Listening is a skill we all have to learn early in life, indeed we start training our hearing in the womb during the third trimester of pregnancy, when as a foetus we start to pick up sounds like our mum’s voice.
Even before we have spoken our first word at about age one, we’re intently listening to those speaking around us and beginning to learn language. That aural brain training can continue throughout your life, but as with many skills, it is more effective during childhood when the brain has more plasticity and ability to adapt and learn.
Scientists have often looked to musicians to explore what training does to our abilities to hear. Musicians naturally train their ears to hear better, for example those who play in groups must learn to pick out the sound of an individual instrument against the sound of the rest of the band.
This training process takes many years and studies on children have found various improvements such as better verbal memory, reading, and ability to stay focussed on tasks.
A key listening task we all do is picking out speech in noise. This might be used to home in on what a friend is saying in a noisy restaurant or to follow an actor’s dialogue against the sound effects and music of a movie soundtrack.
There is increasing evidence that musicians who have trained their hearing for music are better at picking out speech from other sounds, especially when the competing noise comes from other talkers.
Read more about the science of sound:
- How does a soundbar simulate three-dimensional sound?
- How do we convert audio from analogue to digital and back?
- What’s a bitrate, and what has it got to do with music quality?
- How do amplifiers work?