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Developing an ear for business. - Ear 1 - Dr. Neil Hillman

The human ear, under optimum conditions and depending on age, can hear between 20Hz and 18kHz. That’s pretty rumbly, low frequency sounds and pretty high ones too. But not as high as a dog-whistle, which we can’t hear; although the Beatles still enjoyed asking their engineers to cut one in to a song on one of their albums, to the consternation of puzzled dogs and dog-owners all over the world.
It’s a remarkable thing, our ability to hear. It’s our oldest sense – the first sound we ever hear is at 18 weeks and it’s our mother’s heartbeat in the womb. Which is why music centres on tempos akin to our various heart beats, and breathing.
Normal breathing is around 12 to 20 cycles per minute, so 3 to 5 seconds per in-and-out cycle. But during sleep or meditation, this can relax down to between 6 to 8 seconds per cycle. And you know that feeling of well-being we get from being at the sea shore? That stems from the fact that our breathing has a tendency to synchronise to the rhythm of the waves, which happen to be 8 seconds apart.
Our ears are also very good at detecting the relationship between musical notes. We all know that tuning-up plays an important part in any orchestra’s life, but did you know that a harp takes over an hour to tune? Or that in the absence of a harp or piano, the whole orchestra actually tunes to the oboe?

Developing an ear for business. - Ear 2 - Dr. Neil Hillman
Orchestra with conductor, by Gerhard Kraus.

Before each performance all the players sound the note of Concert A, at 440Hz – you’ll have heard that sustained note sounding across the platform before a concert starts – but that note actually moves in absolute pitch depending on who is tuning the oboe, or who has tuned the piano, if a piano is part of the programme.

Because a piano may need to be tuned ever so slightly sharp, so that it sounds crisper in the top register than it might with a straight 440Hz Concert A. So everyone else has to adjust slightly. Not much, but enough to stay in tune. This will affect every instrument, as each player knows precisely where their perfect A is, and it will particularly infuriate the violinists as it shifts their beautiful overtones; but for a melodic and tuneful end-result, they all have to adapt to fit around the requirements of the pianist, or the oboist, or the harpist. That’s how a 90 piece symphony orchestra achieves harmony, not just once, but for performance after performance after performance.

Maybe you could think of your company as being like an orchestra, with you as the Conductor. Listen carefully to your business as it rehearses and tunes, and start to hear where the harp is, where the oboe is, where the piano is and where all the violinists are; and then maybe you can use this analogy to understand where you need to be applying some fine tuning to enable your own concert orchestra to deliver a symphony in tune, on time and all together.

That Beatles track? It’s the last one on the Sergeant Pepper album – ‘A Day in the Life’. Put it on at home and watch your dog tune in and turn on…

© Neil Hillman 2015.

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Dr. Neil Hillman MPSE

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