Being Canadian, we tend to be more subtle in our self-promotion.  It’s true that we invented penicillin, time zones, insulin, put the first person on the moon, and of course, the internet.  But sometimes being subtle goes right past a person!

So please forgive me (I’m being Canadian, eh?) but has just published a wonderful new e-book that I edited.  It is called “Music to Your Ears:  hearing aids, music, and musicians” and can be purchased through the website (along with another e-book on PSAPS and one on the history of a large North American retailer).  The original title was “What I did in October” but I suspect that the Music to Your Ears title is slightly better, albeit less descriptive of the amount of work that went into it.

 This e-book is made up of many of the blog entries from Hear the Music over the last thousand years (as well as 10 other blog entry contributions) and to make the reading easier, I have divided the book up into 9 sections.


1. Music and hearing loss

2. The acoustics of music

3. Room acoustics and reverberation effects

4. Hearing aids and music

5. In-ear monitors

6. Musicians’ hearing protection

7. Consumer issues

8. Some notable notables

9. Encore i Finale

“Music to your ears” is an overview of those features that touch upon the acoustic care and feeding of musicians, or those, like me who are less talented and who just like to listen to music. Contributions have been made by a group of dedicated people with the goal of improving listenability and safe listening. This may be for hard of hearing children who are about to select their first musical instruments, or about a 20s something rocker who need to understand the more subtle points in choosing hearing protection or in-ear monitors.

This e-book has nine sections and can be read in any order, with as many items in each section as the reader wants to use. It can be used as a supplement in any university or college course on noise control, or even as part of a music program. Or it could be read with a cup of tea while having one’s feet propped up against the cushions in front of a roaring fire (or air conditioner in summer).

Each section of the e-book has a number of posts, all written with the reader in mind, and balancing scientific fact, humor, and clinical gems making this a very readable and smoothly flowing book.

Like most areas of study, the scientific principles can be used in other, seemingly unrelated areas. While this is a book about music, musical instrument and its effects, the acoustic principles can be applied to the human vocal tract, the acoustics of a classroom, and even the design of a concert hall. And many of the technologies can extend beyond the musician or listening to music, to populations such as the military, and those suffering from post-concussion syndrome.

I was chatting with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart the other day about how music composition may have changed over the years. Technology does seem to get its fingers into all sorts of areas and the arts are no exception.

Unaltered original photograph of Mozart conducting his orchestra. Courtesy of

Now Mozart, like Beethoven (although I have never met Beethoven before), could conceive of a full orchestral score (usually in several voicings) in his head.  He only had to write it down for the instrumental musicians that he was composing for, and presumably so that he could occasionally get paid. Mozart didn’t need a full orchestra in front of him to try things out to see how they sounded.

But there are few such prodigies in the world.

Most of the rest of us mere mortals require either the actual musicians or, in today’s technology, really good music samples with a computer speed that is as fast as the wind.

Most composers of yester-year needed to try their music out in front of an orchestra and make changes as needed. This undoubtedly was quite expensive, both in terms of finances and time. The lucky and/or very talented ones such as Franz Liszt, a 19th century composer, even had the financial stability and foresight to build a working desk that was half desk and half piano.  Even though there was a tuning fork in the picture, I doubt whether Franz Liszt would have ever used it; in Germany, A (440 Hz) was, and is today, tuned to A (445 Hz).  Mr. Liszt had perfect pitch as well which would have obviated the need for a tuning fork, even one that was tuned to be a bit sharp, at least according to our standards.

Franz Liszt’s composing desk

Actually, it is thought that Franz Liszt also had synesthesia and he attributed colors to the sounds of his music, but that belongs to a different blog called “See the Music”.

Needless to say, composing music in the old days was quite difficult, and unless you were VERY talented, VERY rich, or VERY lucky, composing would not be your day job.

With the advent of modern digital technology and essentially no limits on the amount of data storage and access time, the modern composer is ½ musician, ½ technical wiz, and ½ computer programmer.  The modern composer not only needs to know about the various keys and modes, but also his or her way around a music to digital interface (MIDI).  A modern composer also needs to know a lot about compression, attack time, release time, compression ratio, bandwidth, frequency response ….  In short, a modern composer also needs to be ½ audiologist.

There are a number of software/hardware interfaces in the market place and there are many libraries of music samples from which the composer can avail themselves of.  No longer does a composer need a large orchestra to try their music out and make changes- it can all be done in the solitude of their home or office.

My son Shaun in front of his MIDI based software/hardware workspace. Courtesy of

So, if you ever meet a modern day composer (such as my son Shaun), take him out for a drink- he needs to get out of the house more.  And if you want to pick one up in a bar, you need to learn an entire new set of pick-up lines.  No longer will “hi cutey; wanna dance?” work.  One needs to suavely go up to the composer (who is probably too shy to approach you) and say, “I love the compression ratios that you selected for your last piece… would you like to come over and see my sound library?”…