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How to Truly Listen to Music

How to Truly ListenLast week, I saw another specialist for the sound in my ear, my third consultation in two weeks.

My back is hunched over in the soft cushy chair and my legs are crossed. The doctor hovers around my head to ask if I hear this sound or that vibration.

“Relax,” he says for the fifth time.

Before this room, I was subjected to a hearing test. Inside a small closed box, I am asked to sit and stare at a wall that is half a metre from my face. I follow instructions that sound from headphones.

The assistant administering the hearing test disappears for five minutes at a time and leaves me inside this space. I can’t even stretch my legs.

I began the appointment anxious, and it was only getting worse.

“I’m certain nothing bad is going on,” the ENT specialist says, “but I will do a full examination anyways to make sure you don’t have any tumours or weird things growing in your head.”

He presses a tuning fork onto various spots in my head and asks what I hear.

“We know the cause of that sound you’re hearing constantly is due to exposure to loud noise. That’s why it’ll go away when you are no longer exposed.”

He concludes that my ear is fine and my hearing is fine and the sound in my ear shall banish itself soon enough. He is certain of it.

My left ear is unaffected due to the shadow effect. The loudspeaker was on the right side of my head, so the left side was shielded from the sound waves. It’s probably the first and last time I will appreciate my balloon head for the size it is: huge.

“Is there anything I can do to help it?”

“No,” he says. “Just relax.”

So, for a while, I plugged up my right ear to prevent the poor thing from becoming even more sound-distressed. And for that while, I heard nothing in that ear except the ringing.

To get my mind off of the constant unfamiliarity, I turned to educating myself on the internet.


On my tinny laptop speakers, percussionist Evelyn Glennie speaks about the wonders of sound perception.

In her TED talk How to Truly Listen, she describes how limiting it is to use only your ears when listening to music. It’s only midway through the talk and after some amazing performances on her part, that Evelyn eventually discloses to the audience that she is deaf.

What you hear from my playing the piano, for example, depends on factors such as the room we’re in (or whether I’m on your laptop screen), and where you are in relation to the sound. Not only that, you tie your own emotions in with your experience.

In a poorly designed music performance hall, people sitting in the front row seats would hear music that’s vastly different from people sitting in the back row seats, but of course they would never know it because they couldn’t be sitting in two places at once.

It turns out that architects and engineers are now consulting with people who are deaf to design better acoustics for music halls, simply because they can sense a greater range of acoustics and the subtle differences within.

Have you ever noticed when listening to your favourite piece of music how the sound resonates and vibrates inside your body?

People who can hear tend to use only their ears to listen, whereas people who are deaf or hard of hearing tend to experience a richer range of what we perceive as ‘sound’ from other senses.

Now imagine that level of sensitivity for every piece of music out there.

How to Truly Listen to Music

I think about all the years that I have been listening using only my ears. Without this hearing loss experience, I would not have discovered how rich sound can really be.

Why don’t we apply these listening techniques to our music practice and really experience the nuances of the music every time we play?

Loud playing isn’t simply loud; it’s boisterous or grand or commanding or ominous, and the way you swing your arm or drop your hand onto the keyboard imbues the music you make with true emotion. I have spent hours trying to perfect the quality of my sound by using my body to exercise control.

The ringing in my left ear gradually lowers in pitch each day and is becoming ever-so-slightly softer. I conclude that I am one of the lucky ones, getting close to walking away with my sense of balance, my primal sense of sound, and the ability to hear silence perfectly once again.

At first, I’m led to believe that thinking I was going deaf was one of the worst things that could have happened to me this year, but it really opened a new awareness of sound that I didn’t know I could appreciate more than I already did.

While I was recuperating, some wonderful people on Artiden shared their own hearing (and healing!) stories with me and it also helped change my views about my temporary hearing loss. (Extra special thanks to Artiden readers Michel and Lucija.)

While my ear stays temporarily stoppered up, I recognize the way my voice and other sounds truly resonate inside my body.

I hope that I won’t forget how to listen the same way, even when the ringing stops.

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