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Suffolk Center for Speech


Response to TED talk: Building the musical muscle

This blog post is in response to Dr. Charles Limb’s Ted Talk. He performs cochlear implantation, a surgery that treats hearing loss and can restore the ability to hear speech. Furthermore, he is a doctor and musician who researches the way musical creativity works in the brain.

I learned that individuals with cochlear implants can perceive speech, but not music (Limb, 2011). According to Dr. Charles Limb (2011), the difference between music and language is that music is abstract and language is precise. People can say the same word with different prosody, but they have the speech perception ability to understand the meaning of the word (Limb, 2011). However, music requires a broader range of auditory perception, specifically the ability to perceive different levels of pitch (Limb, 2011). People with cochlear implants cannot differentiate between two different instruments if both play the same pitch (Limb, 2011).

Charles Limb (2011) supported for more research and technological advancement on restoration of hearing music. During his lecture, Charles Limb (2011) stated, “music is not robust to degradation. You distort it a little bit, especially in terms of pitch, and you’ve changed it.” Furthermore, I learned that auditory cortex is not activated when people with cochlear implants listen to music (Limb, 2011). Thus, individuals with cochlear implants cannot perceive music even though they can perceive speech. Charles Limb (2011) seemed optimistic that technology and research will result a hearing assistive device, which will allow individuals with hearing impairment to perceive music.

Research investigators such as Kohlberg, Mancuso, Chari, and Lalwani (2015) conducted a study on how music can be engineered to people with cochlear implant’s perception of music. Since the original music is distorted, then perhaps the music should be edited instead of the cochlear implant (Kohlberg, Mancuso, Chari, & Lalwani, 2015). Even though the recent study approach was different from Limb’s viewpoint, there is hope that technological advancement and research would bring opportunities for people with cochlear implants to perceive music.


Kohlberg, G.D., Mancuso, D.M., Chari, D.A., & Lalwani, A.K. (2015). Music engineering as a novel strategy for enhancing music enjoyment in the cochlear implant recipient, Behavioural Neurology, 2015, 1-7.


Limb, C. (Lecturer). (2011, October). Building the musical muscle. TED Talks. Podcast retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/charles_limb_building_the_musical_muscle.html

– Angie

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