Neural ear cells were once considered as irreplaceable as neural brain cells -- once destroyed, no replacements could be grown thereafter. The loud noises of guns, rock music and big machinery all can obliterate ear neurons. Can being more conscious of sounds improve auditory acuity? One researcher found that those people who enjoy loud music or "attend" more to it suffer less hearing loss from it than those who don't enjoy it. By directing your conscious awareness to a finely tuned listening discernment, there is a more refined usage of the ears, and corresponding brain centers governing the ears. To assume that because you have ears, you are listening and attending to sound is just as absurd as to assume that because you have a brain, you are thinking. Both skills are learned with practice. If neither ear or brain cells are put to much use, naturally their rate of deterioration will be increased with their corresponding lack of use.
Since about 80% of your acknowledged sensory input is visual, much of the auditory information coming into your brain goes consciously unnoticed. Can deteriorating unused cells in the brain's hearing center contribute to a hearing loss? Some people have hearing that is so attuned that they can play a musical instrument totally "by ear." Mozart could hear a piece once, and play it perfectly from memory alone.
Even though some people have neural connections more naturally adapted to a sense of perfect pitch than others, research has shown that training can make the ability of absolute pitch available to anyone, and regardless of their musical inclinations. It does seem though that reading the language of musical notes is a left brain function, which is why some 'idiot savants' with left brain impairment have learned to play instruments only 'by ear' (a right brain function). One young man learned the long distance sound tones of the telephone company so well, he could simulate them in a phone booth without depositing any money, but simply by whistling!
Work with a partner and a touch button phone. As your partner touches each button, you discern the number being pressed. This tonal discernment can be picked up rather quickly. Next, using a rotary style phone, have your partner dial each digit. Get used to the sound of the clicks for each number so that eventually you can tell any phone number by just the sound of its being dialed. Now do either operation while talking or listening to someone.
The blind frequently identify everyday sounds with great clarity. As an exercise with your back turned or with your eyes closed, have a partner do different things involving sounds for identification -- open a briefcase, pop in a cassette to a recorder, tap on a light bulb, thump a book, etc. Next, converse with your partner and have him continue initiating the various sound inputs -- dropping a paper clip, scraping the floor, etc. Afterwards, identify the various sounds that you heard while you were conversing. Continue with this and vary the sound effects from items to include crinkling, crackling, hissing, sizzling, creaking, soft whizzing, whirring, flapping and tearing.
In a country field, on a city street, or at a beach location, practice for 5 minutes with your eyes closed identifying distant and nearby sounds -- picking each one out, one at a time. Now embrace them together by switching your conscious awareness very rapidly back and forth from one to another until a unified mixing is achieved. Listen to a symphony recording and pick out each instrument being played. Then simply appreciate the entire blend. You can do this just like you can recognize your name spoken in a crowded room or you can embrace all the conversations at once. If this drill is done in a group, you'll find that other people will pick up things that you missed and vice versa. Many people can learn to discern one musician from another just by their individual playing style.
Blindfold yourself and have an assistant drop a coin on the floor. What denomination is it? Now drop 2 coins. What denominations are they? Increase the number of coins and vary the combinations. Have your assistant drop certain pieces of silverware with the coins and discern the differences and their identities. Throw a paper wad into various sizes of empty bowls, pans and other containers and determine the size of the container by the resounding sound.
Always have a mental set ready for absorbing your auditory information and you'll be surprised how easy it will become to increase your awareness. Learn to visualize sounds and replay them in your mind after you hear them, and your recall of them later will improve. Those older people suffering from memory loss can certainly benefit from these challenging discernment exercises. In fact, many such drugs could be used in conjunction with physical exercise for stroke victims.
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