The "musician advantage effect" is an auditory phenomenon used to explain how musicians can sometimes achieve better speech recognition in noisy backgrounds than non-musicians. A recent article co-authored by Monita Chatterjee, Ph.D., Director of the Auditory Prostheses and Perception Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital, titled Similar abilities of musicians and non-musicians to segregate voices by fundamental frequency was selected as the Technical Area Pick for Psychological and Physiological Acoustics. The article was chosen among all the articles from the same technical field published in the past year in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (JASA).
It is not known what causes the "musician advantage", but one hypothesis is that it arises from better pitch processing by musicians, which might allow them to better track the target talker's voice and separate it out from competing talkers or background noise. The authors conducted a series of studies with musicians and non-musicians to test this hypothesis.
In these studies, they tested listeners' ability to detect target voices embedded in competing backgrounds. In addition, listeners heard a beeping tone with the same pitch as the target voice, presented before they heard the speech and designed to focus the listener's attention specifically to the target voice. In another case, the pitch of the tone was designed to deliberately mislead the listeners. If musicians benefit from pitch processing, they should show a stronger response to these helpful or confusing tones than non-musicians. The results confirmed the musician advantage, but did not show the predicted effects of manipulating the pitch cues. The authors concluded that the musicians' advantage in hearing speech in background noise does not in fact stem from a better ability to process the target speaker's voice pitch.
Dr. Chatterjee is the principal investigator and lab director of the Auditory Prostheses and Perception Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital. She also co-directs the Technology Core, as part of the Center for Perception and Communication in Children. The primary goal of her research is to understand basic mechanisms underlying auditory and speech perception by individuals with normal hearing, hearing loss, and cochlear implants. Experiments include psychophysical measures of listeners' sensitivity to subtle differences between sounds, measures of listeners' sensitivity to speech intonation and lexical tone recognition, and the processing of degraded speech by the normal and impaired auditory system.