Hearing and listening may seem like synonyms but they refer to different processes. Hearing is a biological process that involves the ear transferring the physical stimuli of sound to neural impulses. Listening is more difficult to quantify as it takes place within the brain. It is generally thought to occur in the temporal lobe and various other regions of the brain but the exact mechanism by which this occurs is unknown. Music has a lot of impact on the brain. It activates several regions of the brain in order to listen to the sound, interpret it as music, and respond to it. The brain has a lot of power, and music has the ability to strongly affect the brain, so music has a lot of impact on people. It affects our emotions and our autonomic responses. Understanding music and how human’s hear and understand it helps further our understanding of the mind, the body and music itself.
Sound is vibrations through a medium, usually air when discussing human hearing. These movements in the air fluctuate in pressure, creating a wave like pattern. This pattern is based on the compression of the air rather than a literal wave-form however it still has the characteristics of a wave. Since it has the characteristics of waves it can be interpreted as a mathematical wave. The most important aspects to human hearing are the sounds frequency and wavelength which are interrelated and relate to the pitch, while the amplitude relates to the loudness of the sound. Physically the amplitude of the sound wave refers to the intensity of the pressure in the wave. Loudness is not simply the intensity of the sound, however, as perception of loudness is also affected by qualities such as frequency and timbre.
These physical waveforms are interpreted as sound by the brain when they act on the ear. The ear is designed to funnel sound to the eardrum which vibrates. This vibration is carried along by the ossicles which is made up of three small bones: malleus, incus, and stapes. These bones carry the vibration to the cochlea. Along the curled up cochlea runs the basilar membrane which is covered in hairs that can convert vibrations into nerve impulses. The fluid in the cochlea takes on the vibration from the ossicles so it can be interpreted by the hairs on the basilar membrane. The basilar membrane is tonotopic, meaning that specific regions correspond to specific frequencies. Based on the wavelength of the vibration the ear will send different signals along the auditory nerve to the brain.
The frequency range of the ear is from about 20 Hz to 20, 000 Hz, however the ability for the neurons to interpret the frequency is impaired beyond about 5000 Hz, which causes them to sound non-melodic and likewise instruments usually stop before 5000 Hz. Anything with a frequency above 5000 Hz is automatically perceived as noise. The ear is capable of separating the different frequencies it takes in all at once. This allows for identification of different...