The role of rhythm in perceiving speech in noise: a comparison of percussionists, vocalists and non-musicians

Cogn Process. 2016 Feb;17(1):79-87. doi: 10.1007/s10339-015-0740-7. Epub 2015 Oct 7.


The natural rhythms of speech help a listener follow what is being said, especially in noisy conditions. There is increasing evidence for links between rhythm abilities and language skills; however, the role of rhythm-related expertise in perceiving speech in noise is unknown. The present study assesses musical competence (rhythmic and melodic discrimination), speech-in-noise perception and auditory working memory in young adult percussionists, vocalists and non-musicians. Outcomes reveal that better ability to discriminate rhythms is associated with better sentence-in-noise (but not words-in-noise) perception across all participants. These outcomes suggest that sensitivity to rhythm helps a listener understand unfolding speech patterns in degraded listening conditions, and that observations of a "musician advantage" for speech-in-noise perception may be mediated in part by superior rhythm skills.

Keywords: Auditory; Language; Listening; Music; Rhythm; Speech-in-noise perception; Temporal processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Music*
  • Noise*
  • Percussion*
  • Singing / physiology*
  • Speech Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult