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For Implant-Wearing Guitarist, Hearing the Notes Not Necessary for Staying on Key


The cochlear implant is a remarkable technology that helps people with severe hearing loss to understand speech, even when on the telephone. Listening to music, however-even a simple melody-remains difficult for many implant wearers.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, and Peking University, Beijing, have found one cochlear-implant-wearing musician who is able to tune his guitar without help from an electronic tuner. Instead of listening to the tones of the strings, the guitarist counts the beats between mismatched notes.

This is based on the principle that when two notes are out of tune with one another, an audible pulsing or beating occurs. The greater the mismatch, the faster the beats. Musicians with normal hearing frequently listen to the pulsing in addition to the tones to make sure their instruments are properly tuned.

After plugging the guitarist's speech processor into a computer, the researchers found that the output of the processor clearly reflected this same beating, which implant users are known to reliably detect. The researchers suggest that this is another application, previously unknown, for cochlear implant wearers.

Scientists supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one of the National Institutes of Health, presented their research findings at the 2009 Midwinter Meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) in Baltimore.

Adapted from materials provided by the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders

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