Yanny vs. Laurel & the Tritone Paradox!



Unless you’ve been hiding under a mound of purchase orders, or aren't paying attention to your social media obsessed students, you are well aware of the Yanni vs. Laurel debate. My family and I listened to the examples and declared our allegiance. I am proudly and loudly #teamyanny! My boys? #Teamlaurel! My wife heard a mixture of both, and my Golden Retriever only seems to hear the word TREAT!

It turns out that the Yanni vs. Laurel controversy is an example of something known as an auditory anomaly. Recent discoveries surrounding not just HOW we hear, but WHAT we hear, have us rethinking how our brains and ears function in conjunction with one another. The most notable and documented of these anomalies is known the Tritone Paradox.

The Tritone Paradox is an auditory illusion that occurs when a pair of tritones are played sequentially with some people hearing the sequence as ascending while others hearing it as descending. You can hear an example here.

Which way did you hear it?

Once thought to be happenstance, music researcher, Diane Duetsch, discovered that how we hear sounds are impacted not just by our genetics but by our location, language, and even our upbringing. Diana further states that evidence suggests we don't just hear sounds differently, that we also hear music differently.

Nature or nurture? Either way, the result is unambiguous; people HEAR music differently! 

It begs the questions: What do you hear compared to me? What can't I hear that you can? And, how does what we hear or don't impact our teaching?

We have long known the significant impact music has on our physical, mental, and emotional state. What we didn't know what that music is more than a universal love, it is a unique experience that is tailored to each individual person. 

In other words, you and your friends may be listening to the same song, but are hearing different things. 

How does this impact our teaching? Does our auditory style affect the instrument we chose to play or ensembles we join? Does it impact the literature we choose or composers we like? Does it lead us to alter our ensemble size or instrumentation? Does it influence our like or dislike for a type of musical activity (marching band/string quartets/other)? Does it affect how we seat our groups or assess our student(s) progress? Does it mean clinicians hear my ensembles differently than we do?

Most important, does it mean that I am missing out on what others can hear?


What Diane Duetsch and the Tritone Paradox teach us is that music is more than an artful expression. It’s more than a tactile act. It’s more than an aesthetic experience. It’s a summation of who we are and the lives we’ve lived. It says that how we hear music is as unique to us as our fingerprint. 

I am hearing exactly what I am supposed to hear. And you are hearing what YOU are supposed to hear. 

We have always known that creating music was an act of personal expression, but now we understand that it is just as personal going in as it is coming out.

This changes how I see music, unless there is a paradox for sight too! And if there is, please don’t tell me about it, I have heard enough for one day!