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Chapter 10 - Exercises For The Ear

I had an opportunity of repeatedly observing the peculiar manner in which he (Dr. Saunderson) arranged his ideas and acquired his information. Whenever he was introduced into company. I remarked that he continued some time silent. The sound directed him to judge of the dimensions of the room, and the different voices of the number of persons that were present. His distinction in these respects was very accurate, and his memory so retentive that he was seldom mistaken. I have known him instantly to recognize a person on first hearing him, though more than two years had elapsed since the time of their meeting." --- Manchester Philosophical Memoirs.


The discriminating mind in the ear;

The mind master of hearing;

Direct improvement of Will through willed employment of this sense.

"Well, early in autumn, a first winter-warning,

When the stag had to break with his foot, of a morning,

A drinking-hole out of the fresh, tender ice,

That covered the pond till the sun, in a trice,

Loosening it, let out a ripple of gold,

And another and another, and faster,

Till, dimpling to blindness, the wide water rolled."


If you can see that picture from Browning, you probably can hear the sounds that go with it. Natural defects aside, one good sense-power assists all the senses. When attention of the eye begins, the ear often follows. Here is the first communion. Hence three questions arise: Do you hear! Do you hear correctly? Do you hear what you wish to hear?

Sounds are produced by vibrations in the atmosphere. The human ear is limited in its ability to respond to these vibrations. Within such natural limits, the more sounds one can make out the better one's hearing. Loss of sounds is due to defects of ear and abstraction of mind.

If one hears all noises does one necessarily hear correctly? That is, is the soul always in the ear? To distinguish tone, quality, direction, etc., of sounds? Is any difference obtaining in this respect due to endowment or education? Or both?

Exercises for the Ear

Probably the latter is true. The value of exercises, therefore, to train the ear, to unfold latent powers, is evident.

Hearing what one wishes to hear may involve exclusion: one desires to shut out a noise. Or inclusion: one wishes to enjoy, truly, deeply, certain sounds, harmonics, music. All depends, now, on the soul. The nervous person hears everything. The dull person hears little.

Hearing may be shut out by Will. The door is closed to a certain sound. Hearing may be rendered more acute by Will." Listen! A far-off bird is singing!" "Shh ! A burglar is in the house!" Education in correctness of ear is preeminently a matter of Will; but of the persistent Will. The control of the ear exhibits some of the highest phases of self direction. The educated soul now mounts up on wings through the realm of harmony.

But feeling, thought, imagination, are here the masters. To hear in the best sense involves the soul. Other things being equal, the largest soul hears most, most correctly, and with greatest powers of appreciation and appropriation.

The purpose of the exercises that follow is, as with those for the eye, development of ability to consider motives through discipline of attention, and thus the growth of intelligent Will power.


Exercise No. 1.

How many sounds are now demanding your attention? Count them. Listen! Try to distinguish: Their different directions; their different causes; their different tones; their difference in strength; their different qualities; their different groupings.

Repeat this exercise for ten days, with rest of two days, and on the tenth day estimate the improvement made.

Exercise No. 2.

Single out some one prominent sound, and note everything which you can possibly say about it. Repeat this exercise ten times on the first day with a different sound. Repeat these exercises every day for ten days, with rest of two days, and on the tenth day note imp rovement.

A Harp of 8,700 Strings

Exercise No. 3.

Select the faintest sound that continues coming to you. In doing this try to distinguish

some regular sound which you have not hitherto noticed. Note everything that can be said

concerning it.

Repeat this exercise ten times on the first day, with a different sound. Repeat these exercises every day for ten days, with rest, and on the tenth day note improvement.

Exercise No. 4.

Single out some one of the sounds that come regularly to you. Attend to this sound alone. Shut out all other sounds. Be filled with it. Become absorbed in it. Note everything which can be said of it.

Repeat this exercise ten times on the first day, with a different sound. Repeat these exercises every day for ten days, with rest, and on the tenth day note improvement.

Exercise No. 5.

Select the most pleasant sound that continues to come to you. Note all possible reasons for its pleasantness. Do not fall into reverie.

Repeat this exercise ten times on the first day with a different sound. Repeat these exercises every day for ten days, with rest, and on the tenth day note improvement.

Exercise No. 6.

Listen carefully once to some simple melody played upon an organ or a piano. Try now to build up in your soul that melody entirely from memory. You may remember a note or two, but will forget the most of it. If, however, you are persistent, you can gradually reconstruct the lost tune. The author has often accomplished this building up of music. Make the exercise a frequent task.

Exercises for the Ear

Exercise No. 7.

While one is striking the keys of a piano, first one, then another, endeavor, without looking at the player, to distinguish the notes, whether sharp or flat, position on the board, and name of each note.

Repeat with two keys, one hand striking. Repeat with four keys, both hands striking. Repeat with full chord, one hand striking. Repeat with full chords, both hands striking. Practice in the above exercises should be continued until you can detect improvement in compass of hearing, correctness of hearing, control over hearing. Do not become discouraged. The purpose is Will. Resolve to go on to the end. That end is Will power.

Do nothing without thought. Put the soul into the ear in all these exercises, willing, with great energy, attention to all sounds, or to one, or to none, as the case may be.

Carry the Mood of Will through every exercise. Exclusion of sound is often an exhibition of Will, both in the act of shutting sounds out, and in controlling the nerves in regard to sounds which refuse to vanish. Why, then, should not a more regulated and conscious mastery of ear be acquired?

Perhaps your hearing is defective and you are not aware of the fact. Or the defect may be due to a want of acute attention. In order to ascertain the real difficulty, the following exercise is suggested:

Exercise No. 8.

When all is quiet, hold a watch at arm's length from the right ear. Do you hear it ticking? No? Move the watch gradually nearer the ear until you hear. Note the distance at which the ticking first becomes audible. Write the result and mark "Ear No. 8," and date. Repeat this exercise ten times on its first day. Repeat these exercises every day for ten days, with rest, and on the tenth day note improvement. Meanwhile induce several other persons to practice the same exercise so far as to ascertain the distance at which they can hear the ticking of the same watch.

During the ten days repeat all the exercises with the left ear, correctly marking results. If you make no improvement in hearing, this may still be due to a constitutional limit. Continue the practice until you are satisfied that your hearing cannot be improved. Then consult a physician.

A Harp of 8,700 Strings

If you do not hear as well as others, this also may be clue to constitutional limit. It will, nevertheless, be wise to consult a physician.

Perhaps certain sounds which you hear incessantly are destroying you with the threat of nervous prostration or insanity. Your dear neighbor's piano played through everlasting hours, or his dog barking all night long, or street hawkers, become evidences of civilization's chaos. Procure the cessation of these sounds, if possible. If not, resolve to shut them out of mind. Hence:

Exercise No. 9.

Never fight disagreeable noises by attending to them. Select some particularly hateful sound which comes to you regularly. Make this a practice for the day. Now, by an enormous effort of Will attend so powerfully to some other sound or many sounds as to shut out the one you wish to banish. Continue this effort five minutes. Do not become discouraged. You can do this act of exclusion if you will do it. After five minutes, rest, by turning the attention away from sounds in general. Then repeat the exercise by shutting out the sound ten minutes. Give the matter a half hour, increasing the time of exclusion of sound with each exercise a few minutes, and resting between efforts by diverting attention to other things.

Vary the effort to exclude sound by attending with great energy to some agreeable thought. Do not will directly to shut a sound out of the ear. Will to become directly absorbed in other sounds or in other matters of thought. Repeat these exercises until you are master.

Exercise No. 10.

At night, when you are disturbed by hideous noises, stop thinking about them. Insist that you do not care anyway. Think of a particularly pleasant tune; or thought; or experience. Do not work: take the matter easily. Call up, mentally, a sound which is totally different from the one that disturbs you. Cause it to run in the mind, taking care that it has a certain regularity and rhythm. Imagine the loud ticking of a large clock, or the droning of an old-fashioned waterwheel, or the steady booming of the sea.

Remember, that all thought about the hateful sound only intensifies its power over you. To rage at a barking dog signifies one of two consequences: the death of the dog (possibly of its owner), or more nervousness on the part of the man who has no Will. Similarly with other disturbing noises. The Will that masters them is a growing Will. The growing Will comes of intelligent exercise, with the Will idea always present, "I RESOLVE TO WILL I ATTENTION !"

Exercises for the Ear

Everybody knows how acute the hearing of the blind becomes, probably as Dr. M.P. Hatfield has observed, "not because they have any better hearing than the rest of us, but because their misfortune makes them continually cultivate their hearing, for like all of our faculties it is susceptible of very great improvement under cultivation."

The power of the soul to become so absorbed in itself as to lose consciousness of all around it, is illustrated by an incident in the life of Thomas Aquinas. "Upon one of the many occasions when he sat at the table of the king, by invitation, he forgot everything going on about him, sunk in reflection upon some difficult question in theology, with which he had been engrossed; suddenly he cried out, striking the table with his fist ‘I have got it.’ He had heard and observed nothing but the important thing in hand.

So, also, the soul may become so habituated to the routine of duty that accustomed calls to duty are recognized while all other appeals are made in vain. Thus a telegraphic operator, overpowered by sleep, could not be awakened by any ordinary knocking at his door, but when his station, "Springfield," was rapped out he immediately aroused. A fire department chief was said when asleep to be deaf to his baby's cry, while instantly alert to the alarm of his gong. Sleeping sentinels sometimes walk their beats, soldiers march when buried in slumber, and riders guide their horses though the body rests. These and similar incidents reveal the Will still dominant. If so, the ear and all senses may be brought under its perfect control.

Remember: The value of any sense depends upon the amount and quality of soul thrown into its exercise.

"Not only awaking from sleep do we immediately recognize what the objects around us are, because, in fact, we have the memories or images of them already in our minds," says Edward Carpenter in "The Art of Creation"; but the simplest observation of things involves a similar antecedent condition, the knowing what to look for. How hard to ‘find the cat’ in the picture, or the wood cock in the autumn leaves, till the precise image of what one wants to see is already in the mind, and then, how easy!

The townsman walking along the highroad perceives not the hare that is quietly watching him from the farther field. Even when the countryman points it out with all circumstance, he fails; because the kind of thing he is to see is not already in his mind. Why is it so difficult to point the constellations to one who has never considered them before? The sky is simply a mass of stars; it is the mind that breaks it into forms. Or why, looking down from a cliff upon the sea, do we isolate a wave and call it one ?

It is not isolated; no mortal could tell where it begins or leaves off; it is just a part of the sea. It is not one; it is millions and millions of drops; and even these millions are from moment to moment changing, moving.

A Harp of 8,700 Strings

Why do we isolate it and call it one? There is some way of looking at things, some preconception already at work, in all cases, which determines, or helps to determine, what we see, and how we see it. All nature thus is broken and sorted by the mind; and as far as we can see this is true of the simplest act of discrimination or sensation, the knower selects, supplies, ignores, compares, contributes something without which the discrimination or sensation would not be."

Since this statement is law, your sound world, that which you construct by your choices and thought feeling, depends upon yourself. And the deeper and richer is your consciousness in a state of harmony, the larger and richer will be your life in all the products of sensation. This means that you should cultivate the mental life in as great and harmonious a variety as possible, and that the senses should be so trained that through them you may get the most out of living and put the most of self into life and Nature.

If you will carry the assertion and the feeling: I am now conscious of myself in relation to the world, now of sounds, now of vision, etc. I am attending to these worlds (one or another). Putting my self into them, drawing from them constant values, you will find your life consciousness, your world consciousness, your soul consciousness, growing broader, deeper, more satisfying and more potent for your own good from month to month and year to year.


There is a practice which can well be introduced here, though it is not alone confined to interpretation of sounds. It is Leland's method as follows: "Resolve before going to sleep that if there be anything whatever for you to do which requires Will or Resolution, be it to undertake repulsive or hard work or duty, to face a disagreeable person, to fast, or make a speech, to say "No to anything; in short, to keep up to the mark or make any kind of effort that you WILL do it, as calmly and unthinkingly as may be. Do not desire to do it sternly or forcibly, or in spite of obstacles, but simply and coolly make up your min d to do it, and it will more likely be done. And it is absolutely true that if persevered in, this willing yourself to will by easy impulse unto impulse given, will lead to marvelous and most satisfactory results." The application of this in the art of sense culture is this: frequently, before going to sleep impress upon the subconscious mind that you want more values and richer mind life from the impressions coming in from the outside world.

Confidently expect that your sense of hearing, of tasting, of touching, of sight, etc., are to store broader knowledge, experience and thought material in your mind. Demand of your servants, the senses, that they shall unite to the limit of their ability in giving to you, their master, the values which they create.



I pluck an apple from its tree And taste its perfect meat; Lo, in the act, Reality Crosses the gulf of mystery My self to greet.

The budding nerves upon the tongue Link brain with realms unseen: Mind leaps the void around it flung And stands a king all kings among, Equal, serene.

The fruit of life is self matured; The world is but my thought; And self comes great as self is lured From self in lower self immured: All's mine as sought.

-- The Author.


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