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The Sound Mosaic2011.08.08

    If I see what you mean, I see it with the mind’s eye. If I hear what you are saying, I apprehend what you say with my mind. Perception is selective, filtering out all that is not relevant to our survival or interests. This is useful, in that we are not overwhelmed to the point of distraction, but not so when we inadvertently shut out things that could be beneficial to us at a deeper level, or at a later time. There may be interesting nuances in what we hear that reveal hidden intentions, contain helpful advice, or present interesting opportunities. Think how interesting the world can be when you begin to explore the sound mosaic with an open mind.


    How this works in music is explored in particular in my article Make Music Make Flow (, showing how music can assist you in exploring the soundscape around us. One of the concepts covered is that of layered listening, a process of discovering new dimensions in that which you have heard before, to where you may feel you are hearing a familiar piece for the first time. Start by trying to identify all of the instruments in the music, and look for patterns in how they weave in and out of the composition. This is not only a great pleasure, it also improves your listening skills in daily life. Fresh listening can renew your relationships, and is a guaranteed cure for boredom.


    It is interesting that the ear itself is shaped like a question mark, and ironic that we seldom use it in this way. In the average conversation people are just as likely to be thinking about what they want to say next, rather than actually listening to what the other person is saying. This is a far cry from the Japanese proverb to “Hear one and understand ten” (Ichi wo kiite jū wo shiru).


    The grasshopper dialog from the Kung Fu movie is a classic and timeless rendering of the power of deep listening, as young Kwai Chang Kaine meets blind Master Po for the first time, and learns that fear is the only darkness ( The visually impaired are often good judges of character, because they hear more in the voice, and are not distracted by appearances. Interestingly, in Japan it used to be that the way to show interest in what another person was saying was to close your eyes and listen intently. Today if a person has their eyes closed, they are more likely to be sleeping!


    One of the fastest ways to progress in a foreign language is to take an intense interest in the sound mosaic, even when you do not understand what is being said. It is very easy to shut your ears to sounds that are unfamiliar, but the patterns that you need to learn are in the sound mosaic itself. Living language is far richer than what you find in a language textbook, just as a live music performance is much greater than a sheet of music. Learning a foreign language is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, as what you hear gradually begins to make sense to your ears. Real listening requires full engagement, as you discover how all of the parts fit together.


    Michel Thomas, the multilingual master language teacher and founder of the Michel Thomas Method (, had a special ear for language, even as a young child. When he said he could understand what the birds were saying, his parents merely thought him precocious. However, his ear for the sound mosaic, and his intense curiosity about language led him to become perhaps the greatest language teacher the world has ever known, with a clientele ranging from Hollywood celebrities to diplomats, from corporate executives to Royalty. His approach to language learning is indeed the royal road to listening, and the method has been systematized for dozens of languages.


    You can learn the art of listening through music and through foreign language, but also in daily life by turning your attention more to sounds that you previously have ignored. Can you hear the sound of the wind, of insects and birds, of your own heartbeat? Even more, can you hear the sound of your inner voice, your own intuition? Don’t wait until you have a crisis on your hands to listen to this voice. You need to silence your thoughts on a regular basis to be able to hear your inner voice when you need it, and the best place to start is learning to listen in daily life.


    William Reed


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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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