Hearing is the first sense we develop in the womb. The regions of the brain that deal with hearing are the first to finish the developmental process called myelination, in which the connecting “wires” of neurons are finished off with fatty sheaths that insulate the neurons, speeding up their electrical signals. In contrast, the visual system doesn’t complete this last step of myelination until a few months after birth.
Hearing is the last sense to go as we lose consciousness (when you’re dropping off to sleep, your other senses drop away and sounds seem to swell up) and the first to return when we make it back to consciousness.
Every morning I consciously wake up my ears. And I wake up my sense of pitch by picking any note, imagining it, and playing it on the piano. These days, I’m always right. But sometimes on a drowsy day, I’ll be a little flat. Not a full quarter tone. Never am I sharp. I blame my energy level. I’m not “up” yet.
I still carry a tuning fork with me. All I have to do is look at it and I hear an A. I don’t even need it but I bring it along anyway for a couple of reasons.
The first is a symbol. A symbol of absolute pitch. It reminds me to be aware of pitch. The more aware I am of pitch, with time, the more refined my sense of pitch becomes.
Second is a reminder to listen. Strike a tuning fork and put it up to your ear, concentrate only on the sound of it vibrating and listen. Close your eyes. No inner dialogue. Just follow the sound as it fades into silence. Notice how you can’t determine exactly when the sound ends. There’s no clear perceivable line between sound and silence. They live inversely. So I’m reminded of silence and I’m reminded to listen unconditionally.
In the absolute sense, sound is neither good nor bad. All judgments are created by our thinking. In the relative sense, loud sounds can hurt your ears. Sounds can be familiar or unfamiliar, consonant or dissonant, strong or weak. All of that “mental noise” can create distance from our own experience of sound.
If you want refined hearing, refine your thinking.
It’s not easy to tighten the leaky faucet of thought. But a listening practice is good training.