Learning to Listen: Neurological Evidence

Neurological evidence indicates we not only learn to listen, but actually tune our inner ear response based on neural feedback from the brain. We literally are able to actively tune our own hearing.  

When we listen for a flute for example, this is more than a conscious decision to focus on the flute. This creates neural impulses that actively tune ear cells to better hear the flute.  

This whole video is fascinating, but I want to get you hooked right away so check this out:  

“Selectively changing what we’re listening to in response to the content. Literally reaching out to listen for things.

Here’s another good one. Everyone can hear subtle details about five times as good as predicted by modeling. Some of us however can hear 50 times as good. The difference? Years spent learning to listen closely! https://youtu.be/SuSGN8yVrcU?t=1956

Learning to play music really does help improve your listening.  

This video is chock full of neurphysiological evidence that by studying, learning and practice you can develop the listening skills to hear things you literally could not hear before. Our hearing evolved millennia before we invented music. We are only just now beginning to scratch at the potential evolution has bestowed on us.

OP, thank you so much for this post. Adding it to my library and will learn from this. FYI, I've been having a back and forth with Ethan Winer and he keeps *insisting* that if his list of measurements show no difference between cables, then anything perceived is either part of a scam or placebo. Everyone who claims to hear a difference, he says, is a dupe or a shill. Everyone. I keep telling him that because the brain/perceptual systems are so complex, that he should not be so sure that he has the final word on what/how to measure for -- that he has to consider the complicated listener-perceiver side of the equation. He's a hedgehog; he won't budge. Ethan aside, this area of research is fascinating. Thank you for sharing this. If you ever find more, please share or DM me.

Will do. Thanks.
It was listening to the XLO Test CD track Poor Boy that triggered my awareness, of what I was hearing from some of the better CD players and amps. They were less etched and grainy than mine, but it took playing this all analog recording to make the connection.
This is all good, but I’m not certain what "etched and grainy" means to you in terms of sound. Since I don’t know for sure what it is in acoustical terms that you were perceiving I have no way of knowing if I could detect it. If I could detect it, I assume I would get a similar perception of it as you do. But without knowing what it is there’s no way to be sure. I can tell you what comes to mind for me when I think of those words in terms of sound - static and interference tones, with a few harsh peaks here and there. That would be the grainy part in my mind. Etched, well that’s harder to imagine but I would assume the starts and stops of tones would be louder than the middle and maybe start and stop with clicks, like a CB radio effect.

Are there any overtly etched and grainy sounding recordings that you can refer me to as a reference?

I found this video where a guy etched grooves in a tortilla with a laser and played it on a record player. Sounds grainy and etched in a corny way.
What you are asking is at the root of the Learning to Listen discussions: How do you learn to hear something you don’t yet know how to hear?

The first two were direct and to the point. Whatever it is you are able to hear today, there was a time when you were not. How did this happen?

With me, the words were there. Robert Harley has a great book where he talks about all these different terms. The smoothness of a sound lies somewhere along a continuum. Etch is harshest, then grain which can be coarse or fine, then as it gets smoother pristine, then liquid, and the liquid can be excellent clear water or go too far and be syrupy.

Anyone can hear these things, it is simply a question of learning. This discussion starts off with a video where we see the actual bio-neural pathways by which such learning happens. The question still remains, Why? How?

“Selectively changing what we’re listening to in response to the content. Literally reaching out to listen for things.

That quote is from the video. He gives the example of the flute, but it could be anything. Note another time he talks about cells that respond very fast to transients. Very different from the ones we typically test hearing with. Those cells sense tones at different frequencies. We have way more hearing ability than just crude frequency. We can do way more than just pick out the flute.

Your question sounds exactly like where I was 30 years ago. You know all these terms, but where are they in the music? How do you learn to identify them? That is the big mystery.

Sorry we have to keep closing these threads. The one or two serious comments like yours and hilde45 get crowded out and worse. One so bad I had the mods remove it. The other one is closed but still there for viewing. Anyone seriously interested in the subject I would suggest it is worth the time to read, because you are not alone. Others have had these same revelations, epiphany, whatever you want to call it. When it happens it happens.

This video gives us the mechanism to understand some of it. When you decide to listen for something, anything (the flute) neural impulses physically alter the hearing mechanism to help make that happen. But you have to know what it is, you have to have something in mind. Which until you hear it and know you’ve heard it, how do you do that?

If you want to learn to pick out grainy vs smooth, well that is part of the burn-in process. Pretty sure you have already heard it. Just didn’t recognize that aspect of it. Tubes tend to be smoother, ss grainier. CD always grain compared to LP. Doug Sax mastered recordings are all liquid smooth. Ditto Sheffield.

Jennifer Warnes The Well, mixed by George Massenburg and mastered by Bernie Grundman is a lovely luxuriously liquid recording compared to Famous Blue Raincoat which is not grainy other than in comparison. That is one of the many things that makes this so hard. None of these things are objective absolutes. They are all subjectively relative. That is also what makes it so gratifying when you get it.
I find the subject to almost be boring or a self aggrandising lording over one superiority…However what I do find somewhat interesting, and possibly worth sharing for consideration, is that there is a lot of work being done on perception and reality.

The thesis tis that we have an internal model of the world in our brains, and things that comport with reality, are what we call rational thoughts.

In the case of spatial skills, after a while the infant’s brain allows the input from the eye to understand that a door or a floor is something that exists in the outside world. And when we are older,. We can walk to the toilet in the dark because we have a spatial model of the house’s interior in our brain, and with a few applications of a hand on the door jam, we can get to the toilet without banging our head or stubbing our toes.

It is not the infant’s eyes that are seeing a floor. They are supplying the information to the brain, and the brain sees the floor.

In a computer one could ray trace the various instruments and their time of propagation to a listener or microphone. That technique gets a lot harder for the inverse problem where one needs to locate the instruments using the computer. First one needs to know how many of them there might be and how to separated the signals either in frequency or time.

In a spetial sense once we know that there is a bass guitar and drum set, etc… then it would be possible in the computer, and likely could be happening in our minds/brains, that we move those sources around until their location fits the input signals optimally.

Similar to the baby’s eyes, It is probably not our ears that see the instruments as imaging… it is all done in the brain, and cannot happen easily without a pair of ears.

But the brain is also able to put things into the equation that are not there in reality…
Whether it is skill that worth having depends if one has invested in a stereo… or if one is blindfolded Bruce Lee or Luke Skywalker then it is also a useful skill.