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Hearing

( Originally Published 1899 )

"Sweet is every sound,

The moan of doves in immemorial elms, The murmuring of innumerable bees."

THE sense of hearing is the next in the order of Nature's wise and beneficent provisions for the child. All the senses thus far described are contact senses, but this one gives us information about objects far and near. Without it all existence would be as still as the chamber of death. Man's knowledge and man's pleasure would be cur-tailed beyond measure, while his progress in self-development would be exceedingly slow and difficult. The embarrassment which deafness in one ear produces is sad enough, but when both are bereft of the power to hear, much of life has gone out.

Authorities differ as to the stage of development of the ear at the time of the birth of the child, though the explanation is probably found in the fact that it varies in different children. In some, sounds are apparently appreciated al-most immediately, while in others several hours or even days elapse before any kind of sound affects the child. A friend tells me that on the morning after her babe was born it was frightened almost into convulsions by the explosion of a cannon firecracker near her window. Preyer says that his little son was surely deaf until the fourth day. Compayré reminds us that auditory sensibility wisely develops slowly: " By hearing too soon the child would run the risk of not hearing for the rest of his life. Too strong a vibration breaks the string of a harp or of a violin; so sounds too intense, if felt, would bruise or injure an organ so delicate and unexercised. Nature, then, has judiciously protected the child against the shock of too numerous or too violent sensations in leaving him dull of hearing for a few weeks." All this being true, it again emphasizes the necessity for intelligent, loving care during the very first weeks of the child's life. An old-time philosopher woke his children up every morning with sweet strains from his violin, lest a too violent shock might jar and disturb the harmony of the transition from sleep to wakefulness. What hushed and soothing adagios ought to awaken this babe and introduce him into the wonderful life he now enters !

If you are familiar with the internal structure of the ear, all of the above is easily understood. You can readily see that the delicate tympanic membrane at the base of the external auditory canal could not only be easily injured or broken by any sharp or loud noise, but by almost any kind of quick concussion which would force the air into the ear. It does not take much of a jar to disarrange the finely balanced machinery of the middle or of the internal ear, and no care should be considered too great for its protection. Children's diseases are just as likely to settle in a weak spot as the diseases of adults, and for this reason any slight disorder in the ear may soon become serious. From various causes, these just mentioned being among them, authorities estimate that from fifty to sixty per cent of the children are more or less defective in hearing. It is also claimed that by judicious treatment the percentage can be reduced to fifteen or twenty. The advantage of a better acquaintance with this important sense organ is thus further emphasized.

The diseases in and about children's ears often become chronic very early in life and in many families are a source of constant concern. Ordinary earache easily runs off into stabbing, sticking pains, producing delirium, and leaving soreness and tenderness in the whole side of the head for days after. It is hardly possible to conceive a more excruciating pain than that which frequently accompanies discharges from the ear in scrofulous children or in children who are recovering from scarlatina, measles, smallpox, etc. Some children seldom take a cold without inflammation of the ear at once following. Often the trouble is in the swelling and partial closing of the Eustachian tube, or in the lodgment of an insect or of some hard substance, or the accumulation of wax in the outer canal, or in some affection of the mastoid bone just above and behind the ear. But whatever or wherever it is, it demands skillful and sympathetic treatment. Usually danger gives notification in slight deafness, in tingling sensations, in whistling noises, and in characteristic buzzing and roaring sounds hours or even days before severe pains force attention. That which seems trifling at first may become chronic and ineradicable in a fortnight, hence the need for early attention to such symptoms. Every mother and every teacher ought to be acquainted with simple remedies to apply, but when these fail an aurist or a physician should be consulted without delay.

In intellectual value the sense of hearing ranks next to that of sight, though touch might possibly with reason contend for the second place. It gives us the three great characteristics of sound—pitch, intensity, and quality or timbre and also direction and distance by association and symbolism. Distance is approximately determined by the in-tensity or volume of the sound as compared with what we happen to know of it when near by, combined with changes in timbre, which experience has taught us distance makes. So expert do travelers and hunters become in estimating distance by sound that it serves them almost as well as the eye. The temperature and humidity of the air, together with its degree of homogeneousness, affect all such estimates. Direction is discovered by the relative intensity of the sound upon the two ears, the short distance between them, combined with the difference produced by their different relations to the line of the advancing sound waves, being sufficient to enable very young children to discriminate without much difficulty. If inability to do this with reasonable certainty is discovered in children of school age, it is sufficient cause for further inquiry.

All normal ears easily recognize pitch in a general way, though ability to distinguish clearly the various tones of the diatonic scale comes with education. Every child that can not readily distinguish high from low tones is defective, and if reasonable effort fails to develop this power, it is evidence of some organic defect that needs professional treatment. The proper test is simply to produce sounds, first of marked difference in pitch, as 1, 5, 8 of the scale; then of less difference, as 1, 3, 5, 8; then the whole scale ; then minor divisions sharps and flats. The voice or any musical instrument may be used. It will some-times be found that a child can distinguish pitch in a piano or an organ, and not do it in vocal tones, or in the latter and not in the former; and yet, after a little practice, the inability may disappear. Where the physical ability is small, the intellectual may come in to re-enforce it, and perception thus be easily exercised. On the other hand, the former may be great and the latter so weak that fine discrimination is impossible. Every test made should keep these two elements constantly in mind. Much time is wasted in music and reading in attempts to force pupils to recognize pitch without having given them any proper training for developing ability to do it. There is just the same necessity for a well-graded series of exercises through a course of years for the cultivation of the physical side of pitch perception as for the education of the muscles in writing or drawing. It might as well be understood, once for all, that skill in perception is attained only by intelligent exercise of the sense organs, and that every attempt to get along without it must result in utter failure. The organization of apperceptive organs on the mental side is impossible without corresponding organization in the sensory ganglia. Differences in pitch can no more be recognized, except through corresponding nerve power in the auditory apparatus, than can the different tones be produced without properly trained vocal cords. The self can react to interpret sounds through the sensation only, and its multiplicity of shades is the result of education.

To read well, talk well, sing well, play on any musical instrument, or to enjoy vocal expression or instrumental music of any kind requires a nice appreciation of the varying shades of pitch. Childhood is the best time for its cultivation, though its growth should be directed and not unduly hastened. The child has plenty of time. The rarest powers, as well as the rarest fruit, prefer to take their own time for ripening. The range of pitch perception should be constantly extending, while the fine shades of distinction are being attained.

Tones are also distinguished by their quality or timbre. By quality is meant that characteristic which enables us to distinguish among tones of the same pitch and intensity; to recognize their source as of a bird or of an organ, or of the human voice, and the particular emotions they express. Quality is due to the nature and number of overtones accompanying the fundamental or pitch tone. If a violin string be loosely made, the tone, whatever the pitch, will be more or less diffuse and rough; if it be compactly formed, the tone will have corresponding compactness and smoothness; so of a' bell, solid or porous. This accounts for the difference in the quality of the voice as the vocal cords are inflamed or in the natural condition. Ears that hear at all usually appreciate emphatic differences in quality. The test is easily made by discovering whether a child can distinguish among voices of different persons, different forms of the same voice, vocal utterances of different animals, or the tones of different musical instruments, noises, etc. Surprising results will often show themselves in these tests. Where in-ability to make the general discriminations exists, the causes may be any of those already stated, and similar treatment should be used. Where children are to be handled in classes, those more ready in noting quality can afford to rait a little until the others approximate them in skill, though this suggestion should not be followed too rigidly.

Intensity, or volume, is the force or momentum of a sound and is dependent upon the swing or amplitude of the waves producing it. Ears that readily appreciate the other characteristics mentioned may still be unable to distinguish this one, at least with any degree of fineness. '7f" and " pp" mean about the same to them. Use same pitch, or same quality, with similar means, as suggested in preceding paragraphs, increasing and decreasing intensity, to discover effect upon the child. For,of course, effect on the child is the measure of the child's ability. Often sounds of great volume will produce intense pain. A child of mine could not be persuaded to stay near a brass band while it was playing because it gave her a severe earache. The ringing of a church bell drove a neighbor's child almost into convulsions. The curfew whistle is blowing as I write, and my dog falls prostrate as usual and begins a pitiful whine. All these and scores of other facts of a kindred nature will be discovered in testing hearing. It would be a feelingless and resourceless teacher or parent, indeed, who could not easily find ways of protecting and helping these sensitive children. A moment's thought would reverse the order now followed in many families.

The aesthetic value of the sense of hearing is too well known to need any elaboration. The art as well as the science of music is dependent entirely upon the ability of the ear to receive and transmit sounds of infinite variety in pitch and quality and intensity. As the rarest and noblest aspirations of the soul find expression in song, they are also awakened by song as it is received and interpreted by the refined sense of hearing. Among the fine arts, music is the first to minister to the child. The rhythm of the nurse's gentle lullaby quiets it almost the first hour after birth, and the sweet melodies of its early years soothe a thousand sorrows and transport it from many a turbulent passion to peaceful sleep

Where dreams are songs, And trundle-beds are fairies' chariots.

As music serves to express the emotions of youth and manhood, it rises in dignity and stateliness, finding its highest mission in voicing the longings of the human soul for the Infinite. By virtue of this intimate relationship to the finer sentiments, its ethical value can hardly be over-estimated. A man with a cultivated ear has poor excuse for being immoral.

The value of this sense in a practical way is easily enough seen, but teachers and parents are often slow in understanding what its loss means to a child who is suffering from some affection which may injure or destroy it permanently. This chapter has already urged immediate attention to such cases, and they are mentioned again, with the hope that some poor child may be profited thereby.

Two seemingly parallel straight lines may be but an inch apart at their origin and yet be ten feet apart at the end of a mile. Some children are thirty years in growing deaf, some twenty, some ten, some five, some one!

There are too many partially deaf people in every community. Every such one is badly handicapped in his business and social relations. How many men lose good positions because Of defective hearing! How many sad and fatal accidents are due to the same cause! The new education can do no better service to the oncoming generations than to preserve and perfect this sense in the children.

The clear understanding of language is dependent upon ability to hear well. Often the deepest meaning and the finest shades of thought are lost because an accent, a subvocal, or a little slur of the voice escapes notice. A child is thought dull or stupid who could not be otherwise, for he seldom hears anything that is said at home or in the schoolroom. I visited a classroom not long since, and found that pupils in the rear were craning their necks to see the diagrams on the board and hear the explanations given. Some soon gave up in despair and settled down in a listless way to await the end of the recitation. Inquiry developed the fact that nearly one third of them heard little of any recitation. Under such conditions what could be expected of them? A superintendent in a small city reports that he found forty pupils in his schools who were occupying rear forms and who could hear little said by teacher or pupils at the front.

Various general tests have been suggested, the watch test being frequently named, but the human voice is the best for the home and the classroom. It is that which it is important the children should hear. Let it be of the usual tone, and let children who hear it with difficulty be given seats near the teacher, the others ranging back in the order of ability to hear. Sight and the sense of temperature must also control in the assignment of seats, as suggested in discussing them. In the home, the place at the fireside and at the table, where most of the talk can easily be heard, should always be given to the child whose hearing is less acute than that of the others. If proper care is observed, such cases rapidly improve with opportunity and exercise, and the defect usually entirely disappears.

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