Have you ever heard one of those “Name that tune” contests on the radio? The radio host will play 2 or 3 seconds of a song and invite people to call in with the name of the song. The first caller with the correct answer wins a prize.
Dozens or even hundreds of people will call in – most of them with the correct answer!
How do we do that? From 2 or 3 seconds?
Have you ever wondered why listening to bird song, and gentle wind in the trees and/or bubbling water is so calming?
Why does a car horn or siren put you immediately on alert?
Psychoacoustics is the study of how humans perceive sound – the psychology of sound.
- One aspect of this study includes the physics of sound and how it travels.
- Another aspect is understanding the physical process of how we hear. How the pressure created by sound pushes on our eardrums. How this pressure is transferred to the inner ear, decoded and sent to the brain.
Finding out where sound goes in the brain is a fascinating new branch of study in the field of neuroscience. Magnetic imaging results of this process are fascinating. You may have heard of Daniel Levitin and/or his book, This is Your Brain on Music. In fact, Levitin explains how it is that we can identify a song in 2 seconds in his book. Subjects in his experiments get a snippet of only one tenth of a second to identify the song – and most of them can do it!
- And then, there is the study of how music or certain sounds change our mood. The research within this aspect of psychoacoustics is extensive.
When I was pregnant with our second child, I was learning how to play the lute. Since not many people know what this instrument looks like, there is a picture below. My lute is a copy of one in a German museum that was built in 1685.
As you can see from the shape of the back of the lute, it was the same shape as my abdomen as I reached the late stages of pregnancy – only in the opposite direction. Trying to hold and play the lute was like trying to balance one basketball on top of another.
I managed though, and enjoyed my practice.
It is well known that a fetus can hear by the 4th month of pregnancy. Matt became accustomed to the soft sounds of the lute through my stomach throughout his gestation.
I found it fascinating that after he was born, if I played my lute or a recording of lute music when he was really fussy or crying, he would immediately stop crying and listen to the music. It was consistently a dramatic change in his mood.
I just wish it had worked as well when he became a teenager.
- In addition to the studies of the effect of music and/or sound on our mood, there are many studies of the effect of music on us physically, such as changes in blood pressure, heart rate, brainwave state, pain and more. There is some overlap with mood here as some of these physical changes can create a change in our mood.
- Psychoacoustics informs the technology and the development of music listening devices and music formats for digital music, like MP3. The original music file is changed considerably to create an MP3 format. With detailed knowledge of how we hear, this format was created so that most of really can’t tell the difference between a higher quality sound track and an MP3 version of the track.
- The term, applied psychoacoustics has been used to describe music that has been created using psychoacoustic knowledge and principles to make a specific change in your physiology, your mental state or your mood. Music producer, Joshua Leeds, is a world authority on applied psychoacoustics. His book, The Power of Sound, is an excellent source of information on this subject.
In our Sound Wellness Fundamentals course we explore a buffet of different kinds of sounds and music to find out what works FOR YOU, to stimulate health and wellbeing.