Sound and Music Perception Lab

Charles Limb

The Sound and Music Perception Lab at UCSF is devoted to exploring music perception and complex sound processing in cochlear implant users as well as the neural substrates of musical creativity. Since its establishment, the lab’s research has been generously supported by grants and gifts from a range of funders including but not limited to the National Institutes of Health, the Johns Hopkins University Brain Science Institute, the Dana Foundation, the Med-El Corporation, the Advanced Bionics Corporation.

Current Research

Cochlear implants (CIs) are surgically implanted hearing aids for people with severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss. CIs have drastically improved speech perception for hearing loss patients; however, music perception remains difficult. Our lab’s research aims to generate a more comprehensive understanding of the limitations of music and sound in CI users and to develop ways to mitigate these limitations through surgical, technological, and auditory training techniques. Some of our current projects include:

  • Assessment of pitch, music, and speech emotion perception in CI users
  • Development of personalized place-pitch maps for CI users
  • Development of personalized auditory/musical training programs for improvement of music and sound perception

The Limb Lab’s research in creativity seeks to understand the neural substrates of creativity, both musical and non-musical. Creativity is an extremely complex human capacity and little is understood about its underlying neurological processes. Our lab uses creative activities such as musical jazz improvisation, cartoon sketching, and free-style rapping in combination with functional MRI and EEG to study the creative process in real time. Among other projects, the lab is currently developing a paradigm to study the neural underpinnings of musical improvisation in children and adolescents.

Research Involvement and Opportunities

Studies in the Limb Lab involve a wide range of participants including hearing loss patients, CI recipients, musicians, non-musicians, artists, children, and healthy-hearing listeners. If you are interested in research participation opportunities, please contact Charles Limb.

Personalized Cochlear Implant Programming & Music Perception Research

The study involves using high-resolution imaging to create personalized pitch maps and to determine whether an individualized approach to cochlear implant (CI) programming may lead to improved music perception and performance in CI users.

We are looking for adult research participants with Med-El cochlear implants. Participation requires 2 to 4 visits to the UCSF campus with significant scheduling flexibility.

During your visit, you will be asked to:

  1. Undergo flat panel CT (computed tomography) imaging of your head.
  2. Answer a few questions about your CI and musical training experience.
  3. Complete a listening test in our sound booth, where you will listen to a series of speech and musical excerpts and answer 1 or 2 questions about each.
  4. Sit through an audiology session where your cochlear implant pitch map will be reprogrammed based on your personal CT findings.
  5. Complete the same listening test in our sound booth with your new electrode settings.

All participants will be compensated $15-75 per visit, depending how long the testing takes. Parking validation will also be provided.

Please contact Nicole Jiam at for more information regarding this study.

BTNRH Pediatric CI Study

The Sound and Music Perception Lab run by Dr. Charles Limb at the UCSF Department of Otolaryngology is working in conjunction with Boys Town National Research Hospital on an experiment studying speech prosody and emotion perception in children with cochlear implants. We are running pediatric subjects on their behalf. For children to qualify for this study, they must fulfill the following criteria:

• Have at least one cochlear implant

• Aged 7-19

• English must be first language and monolingual children are preferred. If child is bilingual, English must be the primary spoken language at home and at school.

• No cognitive impairment

• No visual impairment

• Use spoken language as primary form of communication

Participating kids are asked to complete several basic cognitive tests followed by a series of pitch discrimination and voice emotion identification tasks, all of which take place in our sound booth here at Parnassus (505 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco). The total test battery including breaks takes about 4-5 hours, though this can be split into two sessions if needed. Children/their parents are paid $15 per hour up to $75 total for participating and parking in the UCSF parking garage is reimbursed. We have toys/books/coloring utensils for kids to be able to take plenty of breaks.

Please email Dr. Karen Chan Barrett ( or call her office phone (415) 353-4501 with any questions.

Research Team

Charles Limb, MD

Dr. Charles Limb is the Francis A. Sooy Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and the Chief of the Division of Otology, Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery at UCSF. He is also the Director of the Douglas Grant Cochlear Implant Center at UCSF and holds a joint appointment in the Department of Neurosurgery.

Dr. Limb’s expertise covers the full scope of otology and neurotology, with a focus on the treatment of hearing loss and auditory disorders. He specializes in all surgery of the temporal bone, with particular expertise in acoustic neuroma surgery, cochlear implant surgery, implantable hearing aids, stapes surgery, cholesteatoma surgery, and cancers of the ear. His current areas of research focus on the study of the neural basis of musical creativity as well as the study of music perception in deaf individuals with cochlear implants. He is the past Editor-in-Chief of Trends in Amplification (now Trends in Hearing), the only journal explicitly focused on auditory amplification devices and hearing aids, and an Editorial Board member of the journals Otology and Neurotology and Music and Medicine. His work has received international attention and has been featured by National Public Radio, TED, National Geographic, the New York Times, PBS, CNN, Scientific American, the British Broadcasting Company, the Smithsonian Institute, the Library of Congress, the Sundance Film Festival, Canadian Broadcasting Company, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the American Museum of Natural History.

Karen Chan Barrett, PhD

Karen Barrett is a post-doctoral scholar at UCSF. She completed her Ph.D. in Music Theory and Cognition at Northwestern University, where she worked with Richard Ashley and Nina Kraus investigating music and attention, as well as music and neural plasticity using perceptual and neural techniques. Prior to her Ph.D., Karen’s education included dual master’s degrees in piano performance and musicology from Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Music and Neuroscience from Wellesley College. In addition to her research, Karen has taught music theory classes at Northwestern University as well as introductory graduate and undergraduate music cognition classes at Peabody Conservatory of Music and Johns Hopkins University. Outside of her career as a musician scientist, Karen is a book lover, foodie, and explorer of outdoor activities in the Bay Area.

Patpong Jiradejvong, MS

Patpong Jiradejvong is a data systems analyst at UCSF. Currently he is involved in developing desktop and mobile applications for research in auditory system. He began working at Johns Hopkins University in 2000 and later join Dr. Charles Limb’s lab there as a programmer data analyst in 2008. At JHU, he was involved in fMRI data analysis as well as developing and maintaining Windows-based applications related to auditory and vestibular research. He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University and bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from KMITL in Thailand. He has experience in data acquisition & instrument control (Labview), numerical computing (Matlab), fMRI data analysis & visualization (SPM & MRIcro), stimulus presentation (E-Prime), and various programming languages (Swift, Java, C, C++).

Nicole Jiam

Nicole Jiam is a otolaryngology research specialist at UCSF. As a neuroscience major at Johns Hopkins University, Nicole’s research background started in the neurobiology of learning and memory. She began working with Dr. Charles Limb in 2012 as a medical student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her passion for working with cochlear implant users and music perception was the driving force in her decision to defer her medical degree graduation for a year to continue her research projects with Dr. Limb. She is a musician (violin, viola, and piano), opera aficionado, and artist in her free-time. Nicole is interested in pursuing a career as an otolaryngologist after medical school.

Meredith Caldwell

Meredith Caldwell is a research specialist in the UCSF Limb Lab. She attended Clemson University as a biological sciences major. Meredith previously worked at Johns Hopkins University with Dr. Charles Limb in music perception and cognition research, focusing particularly on musical emotion perception and processing in cochlear implant recipients. She additionally worked at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics on projects including ethical issues in the nursing profession and character development in medical education. In her free time, Meredith enjoys music of all kinds, particularly a cappella, and volunteers at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Meredith is applying to nursing school and plans to pursue a career as a nurse practitioner.

Selected Publications

Jiam NT, Jiradejvong P, Pearl MS, Limb CJ. The Impact of Round Window vs. Cochleostomy Surgical Approaches on Cochlear Implant Electrode Position: A Flat-Panel Computed Tomography Study. JAMA – Otolaryngology. (In press).

Jiam NT, Pearl MS, Carver C, Limb CJ. Flat-Panel CT Imaging for Individualized Pitch Mapping in Cochlear Implant Users. Otolology & Neurotology. (In press).

He A, Deroche ML, Doong J, Jiradejvong P, Limb CJ. (2016) Mandarin Tone Identification in Cochlear Implant Users Using Exaggerated Pitch Contours. Otology & Neurotology, 37(4), 324-31.

McPherson, M. J., Barrett, F. S., Lopez-Gonzalez, M., Jiradejvong, P., & Limb, C. J. (2016). Emotional Intent Modulates The Neural Substrates Of Creativity: An fMRI Study of Emotionally Targeted Improvisation in Jazz Musicians. Scientific Reports, 6(18460): 1-14.

Caldwell, M. T., Jiradejvong, P., & Limb, C. J. (2016). Impaired Perception of Sensory Consonance and Dissonance in Cochlear Implant Users. Otology & Neurotology, 37(3), 229-234.

Roy, A. T., Penninger, R. T., Pearl, M. S., Wuerfel, W., Jiradejvong, P., Carver, C., ... & Limb, C. J. (2016). Deeper Cochlear Implant Electrode Insertion Angle Improves Detection of Musical Sound Quality Deterioration Related to Bass Frequency Removal. Otology & Neurotology, 37(2), 146-151.

Munjal, T., Roy, A. T., Carver, C., Jiradejvong, P., & Limb, C. J. (2015). Use of the Phantom Electrode strategy to improve bass frequency perception for music listening in cochlear implant users. Cochlear Implants International, 16(S3), S121-S128.

Roy, A. T., Carver, C., Jiradejvong, P., & Limb, C. J. (2015). Musical Sound Quality in Cochlear Implant Users: A Comparison in Bass Frequency Perception Between Fine Structure Processing and High-Definition Continuous Interleaved Sampling Strategies. Ear and Hearing, 36(5), 582-590.

McPherson, M. J., Lopez-Gonzalez, M., Rankin, S. K., & Limb, C. J. (2014). The role of emotion in musical improvisation: an analysis of structural features. PloS one, 9(8), e105144.

Donnay, G. F., Rankin, S. K., Lopez-Gonzalez, M., Jiradejvong, P., & Limb, C. J. (2014). Neural substrates of interactive musical improvisation: An fMRI study of ‘trading fours’ in jazz. PLoS one, 9(2), e88665.

Pearl, M. S., Roy, A., & Limb, C. J. (2014). High-resolution secondary reconstructions with the use of flat panel CT in the clinical assessment of patients with cochlear implants. American Journal of Neuroradiology, 35(6), 1202-1208.

Roy, A. T., Jiradejvong, P., Carver, C., & Limb, C. J. (2012). Assessment of sound quality perception in cochlear implant users during music listening. Otology & Neurotology, 33(3), 319-327.

Roy, A. T., Jiradejvong, P., Carver, C., & Limb, C. J. (2012). Musical sound quality impairments in cochlear implant (CI) users as a function of limited high-frequency perception. Trends in Amplification, 16(4), 191-200.

Limb, C. J., & Braun, A. R. (2008). Neural substrates of spontaneous musical performance: An fMRI study of jazz improvisation. PLoS one, 3(2), 1-9.