How understanding musical sounds could help build a better hearing aid

schutz-1

Photo Credit: Colin Czerneda

Michael Schutz, an Associate Professor of Music Cognition/Percussion has been awarded a $140,000 NSERC Discovery grant for research on how humans perceive natural and artificial sounds.


Learning how humans process natural and artificial sounds differently may one day lead to creating better hearing aids.

Michael Schutz, an Associate Professor of Music Cognition/Percussion at McMaster University and founding director of MAPLE (Music, Acoustics, Perception and Learning) lab has been awarded a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery grant of $140,000 over 5 years for research on how humans perceive natural and artificial sounds.

Schutz says that while a natural sound will trail off for some time as materials lose energy, many artificial sounds are designed to decay immediately – the auditory equivalent of a freight train stopping on a dime. Understanding how humans perceive natural and artificial sounds differently holds important implications.

People who use hearing aids know that listening to music is not always an enjoyable experience. The problem, says Schutz, is that companies often test hearing aids using sounds far less complex than those created by musicians.

“Artificial tones miss out on important properties of natural sounds. This is a problem both in understanding how our brains process sound in general, and how to design products related to hearing in particular,” says Schutz. “People who use hearing aids find their devices pass lab-based tests, only to be disappointed with their performance in the real world. Refining our understanding of the processing of natural versus artificial sounds will help improve our ability to design effective devices related to listening”

“The 5-year window of funding is vital in setting long-term research priorities, which lets us tackle bigger, and more interesting issues,” he adds.

Dr. Schutz’s MAPLE lab is a music cognition lab housed within the School of the Arts and is affiliated with the McMaster Institute for Music and the Mind. Its interdisciplinary nature provides research opportunities for students from across campus including those housed in music, psychology, health sciences, and biology.

For more information visit www.maplelab.net.

Related Stories

CHANNELS