Does playing the violin really improve your hearing?
after a few years playing the violin, I'm starting to get more sensible to notes that are not in tune (or that's what I feel like). Sometimes I play the guitar and I constantly notice that chords are all wrong tuned (since the guitar frets are not in tune, just like a piano). Also when I hear a piano, I sometimes see that some notes are a little off.
The problem is, I'm a very skeptic person, and most of the time I don't believe these kind of "magic" powers, including mines. My inner voice is telling me that it's just placebo effect and that I have not evolved my hearing or improved it in any way.
In the other hand, playing the violin constantly train us violinists to find the exact note, so I know that we have a heavy training there. The thing is, I don't know if that actually trains our ears to be much more sensible to the tuning of any given piece or notes.
Do you guys feel or have felt this?
Do you think that violinists (or cellists, etc... I guess) are better than any other musician at detecting these things?
Pitch discrimination isn't magic; it's a learned skill and you are learning it. Congratulations!
You mean intonation?
Lillian, it took me awhile to be able to pinpoint which note in a double stop was out of tune and in which direction--as a student, I could hear that the interval wasn't right, but not exactly how. It's immediately obvious to me now but there are a lot of years of experience built into that. My students still struggle.
Mary Ellen, regarding double stops, I want to thank you for recommending the Scales for Advanced Violinists by Barbara Barber! I've got all the scale books (Flesch, Galamian, Skelton, Fischer, etc.), except Barber's until I read your comment on the other thread. What I particularly like about that book is the way of practicing double stops. It makes a lot of sense in breaking down the steps and connecting double stops tightly with single stops scale (lateral) and arpeggio (vertical) practice.
Tim, playing the violin doesn't improve your physical hearing. It improves the brain training associated with the perception of "musical" sounds, as well as brain training in the "math" region, to some extent.
Pitch discrimination is a learned skill. You are essentially training your brain to pay more attention to the audio data that is coming into your brain.
So is it a fact, can you really train "pitch discrimination" by playing the violin?
It's similar with other skills and experiences like tasting and seeing. Ie I get exposed to a lot of tasty food then later on some of my previous favorite food seem not so great anymore. I upgraded from CRT to LCD 720p to HD to 4K and now it's hard for me to watch "low resolution".
If a note is played out of tune on the violin the likelihood is that the resonance won't sound quite right (I'm talking about the first three octaves). If a string is out of tune that immediately affects the resonance, and that is a more noticeable effect. Listening to the reverberation helps you to learn good intonation. That's the basic reason a good teacher will take time and effort to teach a beginner how to tune the instrument, then the developing tuning skill will be further enhanced by listening to fingered notes, under the teacher's guidance of course. It follows that "learning" to play in tune by looking at a needle or numbers on a screen is an absolute no-no as far as I am concerned.
Tim, basically yes. Normally your brain throws away information that it doesn't think it needs. Violinists need the distinction, so bit by bit, your brain becomes more sensitivity. You can lose the ability to pitch-discriminate as well if you stop playing. (Each time I stopped playing, it took about a year before I could properly pitch-discriminate again, even though my initial pitch discrimination was still better than the average person.)
Nothing that involves brain processing is immutable, not even the senses which we tend to assume are hard-wired. It's almost a century since Carl Seashore devised his Musical Aptitude Test. The test demonstrates striking differences in auditory discriminative ability between musically trained and untrained subjects in quite basic parameters such as pitch, loudness, tempo, timbre, and rhythm. How much of this is nurture and how much nature is perhaps still debatable but if you can train the motor system, why not the sensory systems also?
If you ability to discern pitches didn't improve, neither would your intonation.
I'd like to know whether the pitch discrimination skills being discussed here are about individual notes (edit: intervals between successive notes), like when playing a scale, or strictly about tones in harmony with other tones that are played at the same time (same instrument or not).
I'll answer Tim's question slightly differently. If one's hearing does not improve with playing the violin then one's violin playing is unlikely to improve. This will doubtless be noticed as time goes on and will be drawn to one's attention by one's loved ones, friends and others.
Han - I believe the discrimination that improves with training mainly concerns the harmonic relationships between notes, experienced simultaneously or sequentially. Absolute pitch identification ("perfect pitch") seems not to improve - indeed some have suggested it may actually be a faculty that most of us "unlearn" thanks to being exposed to a continuum of frequencies.
OK, by "pitch discrimination" I obviously mean pitch comparison in a chord or a bunch of notes. I'm not talking at all about absolute pitch, I've never listened to an isolated note or a single note and thought "oh, that A is 442.6Hz, a little sharp". That would be magic, literally, hahaha. Indeed, I don't know how much precision absolute pitchers do have. Do they recognize an A without doubting about its tuning if you play A443.2?
I think Michael McGrath nailed it. I would only add that one should be thoughtful of the distinction between sense and perception. The physical apparatus of your hearing (tiny bones moving around inside your ear, or whatever) might not improve, but that is different from what happens to the nerve signals once they enter your brain.
Any individual's experience of "perfect pitch" is bound to be limited by their own ability or that of the few other individuals they may know. A late friend of mine, (musician and retired "tone-master" recording engineer) could not only name the note but tell you the frequency of (tuning) A in its harmonic scale. In his few stints as conductor he was the only one I every saw tune a quartet of wind players without having them play their notes individually. On the road he could tell a vehicle's speed by the sound of the tires.
A pet hobbyhorse of mine is how much and what kind of pitch perception is due to the spectral analysis performed by the cochlea and how much to the temporal pattern of acoustic nerve impulses arriving at the brain. The cochlea isn't in fact physically "calibrated" to represent the harmonic relationships between frequencies, not even the octave. Our sense of harmony (simultaneous and sequential) must therefore be a function of the brain analysing the neuronal temporal pattern and it is this, I believe, that is capable of and highly influenced by ear training. The cochlea seems to be a pretty crude organ which is only responsible for a rather vague sense of pitch "height" and timbre through its portrayal of the overall spectral distribution.
The rate of nerve impulses does not encode frequency, but rather volume. Indeed, the cochlea itself does not have an intrinsic octave recognition mechanism, but hair cells corresponding to different frequencies are connected to different neurons. The auditory cortex does get trained in early childhood by incoming signals from different harmonics and somehow learns the cyclic octave relation.
A possible and simple explanation might be that the human voice harmonic series basically operates in simple multiples of the fundamental, and voice recognition and speech recognition may have had a lot to do with survival.
I'm not sure what you mean by "multiples of two of the fundamental". If I sing a tone and look at the frequency spectrum, I see harmonics of all poditive integer multiples (f, 2f, 3f, 4f, ...).
No, playing violin does not improve your hearing.
Han, I believe impulses in acoustic nerve fibres do indeed encode the frequency or periodicity of the sound, not so much by the rate of response but by showing phase-locking to the envelope. The phenomenon of periodicity pitch indicates that energy of a certain frequency is not necessary for a complex tone to be perceived as possessing a pitch equivalent to that frequency. I know very well from my own experiments that short snippets of white noise repeated at intervals of say 10 msec are very strongly perceived as possessing a pitch equivalent to 100Hz.
Steve, aren't you just saying that sine waves, short peaks of sound, and square waves at 100Hz are all perceived strongly as a pitch of 100 Hz?
Steve, could you clarify what you mean by "by showing phase-locking to the envelope."?
Congratulations! You are becoming a musician and better at discerning the notes! What if I tell you as you get really good there will come a time when you realize how out of tune you are once more! And then again...
Andrew and Han - you are both right, that periodicity pitch can in principle be explained by Fourier transformation, in which any cyclic waveform (sine wave, square wave, white noise, sequence of clicks) will show a spike at the fundamental frequency. But FT is a theoretical mathematical formulation - is that actually what the cochlea does when it transforms the waveform into nerve impulses? I once raised this point with researchers far more knowledgeable than myself. I believe their conclusion was that the process is more like wavelet transformation but it is of course a physiological process and not a mathematical one that can be precisely formulated.
About the phase locking: as far as I can tell from 5 minutes of Googling (I'm not a neurologist), neurons are limited in firing rate to about 800 per second, so I find it unlikely that firing of neurons will be able to follow the periodicity of an acoustic wave except for the fundamental frequencies of lower notes. Also, in the hypothetical scenario where neurons fire in lock-step with the waveform, it would be impossible to encode the amplitude (loudness) of the wave.
Just a quick reply to your first point which I think can be explained by the multiplicity of neurons. Not all need respond to every peak in the envelope as long as every peak elicits a response in some of them! Sound amplitude within each spectral band can also be represented by the number of neurons responding.
You're proposing an auditory system that uses the multiplicity of neurons to encode amplitude over 100 dB of dynamic range, which each neuron firing at close to the maximum rate that is physiologically possible (rapidly depleting neurotransmitters in the process). On the receiving side, an enormous amount of brain capacity would be needed to process all that redundant data. That would be pretty bad engineering if there was an intelligent designer involved in that.
Han - in my argument I do my best to stick to verifiable facts and my theorising doesn't depart radically from established thinking in this field. On the other hand I'm afraid your critique is highly speculative, particularly as regards "each neuron firing at close to the maximum rate that is physiologically possible" (did I propose that?) and neurotransmitter depletion. I'm sure the "intelligent designer" (was there one?) wouldn't have used a purely linear process to encode sound amplitude over this range, particularly at the upper extreme. What exactly is "brain capacity" and how would you define its limits? Unlike economically designed systems, evolved brain processes appear to be massively parallel and therefore a lot of information can be considered "redundant".
quote: "in which the APs tend to occur at the same point in the cycle every time."
I really don't see that my argument depends on neuronal firing rates in excess of 1kHz (or whatever limit applies in the auditory pathway). As I said before, it is only required for some neurons (not the same ones every time) to preferentially fire at the peak or trough of the waveform.