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:  
https://youtu.be/SuSGN8yVrcU?t=1340

“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.


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Our brains definitely “fill in gaps” from data supplied by our ears, eyes, nose, skin, etc.

This is a long-established area of medical/psychiatric study.

I’m a magic enthusiast. Not a practicing magician (was when I was a kid), but someone who follows the art form, and is interested in the history and the how.

I recently read a book, “Sleights of Mind”, that examines how magic works from the perspective of neuroscience. One of the primary take-aways is that our brains fill in the blanks from what we see and hear during a trick, and that these blanks are filled in incorrectly. This is how a magician fools us. He/she manipulates a prop in a manner our brain believes it has seen before, placing a coin in a hand for example. Many of us have seen a trick like this...the magician repeats placing a coin into someone’s palm several times, then when he/she does it the fourth time the coin disappears. The magician does something with the coin that fourth time that our brain doesn’t process correctly. Our brain processes what it “thinks” our eyes have seen based on seeing the coin placed in a hand several times prior. Our brain fills in the blank, and misses the sleight of hand, even though our eyes have plainly seen the manipulation.

To me, it’s not hard to correlate this concept of filling-in-the-blanks to audio reproduction. Many of us know the sound of a live stand-up bass, a drum, a trumpet. When we hear a recording of an instrument, do our brains fill in the gaps of missing recorded information and make that recording sound more “real”? I’d say the answer must be yes. Musical memory, familiarity with sound(s), is part of listening whether passively or actively. I’m sure there are published studies about this.


I can totally understand @erik_squires point of stop listening to the gear and just enjoy the music but I’m not exactly sure how to accomplish that.

I gave up on stereo gear and stopped listening to music for over 20 years because I had gotten to a point that I could not longer enjoy the music and only hear the equipment. I think part of that was I was limited to just the music I owned or the radio and didn’t have the myriad of listening choices that we have today. I was stuck listening to the same set of albums over and over again. That familiarity trained my ears to pick out minute details but also removed my enjoyment partially because I wasn’t able to acquire the best of the equipment I thought I needed. I was in a spiral of not being completely satisfied no matter what the gear and of an age that the current music just wasn’t that appealing so new music on the radio didn’t inspire me.

It could of been just my group of friends but this trend also happened to several of the people I knew.

It’s been almost 5 years now since I got back into listening. I started thinking I could be happy with anything but was bitten with there’s always better. I could now afford the best of the equipment I craved used for pennies on the dollar and I also have resources like this forum to learn from and services that allow me to listen to almost anything that was ever recorded.

For me one of the worst things I can do is use one of my favorite songs to demo gear. After a while it’s no longer enjoyable so Erik’s point is well taken. Hopefully this time I can listen without becoming obsessive. I still have tweaks to do to my present system but it makes me smile when I listen to it so the tweaks will happen more when I have the time not because it no longer brings me pleasure.

Cheers, and enjoy the music
@femoore12

I honestly don’t understand why this topic seems to be so controversial. If you have ever learned to play an instrument, learned to read music, learned how to sing in a choir, learned how to harmonize with other voices, then this topic becomes very academic.

At some odds with your very valid point is that there are musicians who often don’t have very good systems or care very much about sound quality in audio systems. That may merely be because they just don’t care about audio quality sound -- which would be weird -- or that they listen in some other way. But the notion that if one is a musician they already know how to listen as an audiophile is contradicted in a lot of cases, and that presents a puzzle.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2iAqepNnow&ab_channel=PSAudio
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rM8sxFxmOUw&ab_channel=PSAudio
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1wQikZo5-o&ab_channel=SteveGuttenbergAudiophiliac
https://www.cnet.com/tech/home-entertainment/why-do-musicians-have-lousy-hi-fis/
At some odds with your very valid point is that there are musicians who often don’t have very good systems or care very much about sound quality in audio systems. That may merely be because they just don’t care about audio quality sound -- which would be weird -- or that they listen in some other way.
I think that the answer lies in the fact that these musicians, as well as other music lovers, can truly enjoy the artists and music on whatever audio gear they are listening to regardless of the price.  The music is the message, it is delivered regardless of the price of the equipment.

The reality check is that if music was not that enjoyable on inexpensive equipment, the music industry as we know it today would not exist. What percent of persons who love and listen to music and really are the mainstream support of artists have actually spent more than, taking a guess, $2K or $3K for their stereo systems if that, 2 percent, 3 percent?

I think inherent in the mindset of many audiophiles is that their enjoyment on expensive equipment is more than the non audioplile’s enjoyment on their relatively inexpensive equipment.  I understand how you can think that, but I can say I know people who listen on "regular" equipment who love their sounds.