Tuesday, August 01, 2006

AI 01: Aural Intelligence

Scientists studying bird song believe that the process by which birds learn to sing may be relevant to understanding how people process speech.

I believe the reverse is also true in humans. That is, how and what we learn to speak has a direct casual effect on our relationship to music.

When I consider how music may have shaped my own ability to process sound, –whether as a human being, generally speaking, and as a unique individual– the first thing I consider is the music and sounds that I was exposed to in early childhood.

Before I continue let me offer a definition of the term: 'Ability to process sound'. I think of it as the summation of the following several actions:

A) Hearing
B) Listening (Focusing on specific incoming information)
C) Processing/Understanding
D) Executing an appropriate physical and often vocalized response

Early childhood naturally represents a critical period of human cognitive development. Researchers believe that by the time a child is five years old, they will have accumulated a 2,500 to 5,000 word sized vocabulary.

It has occurred to me that not only does this finding exemplify a fact of human language development, but it also indicates a more general and innate ability in all people to comprehend and communicate improvised, sophisticated patterns of sound (conversation), and from a very young age onward. As a skill, this does not strike me as too much unlike what I would describe as basic musicianship.

It follows then, congenital deafness notwithstanding, that as dependent on the ear as learning language is, language may in fact turn out to be a critical component in the development of musicianship.

I’m therefore also inclined to believe that the music I heard and learned as a child had a primary effect on my musical ear, whereas the music that captured my ear as a teenager –rock, for instance– had a secondary or even ternary, and primarily stylistic effect. –Not a negligible effect or influence, but neither a dominating one.

First there is the essential self, and all its birthright gifts, which some believe –I do– contains some fundamental musical information (See Ur-Song ). Then there is Knowledge: What we learn from the environment, and it follows what we hear in it. And then there is Stylistic Choice: How we chose to distribute to others the knowledge we've acquired. However, whether or not a role model presents itself, our brains will figure out their own way to distribute that knowledge, endowing you with a sort of innate style all your own.

And that's why classical musicians playing jazz and European musicians playing Asian melodies sounds wonky to even the least discerning ear. I suspect it may also be why an adult who learns a foreign language can rarely –if ever– completely hide their original accent.

You are what you are: An American in Paris, maybe? Everyone can tell, baby.

The clothes don't make the soul. Nor a new coat of paint change where the kitchen is. You can learn to dance but who taught you to walk like that? –now I'm on a riff, but anyone have a better metaphor?

If it still sounds convoluted, allow me to define yet another term.

I define ‘Influence’ as:

A compelling, but nevertheless indirect persuasion upon one’s behavioral patterns. A shot of vodka and a beautiful woman might influence my behavior, but neither precipitates my core personality.

Although, my father may reasonably disagree with that assessment.

To read the complete Aural Intelligence Article, follow the links:

AI 01: Aural Intelligence
AI 02: AI Quotient
AI 03: Aural Stimuli & Influences

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