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 Melanie Gilbert at Melanie.Gilbert@ucsf.edu 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 karen.barrett@ucsf.edu or call her office phone (415) 353-4501 with any questions.

PianoKids: An Investigation of Musical Improvisation in Children

This study involves using neural imaging (fMRI) to examine what happens in the brains of children when they are improvising music. We are looking for children who:

  1. Are Aged 9- 11 years old with an interest in science, and some enjoyment of music
  2. Have no metal implants, sensors, or orthodontic work. Have no metal earrings that cannot be removed.
  3. No history of neurological diseases or disorder.
  4. No claustrophobia or fear of loud sounds.
  5. Be able to lie still for about 20 minutes

The study will take place at UCSF Mission Bay (675 Nelson Rising Lane, San Francisco, CA, 94158) and will take about 1-1.5 hours. If your child fits this study criteria, he/she will receive an fMRI brain scan while playing a keyboard and you, the parent, will fill out some background questionnaires about your child.

Families who participate will receive 1) $100 for participation; 2) Given parking reimbursement at UCSF’s Mission Bay Campus; 3) Given a brain picture of your child’s brain as a memento of the study; and 4) given small toys as a thank you for participation.

If interested, please email Dr. Karen Chan Barrett at karen.barrett@ucsf.edu for additional information.

Mt. Zion Health Fund Musical Training Program

This program provides free, private piano lessons for cochlear implant users over the span of 8 weeks to help improve pitch perception and musical appreciation. Each lesson lasts one hour, and is offered to people with all musical abilities and ages. We also conduct one hour of hearing tests before the first lesson and one hour after the last lesson for program evaluation purposes. Participants can be of any age, however must have at least one cochlear implant and be committed to the program for the full 8 weeks.

Lessons take place at the Hearing and Speech Center of Northern California located on 1234 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94115. To sign up, or for more information, contact Lauren Jacobs at lauren.jacobs@ucsf.edu or call (415) 353-4387.

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.

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.

Lauren Jacobs, BS

Lauren Jacobs is a research specialist in the UCSF Limb Lab. She graduated from Tufts University with a degree in Clinical Psychology and Music. Lauren previously worked at the Child CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, and at the ICoN (Integrative Cognitive Neuroscience) Lab at Tufts University. At MGH Lauren researched the behavioral effects of biofeedback video games on anger management in children, as well as oxytocin on social interactions in adult men with ASD, (Autism Spectrum Disorders) with Dr. Dina Hirshfeld-Becker. At the ICoN Lab, Lauren researched the effects of musical rhythm on visual long-term memory with Dr. Elizabeth Race, and with help from Dr. Aniruddh Patel. In her free time she enjoys singing and playing a variety of instruments. Lauren plans to apply to graduate school in the future.

Nicole Jiam, MD

Nicole Jiam is a resident physician in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at UCSF. Nicole’s research expertise involves flat panel CT imaging, music perception, and cochlear implants. She completed her M.D. at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where she began working with Dr. Charles Limb on issues relating to cochlear implantation, complex sound processing, and high-resolution imaging. Prior to her M.D., Nicole graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in neuroscience and worked with Dr. Michela Gallagher and Dr. Richard Huganir investigating the neurobiology of learning and memory. As a National Institutes of Health M-STREAM and MHIRT research fellow, Nicole has been funded to investigate AMPA receptor trafficking and the effects of perinatal stress on neuro-immunology. She currently serves on the board of directors at the San Francisco Opera BRAVO Club. She is a musician (violin, viola, and piano), opera aficionado, and artist in her free-time.

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++).

Featured News

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.