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Sounds Flat? Try Tuning up Your Brain

Jaimie Blackman • May 2019The Sound of Money • May 7, 2019

Listening is the musician’s currency. When something interferes with listening, it can be torture, especially for the performing artist. 50 million people in America today have reported ringing in the ear – a definite problem for music listeners and music makers.

This ringing is called tinnitus, a medical term for auditory perceptions usually heard in the ear(s), but not produced by external sound.

Since tinnitus can be brought on by exposure to loud sounds, it’s no surprise that a disproportionate number of musicians have it. In fact, 50 percent of Rock & Roll Hall of Famers including Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Phil Collins have complained about this condition. When tinnitus becomes bothersome, it interferes with the joy of performing and listening to music, which very well could end a musician’s career.

After being diagnosed with tinnitus, I was introduced to Jennifer Gans, a clinical psychologist who created Mindfulness Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction (MBTSR) an eight-week online program based on a mindfulness meditation practice (www.mindfultinnitusrelief. com). As a long-term practitioner of transcendental meditation, I was very open to a mindfulness meditation practice, designed to help reduce the bothersome effects of tinnitus.

After completing the program, the outcome was surprising. In addition to the tinnitus becoming much less annoying, my family members started telling me I was smiling more, seemed happier, and my listening skills had improved. I would have to agree.

Active listening is a challenge. That’s probably why God gave us two ears and one mouth. Let’s face it, it’s harder to listen than to talk. Most of us speak at about 125 words per minute. The problem is we can mentally process someone speaking at 400-600 words per minute. So, what do we do with the idle time? We tune out. We interrupt the speaker, we daydream about the future, or the past. In essence, we are not present. That’s costing us sales – and that’s causing business owners stress.

According to Dr. Peter Senge, an MIT business professor known as the “Business Strategist of the Century,” listening requires two steps: hearing and quieting the mind.

Slow our mind’s hearing to your ears’ natural speed, and hear beneath the words to their meaning. If you can’t quiet the mind, you won’t be a good listener.

The practice of mindfulness helps us to quiet the mind. The concept is simple to understand. Where the awareness goes, so does the mind. But it takes practice – lots of practice. If you’re scratching your head, try this: close your eyes and count to 20. Only think of the number that you are counting at the time. No extraneous thoughts. Bring all of your awareness to the count. If you’re like me and most people, a thought is going to creep in before you get to number 20 – perhaps sooner. Maybe the thought is about your inventory, maybe it’s about an employee who has been problematic, or maybe the thought is why you are counting 1 to 20 in the first place. The point is, most of us have very little control over our mind. It seems like thoughts and stories come and go as they please.

Gans, a musician herself, explained it to me during a phone call this way:

“I look at the brain as though it were a symphony orchestra. No conductor would begin before tuning up each section of the orchestra with each other. Likewise, there are different sections of the brain and if one section is off, it doesn’t sound like music any more. Tinnitus is a misunderstanding of a benign body sensation. It’s as if the instrument is sharp or flat. The goal of a mindfulness practice is all about tuning our most important instrument: our brain. That’s important because although tinnitus is often perceived in the ears, the source is actually in the amygdala, the emotional section of the brain responsible for detecting fear and preparing us for emergency events. The researchers tells us a mindfulness practice decreases the extent to which emotional stimuli hijacks us.”*

There are both personal and business reasons, MI Retailers ought to investigate a mindfulness practice. Firstly, for our own personal happiness and physical health. It’s long been known that excessive stress causes physical problems, can lead to divorce, fatigue, and depression. What can be more important than our personal well-being?

For a business, nearly all owners and managers agree that good listening skills are a valuable asset both for operational and sales people. Effective listening is essential to motivating and engaging employees. Just as important, your employees’ ability to connect to their customers relies on active listening skills. For example, let’s say you receive a customer complaint that one of your salespeople was not paying attention to their likes and dislikes about the guitar being demonstrated. Chances of a sale would be significantly reduced. Or how about an employee not listening to an owner’s words of wisdom. Sounds familiar?

In the end, it’s not about the tinnitus. It’s about how you relate to everything in your life. Whether you have tinnitus or not, that’s something to be mindful of.

*Impact of short-and long-term mindfulness meditation training on amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli.

Jaimie Blackman – a former music educator & retailer– is a financial advisor and succession planner. Blackman helps music retailers accelerate business value now through team building, coaching & mentoring. Blackman is a frequent speaker at NAMM’s Idea Center. Visit to preview his value-creation tools and to subscribe to Unlocking the Wealth newsletter and webinars. If you have ideas for a future column, email Jaimie at

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