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By Alan Heath
Volume is a crucial component in processing sound. How loud or soft is the sound? How does the volume change across time as we listen?
Changes in volume occur naturally with sound, whether it is music, speech, or other environmental sounds. We know if a car is coming towards us as the volume will increase as it moves closer. This type of clue is vital for keeping us safe.
In terms of speech, an individual speech sound, known as a phoneme, changes in volume as the mouth produces it. Sound like ‘t,’ ‘b,’ and others hit a peak of volume quickly and then fade quickly. Other vowel sounds take longer to reach a height of work. This is known as rise time. This also happens with various musical instruments. Think of the difference in sound between a percussive instrument such as a piano with the same note produced on a cello. The cello has a much longer rise time. You can see below how the second sound takes longer to reach a maximum volume and then reduces slowly.
Rise Time – Piano (L) & Cello (R)
Many people with dyslexia, auditory processing, and reading problems, have challenges processing these very small changes in volume. This is discussed in more depth by Usha Goswami from Cambridge University. She also helps us understand how important amplitude or volume modulation is for understanding the social aspects of language and reading or listening in general.
A large body of research, including Hornickel & Kraus (2013), confirms that sound reaching the ear is not always represented faithfully in the brain. This means our hearing may be good, but our listening is impaired, as the sound is not transmitted effectively to higher areas of the brain. Anyone with a diagnosis of auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, autism, or reading difficulties is likely to have challenges with the processing of volume.
Imagine how difficult it must be for these children to listen in the classroom if there is any background noise. They already have to work much harder than their peers to listen to and process what is said.
These are clear signs of difficulty with processing changes in volume. This happens over milliseconds and is very subtle.
Music, singing, reading out loud, and encouraging active listening can all help to develop these skills. Discussing how sounds change in our environment can improve attention. An example of this may be explaining how an approaching car gets louder, or how the volume changes in birdsong as you are listening.
The Listening Program® (TLP) uses particular techniques to train volume awareness. These include modulating the volume of individual musical instruments as well as a method called audio bursting. This occurs when the volume of an instrument is deliberately increased and decreased quickly, to help train auditory attention.
We can train the brain to improve someone’s volume awareness. The result can have a very positive impact on many areas, ranging from social understanding to reading and listening improvements. Working at the most basic levels of auditory processing naturally feeds through to the higher levels of listening and attention and should be considered for anyone with these processing problems.
Alan is the Director of Learning Solutions and International Representative for Advanced Brain Technologies in the UK, Ireland, and the UAE. He is the co-developer of The Movement Program and TAVS (Test of Auditory and Visual Skills)
Source:Hornickel, J. and Kraus N. (2013) Unstable Representation of Sound: A Biological Marker of Dyslexia. The Journal of Neuroscience, February 20, 2013, 33(8):3500 –3504 https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4205-12.2013
Tags Autism, Brain, communication, comprehension, developmental, discrimination, dyslexia, frequency, language, learning, music, perception, phoneme, pitch, processing, sound, speech
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