Can You Hear Out the Melody? Testing Musical Scene Perception in Young Normal-Hearing and Older Hearing-Impaired Listeners

Trends Hear. 2020 Jan-Dec:24:2331216520945826. doi: 10.1177/2331216520945826.


It is well known that hearing loss compromises auditory scene analysis abilities, as is usually manifested in difficulties of understanding speech in noise. Remarkably little is known about auditory scene analysis of hearing-impaired (HI) listeners when it comes to musical sounds. Specifically, it is unclear to which extent HI listeners are able to hear out a melody or an instrument from a musical mixture. Here, we tested a group of younger normal-hearing (yNH) and older HI (oHI) listeners with moderate hearing loss in their ability to match short melodies and instruments presented as part of mixtures. Four-tone sequences were used in conjunction with a simple musical accompaniment that acted as a masker (cello/piano dyads or spectrally matched noise). In each trial, a signal-masker mixture was presented, followed by two different versions of the signal alone. Listeners indicated which signal version was part of the mixture. Signal versions differed either in terms of the sequential order of the pitch sequence or in terms of timbre (flute vs. trumpet). Signal-to-masker thresholds were measured by varying the signal presentation level in an adaptive two-down/one-up procedure. We observed that thresholds of oHI listeners were elevated by on average 10 dB compared with that of yNH listeners. In contrast to yNH listeners, oHI listeners did not show evidence of listening in dips of the masker. Musical training of participants was associated with a lowering of thresholds. These results may indicate detrimental effects of hearing loss on central aspects of musical scene perception.

Keywords: auditory scene analysis; hearing impairment; melody; music perception; pitch; timbre.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Auditory Perception
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Hearing
  • Hearing Loss* / diagnosis
  • Hearing Tests
  • Humans
  • Music*
  • Speech Perception*