician,this one goes to 11 you may have discovered the downside of ‘”if it’s too loud, you’re too old.” Professional musicians are about 57% more likely than non-musicians to suffer from tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears,) and suffer noise induced hearing loss four times more often than other people. Neither of these afflictions are fun, just to be clear.

That drinking habit might also be a culprit; high alcohol consumption over a long period of time may lead to brain shrinkage, which can damage the auditory nerves. Researchers also believe that a regular ingestion of alcohol may lead to permanent hearing loss in the long term, and some loss of low frequency sounds, at least temporarily. All that yelling to hear each other in the club? Yeah, that’s not good for your ears.

And you need to be good TO your ears. Humans love sound, we love to communicate. Music has been found in every culture, past and present, across the planet. Music is woven from every influence in our society – social, economic, climate, technology and politics – to create the image that we choose to present to our pmusic-quoteseers. It’s integral to creating societies that can come together as one, to move civilization forward.

When we lose the ability to hear each other, whether through physical hearing loss, or a decision to stop listening to those who think and act differently, we impede society’s progress to the next level of humanity.

music unites.jpgMusic is a universal language, but in order for all to hear what is said, there must be a generosity of listening, and that can only happen in a calm, open, giving environment. When everyone is being compelled to think and feel the same, you get a lot less ‘moon in June‘ love songs, and a lot more marches and songs glorifying dying for the Fatherland, eventually leading to the sounds of silence.

But when our world is in ‘receiving’ mode, we can easily accept and even appreciate the differences of others.

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