I never considered the fact that one ear works better for processing music than the other does. It seems that when I put my headphones in while I'm in the studio singing, mixing, and mastering, both of my ears are doing the same amount of work.
But scientific studies prove otherwise! Dr. Luca Tommasi and Daniele Marzoli from the University "Gabriele d'Annunzio" in Chieti, Italy, did a series of three studies.
I showed that along with differences in our right and left brain hemispheres, there are significant differences in the way we process sounds in each ear as well.
"The difference between the two ears is not only attributable to a different performance of the ears per se (which has been nonetheless documented in previous work), but to preferential processing by the left and right hemispheres," Tommasi said in an interview with LiveScience.
The studies showed that people often prefer their right ear to receive verbal communication most effectively, while their left ear can pick up more non-social and musical cues.
Funny enough, this points to the fact that the brain and ears are working asymmetrically since the left side of the brain and the right ear work together to process communication and logic, while the right hemisphere and left ear may be working together for non-verbal cues.
While research points to the left ear processing musical ideas better, you may find that you still prefer listening to music in your right ear if you tend to focus more on the lyrics rather than the melodic flow of a song.
According to Dr. Chris Smith from The Naked Scientist:
"If you feed in language - and your music has got lots of spoken words in it - into the right ear, most of it is getting presented to your left brain, which is where your language center is, so therefore, it's preferable to listen via that route."
This may mean that genres like hip-hop and musical theatre, which tend to be very heavy on the word flow, would often be more enjoyed in the right ear, or a listener may struggle to hear a difference between either ear.
Many scientists and doctors claim that you can hear the difference the most when you are a developing child.
"In children younger than 11, the right ear advantage is the most noticeable. A typical 7-year-old will correctly repeat information heard by the right ear about 70 percent of the time, compared to only about 55 percent of the time when the information is heard by the left ear", says a team of doctors from Reno, Nevada.
"A 9-year-old is accurate about 80 percent of the time with their right ear and 75 percent with their left. An 11-year-old is about as accurate as most adults, which is close to 90 percent in both ears."
Yvonne Sininger did a study with the University of California at Los Angeles with the help of thousands of newborn babies, where they safely studied their hearing.
The results of the study showed that speech-like clicks triggered greater amplification in the right ear of the infants, while music-like tones were far more amplified in the left ear.
"[The findings] parallel how the brain processes speech and music, except the sides are reversed due to the brain's cross-connections," said Sininger.
So your left ear will likely process musical sounds better, but you may not be able to notice it. This also doesn't take the whole "left brain vs. right brain thinker" thing or the right-handed vs. lefty stuff into consideration, so there is no straight answer that will pertain to everyone.
If you want to get the most out of the difference in the way our ears process, consider what you are letting your child consume in terms of music and communication. If you are looking to boost the musical inclination of your kid, test out their left ear capabilities!
If you want to get your point across in terms of communication and speech, if you're in a loud environment with people of any age, try to go for their right ear to make sure they get the best chance of hearing you.
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