Healing Your Hearing…WHAT?


One of the first questions I ask a voice student is, “What is the first thing you do in order to sing a note?” The answers range from, “Breathe from my diaphragm” to “Stand up straight” and open my mouth.” But I think that I’ve heard the right answer only once. The first thing a singer must do is to hear the note. Remember my second rule…you can find it in the sidebar. “It is always simpler than it seems.”

This is not exclusive to singers. This first thing you do pertains to any and every musician. Before you make a sound, you have to hear the sound you are about to create. This is a mental tool that is valuable in conceptualizing that which you are attempting to create. But the importance of hearing brings me to my subject.

Have you ever performed or attended a concert and experienced ringing ears afterwards? You leave the venue, get on a plane or go to your room and the ringing is more than annoying. You feel as if it will never stop. So you turn off the TV, shut off the iPod, anything to hear only silence. But the quieter it is, the more pronounced the ringing becomes. It is time to heal your hearing.

First, here is the fast lane explanation of how your ear works. Sound waves enter the ear canal, striking the ear drum, setting into vibration the attached stirrup which passes the vibrations along to a bone-like structure called the anvil after which the vibrations are processed by thousands of little hairs, each attached to a nerve which tells the brain what to think of it all. When the sound pressure is too high, those little hairs call it quits and your brain gets less information. So what do you do? You turn it up, of course. Causing more of the little hairs to take a powder, so you…turn it up!

Now, those little hairs are frequency specific and if the sound pressure level stays elevated long enough, they will lay down and stay down…forever. That’s why drummers often lose hearing in the high frequency range. Good god, hitting a snare drum all night long is worse than passing out targets at the firing range.

Alright, that’s the problem, now what is the cure? Don’t ask me, I’m no doctor. I guess that the ultimate solution would be to stop making all that racket and stop going places where they are making a racket. But you gotta work. You know how to rock and roll. Here is something that might help you to rock and hear.

Let’s get a little anthropomorphic here and think of all those little hairs as tsunami survivors. Once the racket stops, they are all clinging to each other in fear of the next wave. After the initial look around for survivors, they start to talk to each other. “Did you hear that shit?” “Yeah man, it was LOUD!” “Boy, it sure is quiet now.’ ” Yeah, I wonder what’s next.” Did you hear anything?” “No, you?” “Anybody seen Bob?” “He’s down for the count.” and so on. Now, these little guys are tiny and they have little tiny voices. But when enough of them start calling out to each other, we hear it as a ringing in the ears.

Having taught in the classroom, I can tell you that the best way to get the attention of a noisy class is to speak quietly. Standing in silence just makes you a target for paper airplanes. But a whisper will always get the attention of a crowd. So here is how I get the little guys in my inner ear to shut up and go back to work.

Put on a pair of good quality headphones. Now play a string quartet or maybe the Bach Unaccompanied Cello Sonatas. And turn the volume down to the point where you have to struggle to hear the music. Very low. Inside your ear, the little hairs’ conversation starts to dwindle and finally die down. When the music hits the inner ear, you can imagine them saying to each other, “Did you hear something?” “Shh! What was that?” “I think it’s a violin.” Shut up man, It sounds nice.” “Hey, let go of me, I can stand up on my own.” “Will you guys shut up already, I want to hear this.”

And soon, the little hairs stop talking and are back up and dancing. When you make them seek out something to do, something to hear, they work very efficiently. The ringing will go away, and you can finally get some much needed rest. Try it. A little classical music never hurt anybody and your ears will be full of happy little hairs for years to come.

Heal your hearing.