How to train your ears

November 29, 2019
 by Paul McGowan

We learn how to hear from an early age. At first, sounds don’t make sense because we have yet to form pathways and relationships. Over time, we figure out that cooing sound is mom, and that clucking sound is dad.

It’s not a whole lot different when we apply learned hearing to our Hi-Fi systems. The best listeners I know don’t have the best hearing, they just have a lot of training.

When I first met Stan Warren I couldn’t tell a good Hi-Fi system from a bad one. Over time, Stan helped me develop “an ear” for what works and what doesn’t. I am forever grateful.

If you’re interested in developing your hearing here’s a few tips to start with.

Breaking down a sonic presentation into its component pieces helps us sort out what’s working and what isn’t. If a singer’s voice is the size of a refrigerator we don’t need a lot of training to understand that’s not normal. But, what else is wrong? What are the common traits we hear whenever voices and instruments are too big? What do we know when every instrument sounds tubby, or strained, or thin?

These are some of the common clues we need to start building our mental library. The bigger the library, the better its indexing, the better listener we become.

We’re looking for patterns.

The easiest way to start the journey is to arm yourself with a reference library (in the same way you read the accepted classics if you want to better grasp literature). I recommend the list I publish for starters. Once so armed, focus your attention on what’s easiest for you to identify as authentic: the human voice, a piano, horn, or stringed instrument. Learn all there is to know within these samples of the voice or instrument you chose.

Repetition breeds mastery. The more you listen and find common patterns the better the listener you become. You’ll know that whenever an instrument or voice is too big it’s because the system is too loud.

Eventually, you’ll master the art of listening.

All you need to do is pay attention.

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