No Musician Advantage in the Perception of Degraded–Fundamental Frequency Speech in Noisy Environments

I. Hui Hsieh, Yu Jyun Guo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Pitch variations of the fundamental frequency (fo) contour contribute to speech perception in noisy environments, but whether musicians confer an advantage in speech in noise (SIN) with altered fo information remains unclear. This study investi-gated the effects of different levels of degraded fo contour (i.e., conveying lexical tone or intonation information) on musician advantage in speech-in-noise perception. Method: A cohort of native Mandarin Chinese speakers, comprising 30 trained musicians and 30 nonmusicians, were tested on the intelligibility of Mandarin Chinese sentences with natural, flattened-tone, flattened-intonation, and flattened-all fo contours embedded in background noise masked under three signal-to-noise ratios (0, −5, and −9 dB). Pitch difference thresholds and innate musical skills associated with speech-in-noise benefits were also assessed. Results: Speech intelligibility score improved with increasing signal-to-noise level for both musicians and nonmusicians. However, no musician advantage was observed for identifying any type of flattened- fo contour SIN. Musicians exhibited smaller fo pitch discrimination limens than nonmusicians, which corre-lated with benefits for perceiving speech with intact tone-level fo information. Regardless of musician status, performance on the pitch and accent musical-skill subtests correlated with speech intelligibility score. Conclusions: Collectively, these results provide no evidence for a musician advantage for perceiving speech with distorted fo information in noisy environ-ments. Results further show that perceptual musical skills on pitch and accent processing may benefit the perception of SIN, independent of formal musical training. Our findings suggest that the potential application of music training in speech perception in noisy backgrounds is not contingent on the ability to pro-cess fo pitch contours, at least for Mandarin Chinese speakers. Supplemental Material:

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2643-2655
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023


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