Your ears pick up your own sounds and those made by others, human or
animal. Unlike your eyes, your ears are positioned at the side of your
Your ears are open to sounds from your entire surroundings; it is not
necessary to position the ears directly in front of a sound. You cannot
your ears, so that you are connected with the world of sound during all
waking hours. You cannot help but hear them.
Listening – conscious hearing – requires you to be
quiet. You must keep still
yourself and take a back seat, as it were. Listening is a social
focused on others, but it is also an internal activity. How often did
your teacher say ‘sit still and listen
Animals can turn their ears towards a source of sound. Humans do not
have this ability to ‘see’ with their
ears. Animals hear well, but they do not listen, as they cannot step
out of themselves and become silent.
The hearing organ can be divided into three parts (figure 3, page 34).
The external ear, consisting of the
concha and the ear canal, captures sounds. The eardrum is situated at
the end of the ear canal.
The middle ear carries the sound further. The middle ear is made up of
the tympanum which in turn
contains the three ossicle bones (malleus, incus and stapes) and the
Eustachian tube which connects the
tympanum with the throat. The Eustachian tube stays open when you
swallow so that a constant pressure
is maintained on both sides of the tympanic membrane. The ossicle bones
pick up vibrations in air and
pass these on from the tympanic membrane to the inner ear.
The inner ear is located in the temporal bone and consists of a
labyrinth, a cavity filled with fluid that is
made up by the vestibule, cochlea and three semi-circular canals which
are used to maintain balance. The
cochlea is the actual hearing organ, where vibrations of air are
transformed back into sounds.
You can distinguish three types of sounds. First, there are the common,
everyday sounds such as the
rustling of leaves, the wind howling round the house, babbling water
and all sorts of mechanical noises
such as cars, creaking doors, and so on. The second type of sound is
music, which is made up of sounds
and tones. The third type of sound is human speech.
You can observe three aspects of every sound, regardless of which type
it is: the volume, the pitch and the
tone colour. You can also observe the distance to the source of the
sound, since the sound does not reach
both ears simultaneously. The second ear will hear the sound 0.001
second later, so that you can estimate
where the sound originated. Accurately assessing the distance and
direction of a sound is a matter of
Hearing declines with age, but to compensate we are born with a very
wide range of hearing. Children
can hear 11 octaves, and even in old age you can still hear 10 octaves.
Looking at an object gives you an idea of its exterior. Listening to an
object gives you an idea of what is
within. Often, for example, it is difficult to distinguish a glass pane
from a plastic one by sight alone. If
you tap the pane, however, the sound will tell you which it is right
away. You can also hear if a plate or a
bell is cracked, even if you cannot see the damage. Listening to people
can also reveal information about
their inner lives. People might look smart, but if they feel bad inside
it is immediately apparent in their
voice. Someone’s intonation betrays whether they are sad,
happy or excited.
The resonation of sound by objects is always the sum of its parts, of
substance and shape.
In order to resonate, objects must be solid and free-standing. A
free-standing copper bell rings, but a bell
standing on the ground is like a soft chunk of clay: it makes no sound.
Sound is considered an unearthly
We have a very fine perception for music and sound, and we can feel
intimately connected with tones
and melodies. High tones are generally perceived as clear, light, sharp
and distinct, while low tones are
perceived as dark, full, warm, big and less distinct.
A final point of interest is the relationship between sight and
hearing. When you look at something, you
can hear it better. This does not only apply to speech, but also to
music. If you were to listen to a
philharmonic symphony and keep your eyes on the oboe, you would hear
that instrument more clearly
than the others. If you then switched your gaze to the clarinet, you
would hear it more clearly, and so on.
Stand somewhere, indoors or out, and describe all the sounds you hear.
What feelings do the sounds
evoke? You can do this exercise with your eyes open or blindfold. Does
it make a difference to what
This is an exercise for two people, one of whom is blindfold. Stand 5
metres apart. The person who is
not blindfold must whisper something, articulating well, and the
blindfold person must repeat what
the other whispered. Then remove the blindfold, so that the listener
can see the speaker. Again, the
listener must repeat what the speaker whispered. What is the result?
What was the listener’s
This exercise is for a group. One person sits behind a sheet or screen.
Out of sight of the other
subjects, this person makes sounds using various objects. For example,
silver, lead, iron and wooden
spoons can be used to tap objects such as a plate, a cracked plate, a
glass, a porcelain cup, a
plastic beaker, a free-standing bell, a bell on a table, a small bell,
and so on. The rest of the group
must try to identify the objects by the sounds.