Despite vast amounts of research examining the influence of hearing loss on speech perception, comparatively little is known about its influence on music perception. No standardized test exists to quantify music perception of hearing-impaired (HI) persons in a clinically practical manner. This study presents the Adaptive Music Perception (AMP) test as a tool to assess important aspects of music perception with hearing loss.
A computer-driven test was developed to determine the discrimination thresholds of 10 low-level physical dimensions (e.g., duration, level) in the context of perceptual judgments about musical dimensions: meter, harmony, melody, and timbre. In the meter test, the listener is asked to judge whether a tone sequence is duple or triple in meter. The harmony test requires that the listener make judgments about the stability of the chord sequences. In the melody test, the listener must judge whether a comparison melody is the same as a standard melody when presented in transposition and in the context of a chordal accompaniment that serves as a mask. The timbre test requires that the listener determines which of two comparison tones is different in timbre from a standard tone (ABX design). Twenty-one HI participants and 19 normal-hearing (NH) participants were recruited to carry out the music tests. Participants were tested twice on separate occasions to evaluate test–retest reliability.
The HI group had significantly higher discrimination thresholds than the NH group in 7 of the 10 low-level physical dimensions: frequency discrimination in the meter test, dissonance and intonation perception in the harmony test, melody-to-chord ratio for both melody types in the melody test, and the perception of brightness and spectral irregularity in the timbre test. Small but significant improvement between test and retest was observed in three dimensions: frequency discrimination (meter test), dissonance (harmony test), and attack length (timbre test). All other dimensions did not show a session effect. Test–retest reliability was poor (<0.6) for spectral irregularity (timbre test); acceptable (>0.6) for pitch and duration (meter test), dissonance and intonation (harmony test), and melody-to-chord ratio I and II (melody test); and excellent (>0.8) for level (meter test) and attack (timbre test).
The AMP test revealed differences in a wide range of music perceptual abilities between NH and HI listeners. The recognition of meter was more difficult for HI listeners when the listening task was based on frequency discrimination. The HI group was less sensitive to changes in harmony and had more difficulties with distinguishing melodies in a background of music. In addition, the thresholds to discriminate timbre were significantly higher for the HI group in brightness and spectral irregularity dimensions. The AMP test can be used as a research tool to further investigate music perception with hearing aids and compare the benefit of different music processing strategies for the HI listener. Future testing will involve larger samples with the inclusion of hearing aided conditions allowing for the establishment of norms so that the test might be appropriate for use in clinical practice.