Skip to main content
Musical experience sharpens human cochlear tuning
Abstracts of the Annual MidWinter Research Meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (2016)
  • Gavin M. Bidelman, University of Memphis
  • Caitlin Nelms, University of Memphis
  • Shaum P. Bhagat, San Jose State University
The mammalian cochlea functions as a filter bank that performs a spectral, Fourier-like decomposition on the acoustic signal. Although cochlear filtering is initiated at the peripheral input, it establishes the tonotopic organization (i.e., frequency-place map) at all subsequent levels of the auditory system and ultimately limits the remarkable time-frequency acuity of human hearing. Human cochlear tuning is sharper compared to other mammals but is mature at birth and thus widely considered immune to the neuroplasticity apparent at all higher stages of the auditory brain. While tuning can be compromised (e.g., broadened with hearing impairment), whether or not human cochlear frequency resolution can be sharpened through experiential factors (e.g., training or learning) has not yet been established. Here, by directly mapping physiological tuning curves from otoacoustic emissions (cochlear emitted sounds), we show that human cochlear tuning is further sharpened (by a factor of 1.5x) in musicians and improves with the number of years of their auditory training. Our findings demonstrate an experiencedependent enhancement in the resolving power of the cochlear sensory epithelium and the spectral resolution of human hearing. These results establish a peripheral origin to account for the pervasive perceptual benefits observed from music experience and open the possibility for improving broadened cochlear tuning and auditory perceptual acuity (e.g., in cases of hearing loss) through protracted auditory training.

GRAMMY Foundation
Publication Date
Citation Information
Gavin M. Bidelman, Caitlin Nelms and Shaum P. Bhagat. "Musical experience sharpens human cochlear tuning" Abstracts of the Annual MidWinter Research Meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology Vol. 39 (2016) p. 101 - 102
Available at: