What Does Music Sound Like for a Cochlear Implant User?

Nicole T. Jiam, Meredith T. Caldwell, Charles J. Limb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Objective: Cochlear implant research and product development over the past 40 years have been heavily focused on speech comprehension with little emphasis on music listening and enjoyment. The relatively little understanding of how music sounds in a cochlear implant user stands in stark contrast to the overall degree of importance the public places on music and quality of life. The purpose of this article is to describe what music sounds like to cochlear implant users, using a combination of existing research studies and listener descriptions. We examined the published literature on music perception in cochlear implant users, particularly postlingual cochlear implant users, with an emphasis on the primary elements of music and recorded music. Additionally, we administered an informal survey to cochlear implant users to gather first-hand descriptions of music listening experience and satisfaction from the cochlear implant population. Conclusion: Limitations in cochlear implant technology lead to a music listening experience that is significantly distorted compared with that of normal hearing listeners. On the basis of many studies and sources, we describe how music is frequently perceived as out-of-tune, dissonant, indistinct, emotionless, and weak in bass frequencies, especially for postlingual cochlear implant users-which may in part explain why music enjoyment and participation levels are lower after implantation. Additionally, cochlear implant users report difficulty in specific musical contexts based on factors including but not limited to genre, presence of lyrics, timbres (woodwinds, brass, instrument families), and complexity of the perceived music. Future research and cochlear implant development should target these areas as parameters for improvement in cochlear implant-mediated music perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e240-e247
JournalOtology and Neurotology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Cochlear implants
  • Harmonics
  • Hearing
  • Music perception
  • Music processing
  • Pitch
  • Rhythm
  • Timbre

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Clinical Neurology


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